(Above: Al Pacino in ‘Scent of a Woman.’ Source: YouTube screenshot)
As actors grow older, so do their voices. In addition to thinning hair, sagging chins and inexorable wrinkling, vocal chords thicken, coarsen, and shrink in their range of expression.
Not so with Al Pacino. Like Bette Davis (recall her iconic vocal characterization in her comeback performance as Baby Jane Hudson in 1962’s Whatever happened to Baby Jane), Pacino’s voice has aged like fine wine.
Pacino’s vocal metamorphosis has transformed and enriched his timing, delivery and acting choices. Anatomically, why and how this happened is speculation. But instead of limiting his conceptions, Pacino’s speech patterns and performances have been enhanced by new-found vocal color, scope and flexibility. This process appeared to start in the late 1980s (or perhaps as early as Scarface in 1983), and continued well into the 2000s.
For starters, take a listen to Pacino’s delightfully campy Big Boy Caprice in Dick Tracy (1990):
True, Pacino was never a male bel canto. As a young man, his voice was always a bit raspy. Consider this scene from GodFather: Part II (1974):
By his 1992 Academy Award winning performance in Scent of a Woman, Pacino was clearly in possession of a new vocal instrument and sense of lyricism.
And he loved it!
In this tense and awkward family Thanksgiving dinner, Pacino’s retired and blind Col. Frank Slade provides variations on “HUA” (US Army jargon for ‘Hear-Understood-Acknowledge’) in response to a verbal assault from his less than respectful nephew. Note Pacino’s change of inflections for each “HUA” from 2:04 through 2:35 in the following clip:
Of course, Pacino also benefitted from great writing. He did a hell of a job, for example, as a modern-day lawyering Lucifer in 1997’s The Devil’s Advocate. In the following wonderful eleventh hour monologue, the devil demands his due from his unwitting protégé, a defense lawyer played by Keanu Reeves:
In an eerily similar scene in HBO’s Angels in America (2003), Pacino put his illustrious pipes to work in an Emmy-winning role as Roy Cohn, the real-life attorney whom many considered to be the devil.
Streaming Al Pacino
In 2019, Pacino will return to movie theaters as another notorious historic figure, Jimmy Hoffa, in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman.
Meanwhile, here’s where you can stream some classic Pacino performances:
- Bingeable Abbott & Costello - April 26, 2021
- A Commanding ‘Ma Rainey’ - December 21, 2020
- ‘Chappelle’ Still Shocks - December 4, 2020
- Stranger Bedfellows - November 2, 2020
- Strange Bedfellows - October 30, 2020
- ‘Ratched’: Grade A Camp - October 23, 2020
- Monster Family Pedigree - October 19, 2020
- Wild, Wild Western - August 31, 2020
- Speaking Truth to Power - August 19, 2020
- Norma Desmond at 70 - August 10, 2020