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'Scent' Has Boarding School Essence

February 04, 1993|LYNN SMITH | Lynn Smith is a staff writer for The Times' View section.

In "Scent of a Woman," a preppy on scholarship witnesses fellow students setting up a prank in which paint is dropped on the headmaster's car. The headmaster offers him a recommendation to Harvard if he tells who it was. He decides what to do during a spree in New York with a suicidal eccentric he has been hired to watch. (Rated R)


James and Bob, 16 and 18, know what it's like to wear suits and ties to classes in ivy-covered pseudo Gothic buildings. The brothers know how pranks break the monotony of boarding school. They know about peer codes.

The movie's weekend spree in New York sounded to them like fantasy, but the prep school issues struck close to home.

James: "You do pranks all the time; otherwise it would get too monotonous. You could understand the balloon, but not the paint."

Bob: "It was out of line doing paint. Flour and water, something that could be washed off but be a big mess, would be a lot more appropriate.

"When I was in Cambridge, we duct-taped all the doors shut from the inside, and we went out the windows and closed and locked the windows from the outside. That was (the) second half of the year. In the first half, some of the seniors from the year before came back and cemented the front door shut. One time, somebody put syrup down a heating machine; that stunk up the room. That was destructive."

James: "If something keeps happening, they try to find out who it is. But they don't put it before the whole school unless it's something big.

"There were situations when a class of 24 (was) put in a room and asked, 'Who did this?' And everybody sits there, shuffles their feet and then they start asking individual people. That's really rough. Everybody knows who did it, even if they didn't see it. It gets around so fast. You don't go home to your house. You go home to your dorm, and there's nothing to do but talk."

Bob: "There's an argument for telling and an argument for not telling. If someone had been hurt, it would have been better to tell."

James: "There's an argument for telling, but as soon as the dean says he could get into Harvard, the argument gets blown away," because the offer becomes a sort of payment for telling the truth. "He couldn't tell then.

"Besides, everybody would know. He'll tell somebody who's a good friend. It can get around, and it can ruin you. Even if you do go to the school, it will get there before you that that's why you got there. It would totally defeat the purpose."

Bob: "Did you see (the movie) 'School Ties'? I liked this one better. It worked out the right way, the way you'd expect a movie to work out."

James: "The end was phony."

Bob: "It was good, except for the part where they stood up and clapped. The cheering knocked it down."

James: "You expected it, though."

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