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Film / Scent of a Woman

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Scent of a Woman is a 1992 film directed by Martin Brest, which tells the story of a blind, retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade (Al Pacino) and a New Hampshire boarding school student named Charlie Simms (Chris O'Donnell).

Hired by the colonel's niece to help him while she and her husband and children get away for Thanksgiving, Charlie is told it will be an easy job. It isn't. The colonel, unbeknownst to his niece, is planning a trip to New York City and is dragging Charlie along with him. Hijinks and drama ensues as the Colonel is staring down his own dark path and past filled with many regrets and a young Charlie burdened by a choice lingering back at his school: to snitch on some students or not.

It is a remake of a 1974 Italian movie about a blind Italian army colonel and a poor Sicilian.

For the 2011 Korean Drama of the same name, go here.


  • Above Good and Evil: Slade admits that he's unsure whether or not Charlie not snitching to get himself out of trouble is the right thing to do but it does show his character and integrity which goes beyond that.
  • Actor Allusion: During the disciplinary meeting, Trask tells Slade 'You are out of order!', a line told to Al Pacino in ...And Justice for All.
    Out of order. I SHOW you out of order!
  • Batman Gambit: The prank depends on the Dean getting provoked by the balloon, popping it, to soak himself, and the car, with paint. That being said, even if he hadn't popped the balloon, that itself would have been a decently humiliating prank.
  • Berserk Button: Frank shrugs off the insensitive comments about his life and actions that left him blind and one of his buddies dead from his nephew when he crashes his brother's Thanksgiving dinner with Charlie. But he completely loses it when his nephew needlessly insults Charlie. He also truly loathes those who sell out their integrity. He holds no kind words for Mr. Trask, who would reward George for selling out his friends and putting the onus on Charlie to back him up.
    • Charlie presses a minor one when he tries to surreptitiously tell the waiter (via pantomime) to water down Frank's drinks. Frank catches it (via sound) and is not at all pleased.
    Frank: Please. Don't. Do. That. Don't do that...
  • Big Damn Heroes: Just as Charlie is about to face the school, Frank strolls in and casually saves the day.
  • Big Word Shout: "HOO-AH!"
  • Blind Driving: Frank briefly drives a Ferrari at top speed, following directions from a terrified Charlie in the passenger seat. And when he gets pulled over for speeding, he talks his way out of a ticket and the cop never realizes he was blind.
  • Byronic Hero: Frank is this, reclusing himself from the rest of the world after his blinding accident, and while charismatic, tends to have an initial harsh attitude to get along with.
  • Catchphrase: When Slade asks for a drink: "Flowing like mud around here."
  • The Charmer: When Frank isn't in a bad mood, he can be very charismatic and fun to be around as evidenced by his effortlessly seducing Donna into dancing the tango.
  • Covered in Gunge: The Dean and his car.
  • Death by Adaptation: In the original Italian version the Colonel was going on a trip to visit his old war buddy in order to carry out a Suicide Pact. In this version his friend was killed in the grenade accident that blinded him.
  • Dirty Coward: George, who sold his friends out the instant the situation looked bad. Especially compared to Charlie, whom the boys view disdainfully, who is willing to go down for them.
  • Disability Superpower: As in the original, Slade claims to be able to physically picture and identify a woman based on her scent alone, which is where the title comes from. At the end, after he flirts with the teacher who congratulates him for speaking on Charlie's behalf at the hearing, his resulting description of her is in fact incredibly accurate.
    • Seemingly subverted when Frank explains how he guessed the air hostess' name; Charlie looks mystified and it's implied that the hostess was just humouring him.
  • Distinction Without a Difference: An incredulous Charlie asks Frank if he really said he's going to kill himself. Frank responds, "No, I said I'm gonna blow my brains out."
  • Distracted from Death: Slade tries to make this situation happen by sending Charlie on a Snipe Hunt. Charlie realizes what's happening and returns just in time to stop Slade from killing himself.
  • Dressing to Die: Frank dons his full "dress blues", i.e. ceremonial military uniform complete with all his rank insignia and medals before his suicide attempt.
  • The Driver: A limo driver shuttles around Frank and Charlie and, while not a major character, comes to befriend them to some degree and gain some knowledge of/investment in what's going on.
  • Evil vs. Evil: Not really evil, but neither side is really sympathetic in the prank. Harry is an incredibly elitist jerk even to his own friends who thinks he's above the law and was going to let Charlie get punished. On the other hand, his sense of indignation that the Dean got the Board of Trustees to buy him a Jaguar with school funds can feel kind of understandable, and the Dean doesn't exactly handle things in a fair and cool-headed manner afterwards.
  • Extreme Doormat: Frank's older brother who apparently is a bit too used to Frank barging in uninvited, constantly insulting from the very start his son (also Frank's nephew) and daughter-in-law whom he also casually sexually harasses in front of several people. When it ends with Frank brutally attacking said son, all he can do is giving his brother a dejected look. Definitely father of the year material right there.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The film takes place over the course of five days during the Thanksgiving holiday.
