In the prologue, gangster Angelo "Snaps" Provolone promises his dying father (Kirk Douglas) that he will give up a life of crime, and instead "go straight".
A month later, Snaps awakes at his mansion and begins his important morning. He has a meeting with several prominent bankers, as he hopes to donate a large sum of cash and join the bank’s board of trustees, thereby having an honest job and keeping his word to his father. Anthony Rossano, Snaps's young, good-natured accountant, arrives at the mansion and tells his boss that he’s in love, asks for a 250% raise, then tells Snaps the true love he speaks of is actually "Snaps's daughter." Snaps is furious, does not want his daughter marrying Anthony and goes to talk to his daughter, Lisa.
Lisa is the only child of Snaps and Sofia, a spoiled daughter whose dreams of seeing the world’s great sights run into a roadblock because of her overly protective father. Wishing to move out of the house, she lies to her parents (at the suggestion of the maid, Nora) and claims to be pregnant. Snaps, believing the father to be Anthony (as he wants to marry "Snaps's daughter"), is shocked when Lisa says the father is Oscar, the former chauffeur who is now out of the country.
Things get even more complicated when Anthony learns that Theresa, the woman he fell in love with, is not actually Snaps' daughter as she had claimed to be. Before Anthony can catch on, Snaps tricks him into agreeing to marry his actual daughter, Lisa, who is supposedly pregnant but without a husband. Both Lisa and Anthony are unhappy at the hasty arrangement, and the pair luck out when Lisa falls in love with someone else: Dr. Thornton Poole, Snaps' dialectician.
Meanwhile, local police lieutenant Toomey is keeping an eye on the mansion, believing that Snaps is meeting with Chicago mobsters soon. Also watching Snaps is mob rival Vendetti, who, too, believes that Snaps is meeting Chicago mobsters. Vendetti plans a hit on Snaps in the early afternoon while Toomey plans a raid at the same time to catch Snaps red-handed.
While Anthony seeks out Theresa, Snaps meets his mansion's new maid, Roxie. As it turns out, Roxie is an old flame of Snaps, and the pair talk memories and the life that never was. Theresa comes to the mansion and is revealed to be Roxie's daughter - who was actually fathered by Snaps long ago - making Snaps her dad after all. The impromptu celebration of both his daughters' engagements is cut short by the arrival of the bankers. During the meeting, Snaps senses the bankers are giving him a raw deal. The meeting is interrupted by police officers and Toomey, who is embarrassed to find no money or gangsters present on site. He leaves the mansion just in time for Vendetti's car full of armed men to crash right outside. Toomey smiles for reporters and arrests the men.
With no hope to actually become a banker, Snaps decides to abandon his short-lived honest ways and return to a life of crime. The final scene of the movie shows a double wedding for both his daughters. Oscar himself finally appears and objects to Lisa's marriage, but he is carried off by Snaps' men and the weddings end happily.
The film is directed as if it were a film of that time, with humor and dialogue delivered in a manner reminiscent of old Hollywood comedies, particularly the "screwball" genre. Director John Landis had said
|“||Oscar is a farce set in 1931, sort of Damon Runyan meets Feydeau. I shot the picture in a deliberately stylized manner, attempting a thirties Hollywood comedy look and feel (Peter Riegart, at one point, actually says, Why I oughta...)||”|
The little black bags
The multiple subplots of the film are linked together using a plot device: three identical black suitcases that are mistaken for each other. One suitcase contains jewels that Antony Rossano purchased after he stole $50k from Snaps. The second suitcase contains Nora's underwear. The third suitcase contains another $50k, this time in cash, which Rossano stole from Snaps. The bags are misidentified several times before eventually being brought together, much like the four identical plaid overnight cases (containing rock specimens; underwear; jewelry; and cash) in the 1972 screwball comedy, What's Up, Doc?.
Two different scenes have Snaps trying to give either jewels or cash to the doctor but instead opens up the suitcase to find underwear. The bags are switched out a number of different times with the intention of returning Nora's underwear to her and the jewels/cash to Snaps, but by the end Nora has both the suitcase with the jewels and the suitcase with the cash. This leaves only the suitcase with the underwear in the house when the NYPD arrive to start making accusations. Toomey opens up the bag of underwear as reporters snap photos.
- Sylvester Stallone as Angelo "Snaps" Provolone is a feared gangster who, at the beginning of the film, promises his dying father that he will give up a life of crime, and instead "go straight".
- Ornella Muti as Sofia Provolone: Snaps' wife.
- Marisa Tomei as Lisa Provolone: the only child of Snaps and Sofia. Lisa is a spoiled daughter whose dreams of seeing the world’s great sights run into a roadblock because of her overly protective father. Wishing to move out of the house, she lies to her parents (at the suggestion of the maid, Nora) and claims to be pregnant.
