Friday, September 21, 2012

Comic Relief: Oscar

Another essay I wrote for a Comedy Film class, Spring 2008.

Film: Oscar (1991)

            Gangster Angelo “Snaps” Provolone (Sylvester Stallone) promises his dying father that he will go “straight” and enter the legitimate business world. The task proves difficult. His employees have a hard time transforming from thugs to bakers, butlers, and chauffeurs. His wife, Sophia (Ornella Muti), complains that it embarrasses her when the chauffeur leaves the car running at the curb—like a getaway car—while she is shopping. Visual contrasts and clever lines create rapid-fire comedy in Oscar.
            There are numerous contrasts in the film. For instance, it is humorous to see the various henchmen dressed in suits, but performing household tasks. Aldo (Peter Riegert), the butler, wears a brown plaid suit, a brown derby hat, and smokes a cigar. Not the typical version of a butler. Other “tough guys” are in the kitchen wearing white aprons over their suits, looking out of place as they perform their domestic tasks surrounded by fresh vegetables and canned goods. Upstairs, Connie (Chazz Palminteri) (yet another contrast—a gangster named Connie) reads the color funny papers as he guards a door. The tasks and attire of the men provide visual incongruity, adding to the humor of the film.
              Provolone's daughter, Lisa (Marisa Tomei), lounges in an extremely feminine bedroom decorated in floral wallpaper, lots of pink, plenty of frills and lace, dotted with dolls and stuffed animals, yet she wears a peignoir with garters, smokes a cigarette in a long cigarette wand, and reads Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Her dark hair has tight curls purposely placed around her face.  She is a contrast to her surroundings. When her father enters the room, he adds another contrast—a gangster surrounded by frou-frou. 
              Another scene in Lisa's bedroom has hilarious contrast. Upon hearing his boss yell, Connie runs into the room toting a pistol. He is not supposed to be “packing” since they are going straight, so “Snaps” orders him to reveal his weaponry. Connie pulls out a switchblade and places it next to the fine silver brush, comb, and tray on Lisa’s dresser. He continues to pull out various tools of the trade: an ice pick, brass knuckles, billy-club, knife, a bottle of poison, an iron pipe, meat hook, sling shot, flail, a ticking bomb, and finally a small derringer. The incongruity of all those weapons hidden in his suit is great comedy, and the visual contrast of the weapons piled on the feminine dresser adds to the humor. “It’s like disarming Germany,” Provolone mutters.
            Funny dialogue adds great comic flare to the film. “The dialogue can let us know the climate is comic—because it either is funny or is delivered in a funny, incongruous, mechanical, or some other unnatural way” (Mast 10). Consider this scene: “Snaps” convinces Anthony (Vincent Spano) that the Finucci brothers (Harry Shearer and Martin Ferrero) are “vicious contract killers” when they are actually easy-going tailors. Anthony plays a tune on the piano and soon the Finuccis join him. Panicked, he asks them what they want. They ask him to please tell “Signor Provolone” that they are in a hurry, they “gotta do another guy at 11:00.” Anthony assumes, of course, that they are talking about killing someone when they are actually talking about fitting someone for a suit. Anthony asks, “You do more than one a day?” They assure him that sometimes they do six to eight a day, “It’s a cutthroat business.” With pride, they show him a newspaper clipping of a murdered man. The intent is to show off the wonderful suit—their work of art—that the deceased is wearing. Anthony assumes they are showing off their contract job. The Finuccis continue, “Maybe someday we do you too, huh? And when we get through with you nobody gonna recognize you.” 
The dialogue is fantastic as the mistaken identity and mix up in messages during that scene has the Finuccis show off their tailoring work with pride, yet sets fear into Anthony, previously threatened by Provolone.
            Another witty dialogue takes place between Angelo, his wife Sophia, and Father Clemente (Don Ameche). Angelo experiences numerous interruptions during a fitting for a new suit. Each interruption brings more confusion and twists to the plot. There is much confusion about who is marrying whom. Father Clemente heard their daughter Lisa will marry Bruce Underwood (a wealthy associate) but Sophia explains that Lisa will marry a nice Italian boy by the name of Anthony Rossano. Angelo breaks the news that Lisa will not be marrying Anthony but will marry Dr. Poole (Tim Curry) instead. Sophia is shocked and confused. Angelo says he does not have time to explain because he needs to call Nora, their ex-maid, who has quit to marry Bruce Underwood. Sophia demands, “When did that happen?” Angelo shouts, “I don’t know!  Somewhere between my vest and my pants.”
            The visual contrasts, along with the snappy dialogue, in Oscar are top notch and help to create a successful comic confusion. The viewer must keep track of who is who and what is what and which valise is which, and can relate to Connie’s dilemma when asked to leave the room: “Do I have to Boss? Every time I leave I fall behind.”

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