Oscar (1991 film)

Oscar is a 1991 American slapstick crime comedy film directed by John Landis.[1] Based on the Claude Magnier [fr] stage play, it is a remake of the 1967 French film of the same name, but the setting has been moved to Depression-era New York City and the plot centers on a mob boss trying to go straight. The film stars Sylvester Stallone, Marisa Tomei, Ornella Muti, Tim Curry and Chazz Palminteri, and was a rare attempt by Stallone at doing a comedy role.[2]

Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Landis
Produced byLeslie Belzberg
Written byMichael Barrie
Jim Mulholland
Based onOscar
by Claude Magnier [fr]
Music byElmer Bernstein
CinematographyMac Ahlberg
Edited byDale Beldin
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures
Release date
  • April 26, 1991 (1991-04-26)
Running time
109 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$35 million
Box office$23.5 million


In the prologue, gangster Angelo "Snaps" Provolone promises his dying father 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' daughter." Snaps is furious, does not want his daughter marrying Anthony and goes to talk to his daughter, Lisa.

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. 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 serving overseas in the military.

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's dialectician, whose frequent world travels appeal to her adventurous nature.

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 also 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—they don't intend to give him any actual influence in the bank's operations, despite the money he's willing to invest. 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 the realization that he'd rather deal with gangsters and gunmen than "respectable" bankers, Snaps decides to abandon his short-lived honest ways and return to a life of crime (looking skyward and admitting to his father, "Sorry, pop... I did the best I could"). 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.



Development and writingEdit

According to director John Landis 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.[3]

Oscar is a farce set in 1931, sort of Damon Runyon 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...)

Landis' first choice for the lead role was Al Pacino, who was going to be paid $2 million for the role but was then offered $3 million to appear in Dick Tracy. "He was very upfront about it, he said he was going to go for the money," said Landis. "I think Oscar would’ve been a much better movie with Al, but there you go."[4]

Stallone later said he should have played "Snaps," his character in the film, "incredibly cynical like in the original French version".[5]


The film score was composed by Elmer Bernstein and is based around Gioachino Rossini's Barber of Seville. In the Varèse Sarabande edition of the film soundtrack, Landis penned liner notes about the development of the score:

As I shot the film I envisioned a particular kind of score and knew that Elmer would be the one to write it. [..] By using a comic opera approach, I was actually contradicting the musical theory that Elmer and I had inaugurated 14 years ago with the serious score for Animal House.

The opening track is "Largo Al Factotum" from The Barber of Seville, performed by Earle Patriarco. The track "Cops and Real Crooks" includes "Finucci Piano Boogie," composed and performed by Ralph Grierson. The soundtrack also contained four pre-existing songs which appeared in 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).

  1. "Largo Al Factotum" (performed by Earle Patriarco) (4:42)
  2. "Grifting" (5:43)
  3. "Lisa Dreams" (3:46)
  4. "Tea and Romance" (4:29)
  5. "Revelations" (5:27)
  6. "Cops and Real Crooks" (composed and performed by Ralph Grierson) (5:45)
  7. "Sweet Georgia Brown" - Bing Crosby (2:54)
  8. "Rockin' in Rhythm" - Duke Ellington and His Orchestra (3:21)
  9. "Tea for Two" - Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians (3:21)
  10. "Plain Dirt" - McKinney's Cotton Pickers (2:38)


The film was released theatrically in the United States on April 26, 1991 and had nine international releases from June until September.

Critical receptionEdit

Oscar received mostly negative reviews from critics. Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film three stars (of four); while he described the first reel as "disastrous", he added that the film included "truly funny work by enormously talented supporting players."[6] Tribune reviewer Dave Kehr wrote, "Landis does his best to give the material a cartoonlike rhythm and stylized sense of movement ... but the labored, repetitive screenplay, by Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland, defeats him." He continued, "For a film meant to define a lighter and fresher image for Stallone, Oscar doesn't quite get the job done."[2]Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "D+", stating "Director John Landis executes the mechanics of farce without a trace of the speed or effervescence this material demands. Every chuckle feels engineered."[7]

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[8]

The Variety review stated the film was an "intermittently amusing throwback to gangster comedies of the 1930s. While dominated by star Sylvester Stallone and heavy doses of production and costume design, pic is most distinguished by sterling turns by superb character actors."[9] It currently holds a 12% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 17 reviews.[10]

In 2017, director John Landis said:[11]

I made a movie once, Oscar with Sylvester Stallone, and everybody who saw the movie and liked it, would never go out and see Stallone. We did a preview of the movie and someone wrote on the card, 'Why didn't he take his shirt off and kill anybody?' [Laughs.] But we had an extraordinary cast, we had Kirk Douglas, Don Ameche, and a girl who had never been in a movie before: Marisa Tomei. She was so extremely great from the first day! And what had she done before? Practically nothing! Now, that’s talent. She was so unbelievably good.

Oscar was nominated for three Razzie Awards: Worst Actor (Sylvester Stallone), Worst Director (John Landis) and Worst Supporting Actress (Marisa Tomei) at the 12th Golden Raspberry Awards in 1992.[12]

Home mediaEdit

Oscar was released on VHS on September 11, 1991, followed by a Laserdisc edition on November 11. The film was released on DVD on May 6, 2003 and later received a Blu-ray release by Kino Lorber on September 5, 2018.


  1. ^ "Oscar". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved March 23, 2016.
  2. ^ a b Kehr, Dave (April 26, 1991). "Rehashing `Oscar` Is No Snap For Stallone And Landis". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2013-01-03.
  3. ^ Quote from O.S.T "Oscar", published by Walt Disney Music Co. (ASCAP)
  4. ^ ""Making a Hammer Film As If It Was Directed by Scorsese": John Landis on Innocent Blood and Operating Muppets with Tim Burton". Filmmaker Magazine. 3 October 2017.
  5. ^ Knowles, Harry (January 21, 2008). "Day 3 - Stallone guts some more questions and lets the answers spill out!!!". Ain't It Cool News.
  6. ^ Siskel, Gene (April 26, 1991). "Stallone's `Oscar` Recovers From Bad Start". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2013-01-03.
  7. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (May 3, 1991). "Oscar (1991)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2013-01-03.
  8. ^ "CinemaScore". cinemascore.com.
  9. ^ "Oscar". Variety. December 31, 1990. Retrieved 2013-01-03.
  10. ^ Oscar at Rotten Tomatoes  
  11. ^ https://filmtalk.org/2017/09/06/john-landis-im-always-taking-great-pride-in-the-fact-that-i-hope-i-dont-have-a-style-of-my-own/
  12. ^ Wilson, John (August 23, 2000). "Ceremonies Presented at The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel Academy Room, March 29, 1992" Archived May 13, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. Razzies.com. Retrieved 2013-01-03.

External linksEdit