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Scent of a Woman is a 1992 film which tells the story of a preparatory school student who takes a job as an assistant to an irascible, blind, medically retired Army officer. It stars Al Pacino, Chris O'Donnell, James Rebhorn, Gabrielle Anwar, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. It is a remake of a movie made by Dino Risi in 1974, Profumo di donna, in which Vittorio Gassman played one of his best known roles.

The movie was adapted by Bo Goldman from the novel Il buio e il miele ( ) by Giovanni Arpino and from the 1974 screenplay for the movie Profumo di donna by Ruggero Maccari and Dino Risi. It was directed by Martin Brest.

It won the Academy Award for Best Actor (Al Pacino) and was nominated for Best Director (lost to Clint Eastwood for Unforgiven), Best Picture (lost to Unforgiven) and Best Adapted Screenplay (lost to Howards End).

The film was also the big winner at the Golden Globe Awards winning three for: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Motion Picture - Drama.

Portions of the movie were filmed on location at the Emma Willard Schoolmarker, an all-girls school in Troymarker, New York.

Plot summary

Charlie Simms (Chris O'Donnell) is a student at a private preparatory school, though is one of few students there from a modest background, attending on scholarship. To pay for his flight home to Gresham, Oregonmarker for Christmas, Charlie takes a job over Thanksgiving looking after a cantankerous, irascible retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel named Frank Slade (Al Pacino), who is now blind and prone to alcoholism.

It is revealed early on that Charlie, along with a friend George Willis, Jr. (Philip Seymour Hoffman) were witness to a notorious act of vandalism at the school, and are being pressured by the school's headmaster Trask (James Rebhorn) to divulge the names of the perpetrators, which they both know. When Charlie refuses to talk, Trask offers a bribe: a letter of recommendation which would virtually guarantee his acceptance to Harvardmarker. Charlie says nothing.

Slade unexpectedly whisks Charlie off to New York Citymarker. Slade has a room reserved at the Waldorf-Astoriamarker. During dinner at the Oak Room (at the Plaza Hotelmarker), he reveals the purpose for the trip: to eat at an expensive restaurant, stay at a luxury hotel, visit his big brother, make love to a beautiful woman, and then shoot himself in the head. Charlie is taken aback, not knowing how seriously to take Slade's suicidal intentions.

They travel to the Colonel's older brother's home for Thanksgiving dinner without informing the brother they were coming, a clearly unpleasant surprise for the family. Charlie learns from Slade's rude nephew, Randy, how Slade lost his sight - by foolishly juggling hand grenades while drunk. Slade's crude behavior at dinner further alienates his brother and other relatives. Infuriated at Randy for calling Charlie, "Chuckie," Slade physically attacks Randy by threatening to crush his trachea and needs to be pulled away by his family. The night ends in acrimony.

In a car ride, Charlie tells Slade about his complications at school. Slade advises Charlie to inform on his classmates and go to Harvard, warning him that Willis will probably be pressured into not maintaining silence.

Later, Charlie and Slade find themselves at a restaurant, observing a beautiful young woman (Gabrielle Anwar), waiting for her date. The blind Colonel takes her for a tango on the restaurant's dance floor. That night, Slade hires an escort.

The next morning Slade is deeply despondent and Charlie manages to raise him from bed by suggesting they test drive a Ferrari. A hair-raising scene follows where Charlie lets Slade drive the car, which he does at high speed with reckless abandonment, until finally being stopped by a policeman for speeding (Slade skillfully hides the fact he is blind and the officer issues no ciatation). When they get back, Slade is again out of sorts. Slade tricks Charlie into leaving the hotel room to buy him a cigar, but a suspicious Charlie returns to find Slade preparing to shoot himself. Charlie intervenes, grabbing the gun just before Slade can pull the trigger, and after a physical struggle followed by a heartfelt argument, Slade does not shoot himself or Charlie. In the aftermath, Slade begins to confide in Charlie, particularly about his unrealized dream of one day finding a woman who would love him.

The two take a limousine ride home and Charlie is dropped at school. He and Willis are subjected to a formal inquiry in front of the student body and the student/faculty disciplinary committee. As headmaster Trask is opening the proceedings, Slade has decided to come back, guided by the limo driver, to join Charlie on the auditorium stage.

For his defense, Willis has enlisted the help of his wealthy father. Willis attempts to parry the question, saying his vision was impaired, but when pressed, he names the students responsible, while claiming to not be certain. When pressed for more details, he then passes the burden on to Charlie, whom the headmaster notes does not wear glasses, to provide additional evidence.

Charlie, after visibly struggling with his final decision, refuses to give the students' names, and headmaster Trask, deeply displeased at not getting the answers he wants, recommends Charlie's expulsion from the school. Trask's actions unexpectedly provoke the silent Slade into a passionate defense of Charlie, and a scathing critisism of the nature of the proceedings. Slade finishes with a speech on the nature of integrity, defending Charlie's choice to be silent in the face of obvious rewards to do otherwise, saying, "I don't know if Charlie's silence here today is right or wrong; I'm not a judge or jury. But I can tell you this: he won't sell anybody out to buy his future!"

The disciplinary committee comes to the decision that the students Willis named for committing the prank be placed on academic probation for suspicion of ungentlemanly conduct, further recommending that Willis receive neither recognition or commendation for his testimony, and that Charlie be excused from any further response to the matter. The student body breaks into loud, enthusiastic cheering as Slade and Charlie leave the auditorium.

As Charlie is escorting Slade back to his limo, a female political science teacher, part of the discipline committee, approaches Slade, thanking him for his moving appearance on Charlie's behalf. Seeing that the two are clearly fascinated with each other, Charlie informs the teacher that Slade was on President Lyndon Johnson's staff. A romantic prospect is hinted at as they part ways, which lightens Slade, and he and Charlie part ways with Slade inviting Charlie to visit him before flying home for Christmas. The film ends with Slade being playful with his niece's children (whom he had previously been quite annoyed by at the film's beginning), and the limo driver taking Charlie back to school as the credits start to roll.


Actor Role
Al Pacino Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade
Chris O'Donnell Charlie Simms
James Rebhorn Mr. Trask
Philip Seymour Hoffman George Willis, Jr.
Gabrielle Anwar Donna
Richard Venture W.R. Slade
Bradley Whitford Randy
Rochelle Oliver Gretchen
Gene Canfield Manny
Tom Riis Farrell Garry
Nicholas Sadler Harry Havemeyer
Todd Louiso Trent Potter
Ron Eldard Officer Gore


Scent of a Woman was released to a positive critical reception, with a 94% approval rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. The film earned $63,095,253 in the US; internationally it earned approximately $71,000,000.

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