  • Foreshadowing: When Frank is instructing Charlie to help him pack for their trip to New York, he makes a point that Charlie include his dress blues and shoulder pads. It's very subtle, but if you think about it why would Lt. Col Slade, who the next day has tailor-made suits fitted for himself and Charlie as part of what he calls an "upscale urban assignment" and proceeds to wear this throughout their stay in the city, have needed his full dress uniform?
  • Get It Over With: When Charlie initially fails at trying to talk Slade out of killing himself, he tries this approach. It stops Slade.
    Charlie: Pull the trigger, you miserable, blind motherfucker!
  • Handicapped Badass: Let it be said the Colonel is blind. Not disabled. He can dance the tango and if one is within an arm's reach, he can throw said person into the wall and choke the person with little effort.
  • Honor Before Reason: Charlie would rather face expulsion than sell anyone out for his own sake, even rich kids who look down on him and who he knows would never do the same for him.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Frank lost his sight while juggling with a hand grenade.
  • I Lied: Frank tells Charlie he can fly home on a flight at 11:00 after escorting him to New York. Then he admits he lied and the flight is really at 9, when it’s too late for Charlie to make it to the airport on time. Later He lied about having decided not to kill himself and having given Charlie his bullets, saying he welched when Charlie says they had a deal.
  • Improbably Cool Car: Twice. The Dean's new car is so out of place, it becomes the MacGuffin that inspires the Practical Joke. Later, Charlie inspires Slade to live another day, to ride a Ferrari which neither of them can drive or buy.
  • Jerkass:
    • The school Dean, who actively attempts to bribe Charlie - who does not come from a rich background like the other students - with recommendations and better college places. When Charlie refuses to sell out the pranksters, he instead opts to change his tune, and plans on rewarding George for selling out his own friends.
    • Harry. He rubs in his wealth at Charlie, needlessly antagonizes The Dean and even bullies one of his own cronies, lecturing him on the correct way to pronounce the name of a Swiss resort town and then mocking him for pronouncing it this way.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Slade is rather unfazed when his nephew is insulting him at the Thanksgiving dinner, and seems to be conceding that the other man has a point, albeit making it in an incredibly abrasive and disruptive fashion. He only lashes out in turn when the nephew starts unnecessarily targeting Charlie as well.
    • A downplayed example occurs during Slade's climactic speech, in which he acknowledges that he can't say for certain that Charlie's decision to remain silent over the prank is in fact the morally correct or justifiable position, and that it might otherwise indeed be deserving of some kind of punishment or rebuke. But the fact that he is nevertheless refusing to sell out his integrity regardless of the pressure being placed on him is nevertheless courageous, admirable and worthy of regard in and of itself, regardless of what he may or may not have done.
  • Kangaroo Court: What Charlie faces when he goes before the Disciplinary Committee in front of the entire school. Until Frank comes in, that is.
  • Karma Houdini: The Dean ultimately faces no consequences for influencing student testimonies with either threats or bribes, with the Disciplinary Committee simply moving on and not acknowledging the ethical and legal ramifications of expelling a student with both lacking evidence and questionable credibility.
  • Kick the Dog: Harry (the lead prankster) offering to take Charlie on a ski weekend for a “discount” while describing a lot of luxurious perks about it even while knowing fully well that, discount or not, it’s way out of Charlie’s range (the whole thing was just to emphasize his having something that Charlie didn't). Even George calls him out for this a bit.
  • Kill It with Fire: For building what he calls a "rat ship" and "a vessel for sea-going snitches", Frank would like nothing more than to take a flamethrower to the school.
  • Large Ham: The retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel. Implied to be something of a guise adopted to stop the utter misery suggested under No Indoor Voice hidden.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: For all main characters. Slade's nephew argues that he was a mean-spirited person who deserved to be blinded by an accident he caused himself. As Charlie has endured his arrogance and saved him from suicide, Frank saves him at the hearing and is excused from any further questioning. The corrupt Trask is Hoist by His Own Petard twice in front of all his students; in the prank, and at the hearing. George rats out his mates for a bribe, but gets nothing in return and turns them against him. While Harry, Jimmy, and Trent don't get caught specifically, they get probation for suspicion of pulling the prank, and you can tell the Dean is gonna do everything in his power to make their lives utter hell from now on. Also, Frank says "fuck you, too!" to all three for not turning themselves in once their buddies got threatened.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: The main plot. Slade is a disgraced veteran with nothing left to live for.
  • Like You Were Dying: This trope goes in both directions.
    • Colonel Slade teaches poor, outcast prep student Charlie that you don't have to lie down and let other people's expectations of you determine your life.
