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Scent of a Woman (1992 film)

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Scent of a Woman
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMartin Brest
Screenplay byBo Goldman
Based onIl buio e il miele
by Giovanni Arpino
Suggested byCharacter from Profumo di donna
by Dino Risi
Produced byMartin Brest
CinematographyDonald E. Thorin
Edited by
Music byThomas Newman
City Light Films
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • December 23, 1992 (1992-12-23)
Running time
156 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$31 million[1]
Box office$134.1 million

Scent of a Woman is a 1992 American drama film produced and directed by Martin Brest that tells the story of a preparatory school student who takes a short-term job near Thanksgiving as a companion/assistant to a retired Army lieutenant colonel who is blind, depressed, and irritable.

The film was adapted by Bo Goldman from the Italian novel Il buio e il miele (Italian: Darkness and Honey) by Giovanni Arpino. This was previously adapted by Dino Risi for his 1974 Italian film Profumo di donna.

The American film stars Al Pacino and Chris O'Donnell, with James Rebhorn, Philip Seymour Hoffman (credited as Philip S. Hoffman), Gabrielle Anwar, and Bradley Whitford in supporting roles.

The film was shot primarily around New York state, and also on location at Princeton University. Scenes were shot at the Emma Willard School, an all-girls school in Troy, New York; and at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and the Fieldston School in New York City.

The film had a limited theatrical release on December 23, 1992, expanding nationwide on January 8, 1993. It received generally positive responses from critics and was a box office success. Pacino won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance. The film was nominated for Best Director, Best Picture and Best Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published.[2]

The film won three Golden Globe Awards, for Best Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Motion Picture – Drama.[3]


Charlie Simms is a scholarship student at Baird, an exclusive New England preparatory school. A woman hires him to watch over her uncle, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade, over Thanksgiving weekend. Charlie accepts so he can buy a plane ticket home to Gresham, Oregon for Christmas. He discovers Frank to be a highly decorated, blind Vietnam War veteran who has become an alcoholic.

Charlie and another student, George Willis, Jr., witness three classmates set up a prank to humiliate the headmaster, Mr. Trask. Afterward, Trask learns of the two witnesses and unsuccessfully presses them to name the perpetrators. He privately offers Charlie a bribe: a letter of recommendation to attend Harvard University. Trask sets a meeting of the school disciplinary committee to take place the Monday after the Thanksgiving weekend.

Frank Slade unexpectedly takes Charlie on a trip to New York City, and arranges their stay at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. During dinner in the Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel, Frank reveals that the goals of his trip are to stay at a four-star hotel, to enjoy good food and wine, to visit his older brother, and to have sex with a "terrific" woman. Afterward he intends to commit suicide.

On Thanksgiving Day they pay an uninvited visit to Frank's brother at his home in White Plains. How Frank was blinded is revealed. He juggled live grenades to show off for a group of younger officers, and one exploded. Frank rudely and deliberately provokes everyone at dinner, which ends after a confrontation with his nephew Randy.

As the pair return to New York City, Charlie mentions his problem at school. Frank advises Charlie to turn informant and take advantage to go to Harvard. He warns that George will probably submit to Trask's pressure, so Charlie should act and get the benefit first. While at a restaurant, Frank notices Donna, a young woman waiting for her date. He invites her to the dance floor, where they perform a sizzling tango.[a] The evening ends after Frank visits with a high-class escort, completing the stated objectives of his trip.

Deeply despondent the next morning, Frank is uninterested in Charlie's suggestions for that day until Charlie suggests test driving a new Ferrari. Frank talks the reluctant salesman into letting them take the car. Once on the road, Frank becomes depressed again, until Charlie allows him to drive. Frank is elated until he is pulled over by a police officer. Frank talks the officer into letting them go without revealing that he is blind.

After returning the car, Frank again becomes despondent. He walks into traffic on Park Avenue, and narrowly avoids being struck by multiple cars. When they return to the hotel, Frank sends Charlie to buy cigars. Charlie leaves but becomes suspicious and returns to find Frank in his dress uniform, preparing to commit suicide with his service pistol. Frank backs down after Charlie convinces him that he has much to live for and should face his circumstances courageously.

