Once Upon a Crime... (1992) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Phoebe and fellow American Julian Peters meet in Rome, find a lost dog, and agree to return it to Monte Carlo to split the five thousand dollar reward. Discovering the dog's owner dead, they panic and become fugitives. Other victims of misfortune also become suspects, as the plot twists and luck and judgment desert everyone.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • An American named Phoebe (Sean Young) arrives in Rome, Italy, after her Italian boyfriend, Marcello, invited her to move there with him. However, when she arrives, he refuses to take her telephone calls. Heartbroken, Phoebe wanders the streets of Rome, where a dachshund, wearing an expensive plaid coat, snatches her lunch. She shoos the dog away, but soon after, sees a newspaper advertisement offering a $5,000 reward for the lost dachshund's return to its wealthy owner, Madame Van Dougen, who lives in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Nearby, another American, Julian Peters (Richard Lewis), is fired by his Italian acting agent. When the lost dog begs him for food, he notes its expensive collar and sees "Monte Carlo" written on its name tag. Phoebe sees him with the dog and pretends it belongs to her; however, Julian does not believe her, and guesses that she is after a reward. She reluctantly agrees to split the money with him, and they travel to Monte Carlo by train.

    Elsewhere on the train, American couple Neil and Marilyn Schwary (James Belushi and Cybill Shepherd) discus Neil's system for winning at roulette. American passenger Augie Morosco (John Candy) interjects that there is no way to win at a casino, and admits that he is a recovering gambling addict, traveling to join his wealthy wife, Elena, in Monte Carlo. Soon after, Phoebe sees Augie Morosco holding the dachshund, and accuses him of stealing it. However, Augie tells her he bought the dog from a man in the dining car. Phoebe is furious, and searches for Julian, who tells her that Augie paid him $6,000 for the animal. Phoebe insists they return the money, and deliver the dog as promised. Augie refuses to return the pet until a train porter demands to see its traveling papers. Augie returns the dog to Julian, asking him to find him in Monte Carlo if he changes his mind about selling, and handing him a matchbook with his name on it. Julian and Phoebe are forced to exit the train and have the dog inspected by a veterinarian. When Julian telephones Madam Van Dougen to tell her they will be delayed, he hears an unexplained disruption on the other end of the line.

    Meanwhile, Marilyn and Neil arrive in Monaco, and she begs him not to gamble away all of their vacation money at the hotel casino. However, Neil ignores her and cashes in every cent on gambling chips. Marilyn dons an expensive gown from Neil's wholesale clothing business, before joining him in the casino. When she enters, she catches the eye of a dashing Italian man named Alfonso de la Pena (George Hamilton), but when Neil sees her, he calls her a "jinx" and sends her away from him. Marilyn meets Greek gambler Hercules Popodopoulos (Joss Ackland) who asks her to pick a number for him at the craps table. After winning, Hercules shares the profits with her and teaches her how to place bets. Before long, Marilyn wins a half-million dollars.

    Elsewhere, Neil loses all of his money. When he sees Augie Morosco winning at several tables at once, Neil begs for his help. They place a bet together, as Augie's beautiful wife, Elena (Ornella Muti), arrives, and chastises him for giving in to his addiction. Augie ignores her, and he and Neil win a large sum of money.

    Arriving in Monte Carlo, Phoebe is still angry with Julian for attempting to sell the dog behind her back. Despite the late hour, they go directly to Madame Van Dougen's villa, as instructed, but find the place empty. While wandering the grounds, they discover her body inside a garage, and flee. Julian returns for Phoebe's suitcase, and sees a man hiding in the bushes. Phoebe insists they go to police, but Julian fears they will be arrested as suspects, and treated poorly because they are foreigners. When officers walk past them on the street, Julian kisses Phoebe to hide their faces, leaving her flustered.

    Soon after, they make an anonymous telephone call to police from a cafe. Police trace the call and soon arrive. After Julian and Phoebe overhear the cafe owner giving their description to police, Phoebe puts the dog on a bus to get rid of it, but realizes that she left her suitcase at Madame Van Dougen's villa. Julian refuses to return with her and they part ways.

    Meanwhile, Augie and Neil lose all their money at the casino. Distraught, Neil wanders the streets and prays to find a suitcase filled with money. Outside of Madame Van Dougen's villa, Neil's wish is granted when he sees a suitcase sitting next to a running vehicle. With no one in sight, he steals it, and returns to his hotel room, where he pleads with Marilyn to forgive him for losing their money. Marilyn says she put money aside, knowing he would lose it all, and chastises him for stealing the suitcase. When they look inside, they are shocked to find the body of an old woman (off-camera). Fearing they will be arrested as suspects, they pack their belongings and flee the hotel, planning to abandon the suitcase along the way.