    • Charlie teaches the blind, bitter Colonel that you don't always have to spit in people's faces to make yourself important, helping others and sticking to your principles accomplishes the same thing. The Colonel stays blind, but is a little less bitter and Charlie accepts that he'll never be one of the rich white kids at his school, and is okay with that if achieving that status means selling out his principles and integrity and having to kiss up to people who have neither, not even for their supposed friends.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Slade manages to get through some loopholes, such as getting a beer for Charlie, driving the Ferrari, and to talk himself out of a speeding ticket without revealing he is blind. Becomes a Chekhov's Skill when he saves Charlie at the hearing.
  • Meaningful Echo: When the Colonel was about to dance the tango with Donna, she worries she'll make a mistake. Frank gently tells her, "If you make a mistake and get all tangled up, you just tango on." Later when threatening to kill Charlie along with himself, part of Charlie's retort was to repeat this line back to the Colonel to help him get out of his depression.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Frank may be abrasive at first, but before his character development, the few times he seems kind and honest with others is when he compliments the working class: a seamstress, a cab driver, and a waiter all receive his praises, and he cools down with Charlie once he reveals his humble origins.
  • No Indoor Voice: Slade, most of the time. This is made very impactful in one of the film's dramatic moments, when he despairingly shouts "WHAT LIFE?! I GOT NO LIFE! I'M IN THE DARK HERE! DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND? I'M IN THE DARK!"
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: George Willis Jr. appears affable yet somewhat dim to everyone, but it appears to be an act — he's rather devious and is willing to sell anyone out. He immediately begins grooming Charlie to take the fall for everyone. Without Charlie's holiday experiences with The Colonel, he probably would have succeeded, too.
  • Pet the Dog: Harry, Jimmy and Trent do seem impressed and supportive during Slade's speech defending Charlie. At least until the Precision F-Strike aimed at them below.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    • "And Harry, Jimmy, Trent, wherever you are out there, fuck you too!"
    • George to the Dean after the prank is successfully pulled off (while hiding his mouth behind his books): "Fuck you!"
  • Punny Name: Invoked by Slade during his "Reason You Suck" Speech.
    Lt. Col. Slade: Because he's not a "Baird man". Baird men. You hurt this boy, you're going to be Baird bums, the lot of ya.explaining the joke
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech/Rousing Speech: Frank's defense of Charlie and bashing of the school and Mr. Trask may be the epitome of this.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Mrs. Hunsacker and the joint faculty-student disciplinary board. While Mr. Trask was unmoved by the Colonel's speech, the group listened intently and within thirty seconds of the Colonel finishing, grouped together on the stage, deliberated, and made their judgement punishing those suspected of the initial prank, denying George Jr of any rewards for snitching, and excusing Charlie from any further inquiries about this topic.
    • Freddie the Ferrari salesman who voiced some sound reasons for being reluctant to let Frank and Charlie test drive the car but ultimately does after seeing how much it means to Frank.
  • Rousing Speech: The finale has Frank deliver an absolutely magnificent one that ends up saving Charlie. See it in all it's glory for yourself.
  • Sadist Teacher: The Dean shows signs of sadism. He actively intends to reward George, the snitch who sells out his friends, for doing so, not punish those George identified because it was such a vague answer, and has the nerve to talk about the school's morals and integrity and how it develops character, and how Charlie has betrayed those aspects of the establishment. Frank, by contrast, argues that he doesn't know if Charlie is right by not speaking up, but declares that it actively displays those values the school holds dear, because Charlie won't sell someone out for himself. It's also telling that his method of getting Charlie to speak up is not reasoning with him but threatening to ruin his life if he doesn't.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: What Charlie believes in.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: The logic which the three prankers follow and which they think will save them. Col. Slade even lampshades this is how these boys will roll.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Frank starts way off on the cynical side, but by the end of the film he starts to side with Charlie's idealism. Charlie gains some cynicism too (mostly enough to start acting on his desires, rather than wait for shit to fall into his lap.)
  • Spoiled Brat: George and the three troublemakers come from wealthy backgrounds and look down on Charlie's humble one.
  • Verbal Tic: "HOO-AH!"
  • Wants a Prize for Basic Decency: During the disciplinary hearing, the dean intends to reward George for (barely) cooperating with the investigation. Frank calls the school out on this, however, and the disciplinary committee ultimately decides George should receive "neither commendation nor reward" for his participation.
  • Wham Line: Then, I'm going to lie down on my big beautiful bed, and blow my brains out.
  • With Friends Like These...: George sells out his supposed "friends" the second things get rough for him. This stands in contrast to Charlie who is willing to get expelled for them despite knowing they would never do the same for him.