On Monday morning, Charlie and George are subjected to a formal inquiry by the disciplinary committee, with the rest of the student body present as an audience. Frank unexpectedly arrives and sits with Charlie. George's father pressures George to identify the perpetrators, and he provides tentative identifications. When pressed to name them, George Jr., claims he was not wearing his contact lenses, so poor eyesight prevents him from being certain, and he defers to Charlie.

Charlie refuses to inform, so Trask recommends his expulsion. Frank gives a speech defending Charlie, and reveals the bribe attempt. He denounces Baird for not living up to its own standards and urges the committee to value Charlie's integrity. The disciplinary committee places the instigators on probation, denies George credit for naming them, and excuses Charlie from the proceedings.

As Charlie escorts Frank to his limousine, political science professor Christine Downes, a member of the disciplinary committee, commends Frank for his speech. Frank flirts with Christine, and impresses her by telling her the name of her perfume.[b] Afterward he accurately describes Christine to Charlie, including her height and hair color.[c] Charlie accompanies Frank home, where Frank happily greets his niece's children.



Screenplay writer for Scent of a Woman, Bo Goldman, said, "If there is a moral to the film, it is that if we leave ourselves open and available to the surprising contradictions in life, we will find the strength to go on."[5]


Such rising young actors as Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Brendan Fraser, Anthony Rapp, Randall Batinkoff, Dante Basco, Chris Rock, and Stephen Dorff were auditioned for the role of Charlie Simms.[6][7][8] Jack Nicholson was offered the role of Lt. Col. Frank Slade but turned it down.[9]


Pacino painstakingly researched his part in Scent of a Woman. To understand what it feels like to be blind, he met clients of New York's Associated Blind, being particularly interested in accounts by those who had lost their sight due to trauma. Clients traced the entire progression for him—from the moment they knew they would never see again to the depression and through to acceptance and adjustment. The Lighthouse, also in New York, schooled him in techniques a blind person might use to find a chair and seat themselves, pour liquid from a bottle, and light a cigar.[5]


Scent of a Woman was filmed in the following US locations.[10]



Box office[edit]

The film earned $63,095,253 in the US and Canada and over $71 million internationally (excluding Italy), totaling $134,095,253 worldwide.[11][12][13][14]

Critical response[edit]

Scent of a Woman holds an 85% approval rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes from 48 reviews. The site's consensus states: "It might soar on Al Pacino's performance more than the drama itself, but what a performance it is – big, bold, occasionally over-the-top, and finally giving the Academy pause to award the star his first Oscar."[15] The film holds a score of 59 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 14 critic reviews, indicating "mixed reviews".[16]

Some criticized the film for its length.[17] Variety's Todd McCarthy said it "goes on nearly an hour too long".[18] Newsweek's David Ansen writes that the "two-character conceit doesn't warrant a two-and-a-half-hour running time".[19]


Al Pacino won an Academy Award for Best Actor, the first of his career after four previous nominations for Best Actor. It was his eighth overall nomination.

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
20/20 Awards Best Screenplay – Adapted Bo Goldman Nominated
Academy Awards[20] Best Picture Martin Brest Nominated
Best Director Nominated
Best Actor Al Pacino Won
Best Screenplay – Based on Material Previously Produced or Published Bo Goldman Nominated
American Cinema Editors Awards Best Edited Feature Film William Steinkamp, Michael Tronick and Harvey Rosenstock Nominated
Artios Awards[21] Best Casting for Feature Film – Drama Ellen Lewis Nominated
Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Actor in a Leading Role Al Pacino Nominated
BMI Film & TV Awards Film Music Award Thomas Newman Won
British Academy Film Awards[22] Best Screenplay – Adapted Bo Goldman Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[23] Best Actor Al Pacino Nominated
Most Promising Actor Chris O'Donnell Won
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Film Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[24] Best Motion Picture – Drama Won
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama Al Pacino Won
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Chris O'Donnell Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Bo Goldman Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[25] Best Actor Al Pacino Runner-up
Producers Guild of America Awards Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures Martin Brest Nominated
Writers Guild of America Awards[26] Best Screenplay – Based on Material Previously Produced or Published Bo Goldman Nominated


