I’ve been editing the 600+ items that will go in our next catalog, and thought I might take a short break to explain the process by which we produce a catalog here at Between the Covers. But this plan was derailed by an item that I can’t help but blog about instead. As I was reviewing the books Tom selected, one caught my eye: the book tie-in to the 1959 novelty film Scent of Mystery. It was the first and only film to feature Smell-O-Vision, a mechanical system that released odors into specially equipped theaters at crucial moments in the film. The movie was the brainchild of Michael Todd, Jr., son of the film producer Mike Todd (also known as Mr. Elizabeth Taylor #3). The Todds were no strangers to the 1950s efforts of the film industry to bring back audiences that the studios felt had been lost to television. Mike Jr. shot the rollercoaster opening sequence of This is Cinerama (1952) for his father.
Scent of Mystery featured Denholm Elliott, Peter Lorre, and Todd’s stepmother, Elizabeth Taylor, and had to compete with a documentary on China using an alternative theatrical odor system called AromaRama. When two people compete for the same kooky idea, you begin to wonder if maybe they are on to something. At least, sometimes you begin to wonder that. Perhaps not this time. Since so much of Scent of Mystery‘s viewing experience was tied to the odor system, and since the odor system malfunctioned through its early screening before critics, it was panned. Comedian Henny Youngman joked, “I didn’t understand the picture. I had a cold.”
Apparently by the time the movie had its LA premiere the system worked well, but since no one has seen the film as it was intended in half a century, individual viewers will never know what the experience was like. Years ago, when I was living in San Francisco, I was able to see another 1950s novelty film, The Tingler, in an original “Tingler-equipped” theater during a special screening. Unfortunately, either my seat was untingled, or I was.
Of course, the 1950s movie studio panic that led to all this experimentation also brought us 3D movies, a concept which everyone thought was dead and buried until Avatar and other high-ticket films brought it back into vogue recently. And the concept of smell as a primal, powerful, and under-appreciated sense has some serious adherents, including literary ones such as Marcel Proust, who used it so much in Remembrance of Things Past. I’m telling you, folks, this could be the future. So if you want to be ahead of the curve on the NEXT old/new film revolution, Smell-O-Vision products might be a must have… We’ll go together, you and I, noses in the air and tongues in the cheeks.
But back to the catalog-editing process: our original description of the item will boast a somewhat longer, perhaps even smelly description tomorrow.