Scent of a Woman (1992) is the American adaptation of a 1974 Italian film directed by Dino Risi of the same name. Written by Bo Goldman and directed by Martin Brest, the film is best known for finally earning Al Pacino his Best Actor Oscar.
Here, Pacino plays a blind ex-soldier, Lt. Colonel Frank Slade; an embittered, hard-drinking, cantankerous man who hires Charles Simms (Chris O’Donnell), a student companion, for a trip to New York City. There, he plans to have one last fling before committing suicide.
In Scent of a Woman, Pacino is at his most theatrical. Despite this, he never falls into self-parody, as he would do in some of his later works. Though he is perhaps sometimes excessively unrestrained by the direction, the movie is none the worse for it, and his performance remains the best thing about Scent of a Woman.
Interestingly, Pacino had once been linked to a scrapped 1978 film version of Born on the Fourth of July, in which he would have played a Vietnam War veteran. Despite this, though his Slade is an ex-soldier, he feels much more like a Hollywood stereotype of a disabled man (“just your average blind man,” as Slade proclaims himself). Still, the fact that his history and his condition has him marginalized, repressed and living in the shed behind his niece’s home in New Hampshire, establishes a point of connection with Simms, who is a poor kid studying in a posh college supported by student aid. In fact, it is because he is not rich that he finds himself having to spend Thanksgiving weekend with a cranky and blind old man; nonetheless, the meeting and subsequent bonding will prove to be a turning point in both of their lives.
Scent of a Woman is certainly overbearingly sentimental, right up to the insufferable speech delivered by Slade at Simms’ educational institution – a familiar ending scene in many similar films of the time. However, it also has its fair share of creative and memorable sequences, including a seductive tango one (already celebrated in Dino Risi’s aforementioned work, which starred Vittorio Gassman) that is possibly the most famous scene of the film, and the most parodied one as well.
Brest, who also scored an Academy Award nomination for Best Directing (losing out to Clint Eastwood for Unforgiven) would not capitalize on his success, and wait many years before directing his next feature, the disappointing Meet Joe Black (1998). Meanwhile, Pacino did reach a peak with his performance in Scent of a Woman, which still makes up for the bulk of most impressions of the actor by comedians (who may or may not have seen Scent of a Woman) to this day. – ★★★
SCENT OF A WOMAN | 1992, USA | Drama | Directed by – Martin Brest / Produced by – Martin Brest / Written by – Bo Goldman (based on the film Profumo di Donna written by Ruggero Maccari and Dino Risi and the book Il Buio e il Miele by Giovanni Arpino) / Music by – Thomas Newman / Cinematography – Donald E. Thorin / Edited by – William Steinkamp, Michael Tronick, Harvey Rosenstock / Starring – Al Pacino, Chris O’Donnell | Running time: 156 mins.