    Phoebe arrives at Madame Van Dougen's villa to search for her suitcase, followed by Julian, who apologizes for leaving her. He goes inside to get her suitcase, where police lie in wait. Inspector Bonnard (Giancarlo Giannini) questions Julian, who is nervous and appears guilty. Phoebe hides among the crowd that has formed outside the gates, and overhears a witness tell police that he saw a man and woman with a dog enter the property, and identifies Julian as the man he saw. As Phoebe looks on, the dachshund returns home, and runs to her side. She hides the pet under her coat, while Julian is taken to jail.

    The next morning, Neil and Marilyn Schwary board a train, and check the suitcase onto a train headed for a different destination. However, as they celebrate their escape, the porter chases after them with the suitcase. Despite their protests, he pushes it through the window of their departing train car. They try once more to get rid of it, to no avail, and porters soon find the body after a routine check of passengers' luggage.

    Inspector Bonnard questions Madame Van Dougen's short housekeeper and butler, who claim they were out of the house all evening after learning the housekeeper's sister had been in an automobile accident. When Phoebe is found with the dog, she is arrested and brought to the station. The housekeeper and butler confirm that it is, in fact, Madame Van Dougen's dog, Napoleon. Bonnard questions Julian and Phoebe about Augie Morosco, whose name was written in a matchbook found next to Van Dougen's body. Julian realizes he must have dropped the matchbook, and struggles to explain how it got there. Bonnard declares that their accomplices have arrived, as Neil and Marilyn Schwary are brought into the station in handcuffs. However, Julian and Phoebe do not know Neil and Marilyn, and Bonnard tries to sort out the truth as everyone claims their innocence.

    Meanwhile, Augie buys flowers for Elena and vows to have given up gambling for good. She forgives him, and tells him the newspaper story about Van Dougen's murder. Back at the police station, Neil names Augie as his alibi on the night of the murder, and Bonnard calls Augie in for questioning. When Augie reveals that he met Van Dougen several weeks before at a casino, Bonnard believes he is guilty. Surprised to see all four of his American acquaintances from the train behind bars, Augie reluctantly admits to having met Julian and Phoebe on the train, but refuses to admit that he knows Neil and Marilyn, whom he suspects of being guilty. Augie claims he was with his wife at the time of the murder, and later asks Elena to be his alibi. She confesses that she was with another man at the time, in retaliation for Augie's gambling. When Italian playboy Alfonso de la Pena overhears their conversation at a restaurant, he flees, and Elena admits that Alfonso was her lover. Augie follows Alfonso, and convinces him to keep quiet about the events of that night.

    That evening, Bonnard arrives at the hotel to question Augie again, and reveals that a man was seen going out the fire escape of his wife's room. Augie claims to have been the man, and Bonnard asks him to reenact the events of the night, following Augie to the fire escape, and forcing him to walk across a beam to the other side of the street where he gained entrance into Van Dougen's villa. Augie and Bonnard enter Van Dougen's home where Bonnard has gathered the American suspects to try to get to the truth. They turn on each other as they each proclaim their innocence. However, Elena refuses to name Alfonso de la Pena as the man she was with, until Bonnard brings him into the room. Julian instantly recognizes Alfonso's shiny shoes and insists he was the man in the bushes at the crime scene. Alfonso confesses that he and Van Dougen, whom he calls "Claire," were secret lovers, and insists she was not in her bedroom when he arrived for their regular rendezvous. He only hid in the bushes to protect Claire's privacy when he heard Julian and Phoebe arrive. Finally, Bonnard brings in the housekeeper and butler, and reveals several holes in their story, forcing the butler to confess that he and the housekeeper murdered Van Dougen due to her abusive and harsh treatment of them.

    The Americans celebrate their release over dinner, with Bonnard in attendance. Julian toasts to Napoleon for the dog's part in leading him to his new love, Phoebe, while Marilyn reveals her $500,000 winnings to Neil, and demands he start treating her with more respect. Later, Bonnard tells one of his detectives that Madame Van Dougen left her $20 million fortune to Napoleon, and realizes that whoever inherited the dog will actually receive the money.

    Elsewhere in the final scene, Alfonso de la Pena sips champagne on a yacht with Napoleon.

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