- Vincent Spano as Anthony Rossano: the kind yet wily accountant of Snaps. Anthony’s early morning arrival to the mansion sets all events in motion. Anthony tells his boss that he’s in love, asks for a monumental raise, then tells Snaps the true love he speaks of is actually "Snaps's daughter." After Anthony professes his love for the daughter, Snaps agrees to let him and his daughter marry. What Anthony soon learns is this: The woman he fell in love with is not actually Snaps' daughter, but was merely pretending to be.
- Elizabeth Barondes as Theresa: revealed later to be Snaps illegitimate daughter via Roxanne.
- Tim Curry as Dr. Thornton Poole: a linguistics expert who arrives for an elocution lesson with Snaps. Poole is a world traveler, who giddily traverses the country in his studies of the sub-dialects of the English language.
- Peter Riegert as Aldo: Snaps’s top man who took over the role of house butler when his boss went straight. Often underappreciated, Aldo tries to keep all the mansion henchmen in line in preparation for Snaps’s important meeting with the bankers.
- Chazz Palminteri as Connie: a loyal but dim-witted button man for Snaps. Connie’s penchant for carrying numerous weapons and his slow wits make for several humorous moments.
- Joycelyn O'Brien as Nora: the maid.
- Linda Gray as Roxanne: a replacement maid sent over by the service after Nora’s sudden departure. Snaps recognizes Roxanne (“Roxy”), as the two are actually former lovers who had a fling many years ago, before Snaps became a gangster. Roxanne reveals she left Snaps one night because she was pregnant. She is extremely surprised to see her daughter in the mansion – Theresa. Connie then puts all the facts together and reveals that Theresa is actually Snaps’ real daughter from a relationship 20 years ago.
- Martin Ferrero as Luigi Finucci: one of a pair of Italian tailors who arrive early to find Snaps the perfect suit for his important meeting. The Finucci’s are constantly disrupted as problems around the house continue to occur.
- Harry Shearer as Guido Finucci: Luigi's brother. Snaps manages to convince Anthony that the Fenucci’s are vicious assassins who will murder Anthony on a moment’s notice should he step out of line.
- Kurtwood Smith as Lt. Toomey, Chicago PD
- Eddie Bracken as stuttering stool pigeon Five-Spot Charlie
- Richard Romanus as Vendetti: a rival gangster of Snaps' who's worried at how quiet Snaps has been recently. Vendetti gathers a group of men and plans to assassinate Snaps in the early afternoon. His car full of men crashes near the house though, right in front of Lt. Toomey, who arrests the whole group.
- Kirk Douglas as Eduardo Provolone: Snaps' dying father who makes him promise to "go straight".
- Don Ameche as Father Clemente
- Jim Mulholland as Oscar
- Yvonne De Carlo as Aunt Rosa
The film score was composed by Elmer Bernstein and is based around Gioachino Rossini's Barber of Seville. In the Varese Sarabande edition of film soundtrack, there are liner notes from John Landis about the score. The opening track is Largo Al Factorum from The Barber of Seville, performed by Earle Patriarco. Track Cops and Real Crooks concludes Finucci Piano Boogie composed and performed by Ralph Grierson. The Varese edition of the film's soundtrack also contained four songs which appeared during the film: Sweet Georgia Brown (performed by Bing Crosby), Rockin' In Rhythm (performed by Duke Ellington & His Orchestra, Tea For Two (performed by Fred Waring & His Pennsylvanians) and Plain Dirt (performed by McKinney's Cotton Pickers).
There are currently two versions of the soundtrack. The first comprises four tracks used in the film in certain scenes. These are:
- "Rockin in Rhythm"
- "Sweet Georgia Brown"
- "Plain Dirt"
- "Barber of Seville" - (excerpts)
This is the May 1995 version of the soundtrack and does not include the selections by Elmer Bernstein.
The second includes all of the selections from the film, including the tracks from the other soundtrack:
- "Largo Al Factotum" (performed by Earle Patriarco) (4:42)
- "Grifting" (5:43)
- "Lisa Dreams" (3:46)
- "Tea and Romance" (4:29)
- "Revelations" (5:27)
- "Cops and Real Crooks" (composed and performed by Ralph Grierson) (5:45)
- "Sweet Georgia Brown" - Bing Crosby (2:54)
- "Rockin' in Rhythm" - Duke Ellington and His Orchestra (3:21)
- "Tea for Two" - Fred waring and His Pennsylvanians (3:21)
- "Plain Dirt" - McKinney's Cotton Pickers (2:38)
It was the number one movie in the US for two weeks. However, it still received very negative reviews and failed to bring back its $35 million budget. Oscar was nominated for three Razzie Awards: Worst Actor (Sylvester Stallone), Worst Director and Worst Supporting Actress (Marisa Tomei).
Home media release
The film was released on April 26, 1991 (USA) and nine international releases from June until September. The Laserdisc version was released November 11. The VHS release was September 11, 1991, and the DVD was released May 6, 2003.
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