  1. ^ More specifically, "Por una Cabeza".
  2. ^ Her expensive perfume is "Fleurs de Rocaille".
  3. ^ Frank mistakenly describes Christine's eyes as brown; a closeup indicates that they are blue.[4]


  1. ^ "Scent of a Woman". PowerGrid. Archived from the original on June 28, 2013. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  2. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (March 30, 1993). "Oscar's night started at noon in Hollywood". The New York Times. p. 9. Archived from the original on April 29, 2023. Retrieved April 29, 2023 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  3. ^ Fox, David J. (January 25, 1993). "Pacino Gives Oscar Derby a New Twist : Awards: Actor wins Golden Globe for role in 'Scent of a Woman,' which also wins as best dramatic picture, surprising Academy Awards competitors". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on January 24, 2011. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  4. ^ Scent of a Woman — Fleurs de Rocaille. Diogo Carneiro. June 17, 2017. Event occurs at 0:25. Archived from the original on April 2, 2024. Retrieved April 2, 2024 – via YouTube.
  5. ^ a b Brest, Martin (director) (2006). "Production notes". Scent of a Woman (DVD). United Kingdom: Universal Pictures (UK).
  6. ^ "Meet Matt Damon". Vanity Fair. January 4, 2012. Archived from the original on April 13, 2016. Retrieved June 15, 2021.
  7. ^ Wolfe, Alexandra (November 16, 2013). "Stephen Dorff on the Motel Life and Finding Good Roles". Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on July 24, 2021. Retrieved June 15, 2021.
  8. ^ "Chris Rock: The Rolling Stone Interview". Rolling Stone. December 3, 2014. Archived from the original on January 18, 2018. Retrieved June 15, 2021.
  9. ^ "15 Facts About 'Scent of a Woman'". Mental Floss. February 17, 2017. Archived from the original on May 13, 2021. Retrieved June 15, 2021.
  10. ^ "A Sight for Sore Eyes". Newsweek. March 29, 1992. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  11. ^ Fox, David J. (December 29, 1992). "Weekend Box Office Holiday Take a Nice Gift for the Studios". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on March 9, 2012. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  12. ^ Fox, David J. (January 26, 1993). "Weekend Box Office 'Aladdin's' Magic Carpet Ride". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on July 25, 2009. Retrieved November 18, 2010.
  13. ^ Welkos, Robert W. (February 2, 1993). "Weekend Box Office 'Sniper' Takes Aim at 'Aladdin'". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on April 5, 2011. Retrieved November 18, 2010.
  14. ^ "UIP's $25M-Plus Club". Variety. September 11, 1995. p. 93.
  15. ^ "Scent of a Woman". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on December 30, 2020. Retrieved May 10, 2023.
  16. ^ Scent of a Woman at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata
  17. ^ Wells, Jeffrey (January 3, 1993). "LENGTH OF 'A WOMAN' : Minutes, Shminutes--Does It Play?". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on May 16, 2021. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  18. ^ "Scent of a Woman". Variety. December 31, 1991. Archived from the original on November 17, 2010. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  19. ^ "Not A Season To Be Jolly". Newsweek. December 27, 1992. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved November 14, 2010.
  20. ^ "The 65th Academy Awards (1993) Nominees and Winners". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Archived from the original on November 9, 2014. Retrieved October 22, 2011.
  21. ^ "Nominees/Winners". Casting Society of America. Archived from the original on July 8, 2019. Retrieved July 8, 2019.
  22. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Film in 1994". BAFTA. 1994. Archived from the original on April 13, 2016. Retrieved September 16, 2016.
  23. ^ "1988-2013 Award Winner Archives". Chicago Film Critics Association. January 2013. Archived from the original on April 10, 2021. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  24. ^ "Scent of a Woman – Golden Globes". HFPA. Archived from the original on August 26, 2021. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  25. ^ "1992 New York Film Critics Circle Awards". Mubi. Archived from the original on August 26, 2021. Retrieved July 5, 2021.
  26. ^ "Awards Winners". wga.org. Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on December 5, 2012. Retrieved June 6, 2010.

External links[edit]