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Scent of a Woman (1992 film)

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Scent of a Woman

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Martin Brest
Produced by Martin Brest
Screenplay by Bo Goldman
Based on Il buio e il miele by
Giovanni Arpino
Starring Al Pacino
Chris O'Donnell
James Rebhorn
Gabrielle Anwar
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Music by Thomas Newman
Editing by Harvey Rosenstock
William Steinkamp
Michael Tronick
Distributed by Universal Studios
Release date(s)
  • December 23, 1992 (1992-12-23)
Running time 157 minutes
Language English

Scent of a Woman is a 1992 drama 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, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Gabrielle Anwar. It is a remake of the Italian movie Profumo di donna (1974), directed by Dino Risi.

The movie was adapted by Bo Goldman from the novel Il buio e il miele (Italian: Darkness and Honey) by Giovanni Arpino and from the 1974 screenplay by Ruggero Maccari and Dino Risi. It was directed by Martin Brest.

Al Pacino won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance; the film 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 won three major awards at the Golden Globe Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Motion Picture - Drama.

Portions of the movie were filmed on location at Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, the Emma Willard School, an all-girls school in Troy, New York, and at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in New York City.


Charlie Simms ( Chris O'Donnell), a student at an exclusive New England prep school, is one of the few students there from a modest background and attends on scholarship. To pay for his flight home to Gresham, Oregon for Christmas, Charlie takes a job over Thanksgiving looking after a retired Army Ranger Lieutenant Colonel named Frank Slade (Al Pacino), who is disagreeable, blind, and an alcoholic.

Charlie and his "friend" George Willis, Jr. ( Philip Seymour Hoffman) were witness to an act of vandalism at the school. They are pressed by the school's headmaster Trask ( James Rebhorn) to divulge the names of the perpetrators, whom they both know. When Charlie refuses to talk, Trask offers a bribe: a letter of recommendation that would virtually guarantee his acceptance to Harvard. Charlie continues to remain silent but begins to question his decision.

Shortly after Charlie arrives, Slade unexpectedly has Charlie accompany him on a trip from New England to New York City. Slade reserves a room at the Waldorf-Astoria. During dinner at the Oak Room (at the Plaza Hotel), he reveals the goals of 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 "blow his brains out". Charlie is taken aback, not knowing how seriously to take Slade.

They travel to Slade's brother's home in White Plains for Thanksgiving dinner without advising the brother of the visit. Slade and Charlie appear to be an unpleasant surprise for the family. Slade deliberately provokes everyone, and by the end of dinner, he succeeds in alienating the members of his family. Charlie learns from Slade's nephew, Randy, that Slade lost his sight by juggling hand grenades while drunk and one went off. Slade retaliates by holding Randy in a chokehold for insulting Charlie (by calling him "Chuckie", which Charlie dislikes, more than once).

As they return to New York, 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 at a restaurant, Charlie and Slade observe Donna ( Gabrielle Anwar), a beautiful young woman waiting for her date. Although blind, Slade leads Donna in a spectacular tango ( Por una Cabeza) on the dance floor. That night, he hires an escort.

Deeply despondent the next morning, Slade responds to Charlie's suggestion that they test drive a Ferrari. Charlie lets Slade drive the car, which he does at high speed, until they are stopped by a policeman (a then-unknown Ron Eldard). Slade hides the fact that he is blind and the officer issues no citation. When they return to the hotel, Slade tricks Charlie into leaving the room to buy him cigars and aspirin. Charlie returns to find Slade preparing to shoot himself. Charlie intervenes, grabbing the gun just before Slade can pull the trigger. After a physical struggle and argument, Slade lets go. He confides in Charlie, particularly about his dream of finding a woman who would love him.

The two return by limousine to New England, where Slade drops Charlie 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 returns to the school and joins 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 be uncertain. When pressed for more details, he passes the burden to Charlie. Although struggling with his decision, Charlie refuses to give the students' names. Trask recommends Charlie's expulsion. Slade passionately defends Charlie, and criticizes the proceedings, as well as the boys' vandalism, finishing with a speech about integrity and Charlie's refusal to sell out anyone to buy his future. The disciplinary committee decides to place on probation the students named by Willis, and to give Willis neither recognition nor commendation for his testimony. They excuse Charlie from any punishment, to loud applause from the student body.

As Charlie escorts Slade to his limo, a female political science teacher, part of the committee, approaches Slade, thanking him for his defense of Charlie. Seeing a spark between them, Charlie tells the teacher that Slade served on President Lyndon Johnson's staff. A romantic prospect is hinted at as they part ways.

Charlie takes Slade home, where they part ways. The colonel, now a much happier and more amiable man, walks towards his house and greets his niece's young children happily; the three enter the house to make hot chocolate.


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


Scent of a Woman was filmed in the following locations:

  • Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA
  • Dumbo, Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA
  • Emma Willard School - 285 Pawling Avenue, Troy, New York, USA
  • Hempstead House, Sands Point Preserve - 95 Middleneck Road, Port Washington, Long Island, New York, USA (school)
  • Kaufman Astoria Studios - 3412 36th Street, Astoria, Queens, New York City, New York, USA (studio)
  • Long Island, New York, USA
  • Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA
  • Newark Liberty International Airport, Newark, NJ
  • New York City, New York, USA
  • Pierre Hotel, Fifth Avenue & 61st Street, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA ( ballroom where Frank and Donna dance the tango)
  • Port Washington, Long Island, New York, USA
  • Princes Bay, Staten Island, New York City, New York, USA
  • Princeton, New Jersey, USA
  • Queens, New York City, New York, USA
  • Rockefeller College - Upper Madison Hall, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, USA
  • Sands Point Preserve - 95 Middleneck Road, Port Washington, Long Island, New York, USA
  • Staten Island, New York City, New York, USA
  • The Oak Room, The Plaza Hotel, 5th Avenue, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA (where Frank and Charlie have dinner)
  • Troy, New York, USA
  • Waldorf-Astoria Hotel - 301 Park Avenue, Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA


Scent of a Woman was released to a positive critical reception, with a 94% approval rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. but was criticized for its running time. Variety's Todd McCarthy said it "goes on nearly an hour too long. Newsweek's David Ansen said it "doesn't warrant a 2 1/2-hour running time."

Box office

The film earned $63,095,253 in the US and $71 million internationally, totaling $134,095,253 worldwide.

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