In the 1950s, as cinemas began losing customers to their home television sets, theater-owners came up with various gimmicks to put people in seats. This was the beginning of 3-D technology, as well as “Cinerama,” a forerunner of IMAX in which three 35 mm projectors were pointed at one large, deeply curved screen. Some cinemas even installed electric buzzers to shock audience members during moments of heightened action on-screen.
The most desperate—and disastrous—attempt to hype up movie-going was Smell-O-Vision, the life’s work of Hans Laube, an expert in osmology from Zurich, Switzerland, who was driven into poverty by his failed invention. Smell-O-Vision pumped aromas, such as tobacco and fresh bread, into theater seats at precise moments during a film to accentuate plot points or build up suspense. (You could smell a villain coming around the corner.) The first and only SOV flick ever made, Scent of Mystery, premiered in Chicago on March 4, 1960, to a poor reception. Audience members complained that the odours were too faint, didn’t coincide properly with the action on-screen, and that the loud sniffing of their neighbors made for a particularly unpleasant experience. Comedian Henny Youngman later quipped, “I didn’t understand the picture. I had a cold.”