Scent of Mystery

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Scent of Mystery
Scent of Mystery FilmPoster.jpeg
A film poster bearing the film's new title: Holiday in Spain
Directed by Jack Cardiff
Produced by Mike Todd, Jr.
Screenplay by Gerald Kersh
Based on Ghost of a Chance
by Kelley Roos
Starring Denholm Elliott
Peter Lorre
Elizabeth Taylor
Music by Harold Adamson
Mario Nascimbene
Jordan Ramin
Cinematography John von Kotze
Edited by James E. Newcom
Release date
  • 1960 (1960)
Running time
125 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Scent of Mystery is a 1960 mystery film that featured the one and only use of Smell-O-Vision, a system that timed odors to points in the film's plot. It was the first film in which aromas were integral to the story, providing important details to the audience. It was produced by Mike Todd, Jr., who in conjunction with his father Mike Todd had produced such spectacles as This is Cinerama and Around the World in Eighty Days.

The film was also released in Cinerama under the title Holiday in Spain, re-edited without Smell-O-Vision.


A mystery novelist, played by Denholm Elliott, discovers a plan to murder an American heiress, played by Elizabeth Taylor in an uncredited role, while on vacation in Spain. He enlists the help of a taxi driver, played by Peter Lorre, to travel across the Spanish countryside in order to thwart the crime. Some scenes were designed to highlight the Smell-O-Vision's capabilities. In one, wine casks fall off a wagon and roll down a hill, smashing against a wall, at which point a grape scent was released. Other scenes were accompanied by aromas that revealed key points to the audience. The assassin was identified by the smell of a smoking pipe, for example.

The screenplay was adapted from the 1947 novel Ghost of a Chance by Kelley Roos, the pen name of husband and wife mystery writers Audrey Kelley and William Roos. The novel was set in locations in New York City. Kelley Roos also wrote a 1959 paperback novelization of the screenplay, reset in Spain.[1]


Scent of Mystery was developed specifically with Smell-O-Vision in mind. Although Scent of Mystery was not the first film to be accompanied by aromas, it was the most technologically advanced. Ads for the film proclaimed: "First they moved (1895)! Then they talked (1927)! Now they smell!" Todd, who was a bit of a showman, engaged in such hyperbole as, "I hope it's the kind of picture they call a scentsation!" He also got help from newspaper columnists such as Earl Wilson, who lauded the system, saying Smell-O-Vision "can produce anything from skunk to perfume, and remove it instantly." New York Times writer Richard Nason believed it was a major advance in filmmaking. As such, expectations for the film were great.[2]

The film opened in three specially equipped theaters in February, 1960, in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Unfortunately, the mechanism did not work properly. According to Variety, aromas were released with a distracting hissing noise and audience members in the balcony complained that the scents reached them several seconds after the action was shown on the screen. In other parts of the theater, the odors were too faint, causing audience members to sniff loudly in an attempt to catch the scent.[2]

Technical adjustments by the manufacturers of Smell-O-Vision solved these problems, but by then it was too late. Negative reviews, in conjunction with word of mouth, caused the film to fail miserably. Comedian Henny Youngman quipped, "I didn't understand the picture. I had a cold."[3] Todd did not produce another film until 1979's The Bell Jar, which was also his last film.

The film was eventually retitled as Holiday in Spain and re-released, sans odors. Its primary release was by Cinerama which needed new product for their specially equipped theatres. For the Cinerama release the film was converted into three-strip prints that could be exhibited on the very wide, deeply curved screens in those theatres. Having been converted from Smell-O-Vision, however, as The Daily Telegraph described it, "the film acquired a baffling, almost surreal quality, since there was no reason why, for example, a loaf of bread should be lifted from the oven and thrust into the camera for what seemed to be an unconscionably long time."[2][4]

Scent of Mystery was aired once on television by MTV and syndicated on local TV stations in the 1980s, in conjunction with a convenience store promotion that offered scratch and sniff cards that viewers were to use to recreate the theater experience.[citation needed]


in 2012 Holiday in Spain was completely restored and digitally reconstructed by the noted film editor and Cinerama restoration specialist David Strohmaier. Only portions of the original camera negative remained in usable condition, so the remaining parts of the film were reconstructed from two archival 70mm Eastmancolor prints. Not enough of the deleted footage from the original Scent of a Mystery was recovered to be able to restore that version as well. The newly restored film was released on Blu-Ray in 2014 by Screen Archives.[5]


The soundtrack was recently re-released on CD. It features the score composed by Mario Nascimbene and two songs from the film sung by Eddie Fisher.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pronzini, Bill; Muller, Marcia (1986). 1001 midnights: the aficionado's guide to mystery and detective fiction. Arbor House. p. 695. ISBN 0-87795-622-7. 
  2. ^ a b c Smith, Martin J.; Kiger, Patrick J. (February 5, 2006). "The Lingering Reek of Smell-O-Vision". West. Los Angeles Times. p. 26. 
  3. ^ Kirsner, Scott, Inventing the Movies, Createspace, pp. 45–46, ISBN 978-1-4382-0999-9 
  4. ^
  5. ^

External links[edit]