One of the most interesting developments of recent movie history is the commercial resurgence of 3D, that once quaint movie gimmick that first flourished for about a three or four-year period in the early 1950’s.
The big Hollywood studios back then were terrified of television, and any theatrical come-on was considered fair advantage by the movie moguls. Who can forget such titles as 1953’s “House of Wax” starring Vincent Price or the same year’s “It Came From Outer Space” or “Inferno” with Rhonda Fleming, among other early 3D titles. The movies by and large stunk, and the fad faded quickly.
However, with big technological improvements and the realization that movies shown in 3D could charge higher ticket prices, contemporary Hollywood vigorously re-embraced the technique. The ubiquitous 3D fashion of today may show a bit of wear right now in the U.S., but it remains gangbusters at the foreign box offices.
Hello, everybody, Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, back again to ruminate on yet another quaint movie gimmick — Smell-O-Vision — that came and went in the early 1960’s and, so far, has never been heard from again.
We are joined today by our pal Hy Hollinger, who as a longtime Hollywood trade journalist, got a whiff of this olfactory exhibition approach when it was first introduced. Hy was there at the beginning, and will soon tell us about it.
First, we should mention that Smell-O-Vision was described upon its introduction in 1960 as “aromatic cinema” in which movie audiences were bombarded by various scents directed through a tubing system to each seat in the theater. According to Ephraim Katz’s “The Film Encyclopedia,” each scent was contained in a vial on a rotating drum, and was triggered by a signal from a “smell track” on the film.
The dubious device was being exploited at the time by producer Michael Todd, then Elizabeth Taylor‘s husband. And here is where Hy comes in, and he writes:
As a reporter, Mike Todd was on my beat. Shortly after his marriage to Taylor, he waved me over at a premiere. “Do you know my wife, Elizabeth?,” was his introduction.
I was part of a junket that went to Chicago for the unveiling of Smell-O-Vision, developed by Todd and Michael Jr. and presented as part of a film titled “Scent of Mystery.”
(The 1960 film is a murder mystery set largely in Spain, featuring British actor Denholm Elliott, the great Peter Lorre, British sexpot Diana Dors, Paul Lucas, the forgotten Beverly Bentley and, in an uncredited bit part, Elizabeth Taylor.)
Continues Hy: Many years later, the director, Jack Cardiff, was quoted as saying — “The machinery worked wonderfully. The only trouble was that the smells that were projected were like cheap eau-de-Cologne.” An odorless version of “Mystery” was later released under the title “Holiday in Spain.”
Thanks, Hy. We can only add that the holiday for Smell-O-Vision has yet to end.