Program Notes: Scent of a Woman (1992)

There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground when it comes to Scent of a Woman (1992).

Either you:

A. Love the film and believe Al Pacino richly deserved the Oscar he won for playing bombastic, blinded Lt. Col. Frank Slade...OR

B. You think the movie is an overcooked pot of hooey and that after after six nominations (but no wins) for really great work in really great movies (two Godfathers, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Glengarry Glen Ross, etc.) the academy voters took pity on Pacino and gave him the statuette for one of his hammiest performances.

Check out the user comments on the Internet Movie Data Base page for the film and you’ll get page after page of unabashed raves:

Film Screening:
Scent of a Woman (1992)
Monday, Oct. 24 at 6:30 p.m.
Central Library

“One of the greatest performances of all time.”

“The best Al Pacino movie ever.”

“One of the top 10 movies I have seen.”

“More moving than It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Comments critical of the film are few and far between:

“Overrated and tedious.”

“Standard Hollywood sentiment.”

And this from a moviegoer in the UK:

“Why was is necessary for Pacino to shout every last word? The man is intimidating enough without him having to burst your ear drums. I suspect that much of the film’s budget went on Strepsils” — a sore throat product — “for Pacino and ear plugs for the crew.”

In Martin Brest’s film, Pacino’s Frank Slade rants and rages and behaves badly at every opportunity. He’s bitter about being blind (his own fault, the result of a hand grenade-juggling incident gone bad), probably alcoholic and makes life miserable for the long-suffering sister who takes care of him.

The film finds him hiring a prep school kid (Chris O’Donnell) to serve as his valet/driver/whipping boy over a long Thanksgiving holiday. The two hit the road, first to visit other members of Frank’s Family, then it’s on to New York for some top-dollar debauchery.

But this being Hollywood, a moral lesson is never far behind. And from the cranky, hell-raising and suicidal Frank, the kid actually learns some valuable life lessons.

Life lessons and how to bellow “Hoo-HAH” at the top of his lungs.

Director Brest has had a spotty track record, from the huge hit Beverly Hills Cop to the much-reviled Jennifer Lopez/Ben Affleck turkey Gigli (which seems to have stopped his career dead in the water).

But he put together an impressive cast for Scent: Gabrielle Anwar, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bradley Whitford, Frances Conroy.

And the film did quite well at the Oscars that year, getting noms (in addition to Pacino’s best actor nod) for director, picture and screenplay adaptation.

Bet you didn’t know this: Scent of a Woman was a remake of the Italian movie Profumo di donna. What's "Hoo-HAH" in Italian?

About the Author

Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at He's married to the former Ellen Vaughan; they are the proud parents of LA-based comedian, writer, director and TV personality Blair Butler. He used to be a dog person but now lives with two cats, thus demonstrating the flexibility of the human condition.