In a hospital in Rome, a woman named Olga sits at her grandmother's bedside during the latter's final moments. The grandmother (an immigrant from Russia) reveals that she used to be an aristocrat before the Communist Revolution and was forced to flee the purges. Apparently, she hid a treasure somewhere in Leningrad (back when it was called Petrograd) "underneath a lion". Then the grandmother dies, but Olga isn't the only one to hear the deathbed confession. A doctor, two male nurses, a patient with a broken leg, and a mafioso overhear it as well. All of them decide to race to Leningrad to claim the treasure (worth 9 billion lire). All of them take the next flight to Leningrad, but the mafioso attempts to kick the doctor out of the race by flushing his passport (it works, the doctor spends the rest of the film shuttling between Leningrad and Rome, unable to get off the flight because he lacks identification). He then nearly depressurizes the plane, resulting in it landing on a highway. The Italians are greeted by a man named Andrei, who claims to be a guide for the "millionth Italian visitor" (one of the male nurses). In fact, Andrei is an undercover cop, sent to keep an eye on the visitors, as the state police is aware of their goal. As the Italians are scouring the city for clues, exacerbated by the fact that Leningrad is known for an incredible number of lion statues, Olga, who is slowly falling for Andrei, reveals that her grandmother whispered a second clue to her with her dying breath, something only she knows.
The race turns into an elimination game, but Olga manages to finally locate the treasure (hidden under the cage of a real lion, not a lion statue) before the Italians are cornered by the cops. Andrei reveals his identity and explains that the cops have been tipped off to the treasure hunt while they were still on their flight. By Soviet law, all treasure found on Soviet soil is the property of the state, but the Italians will get a finder's fee equal to 25% of the treasure's worth, which is still a considerable amount, even when split between them. Most of the treasure hunters fly home, but Olga chooses to stay with Andrei, who has received a promotion.
Provides examples of:
- Completely Different Title: The Russian and Italian titles differ, with the Russian title making emphasis on the Italians, while the Italian title emphasizing Russia.
- Deathbed Confession: Olga's grandmother waits until her last breath to tell Olga about the treasure hidden in Leningrad worth a fortune. Unfortunately for Olga, several other people overhear the confession, although Olga later reveals that a part of it was only heard by her.
- Harmless Freezing: The mafioso ends up frozen by being partially sucked out of the plane through a broken window and spending several minutes with his torso in the freezing temperatures at high altitude before the plane lands. After some medical attention, he's perfectly fine.
- Heir Club for Men: The mafioso is sick and tired of his wife only producing girls (even though it's not her fault). During the film, he's expecting his next child and really wants a son. At the end, he gets the happy news - it's another daughter. Cue the cursing.
- I Choose to Stay: Having fallen in love with Andrei, Olga chooses to stay with him at the end of the film instead of going back to Rome.
- Impoverished Patrician: Olga's grandmother reveals that she comes from a long line of wealthy Russian aristocrats. She was forced to flee the Red Terror and had to hide the family fortune, unable to take it with her to Italy.
- Just Plane Wrong: It takes more to break the window of a commercial plane than just kicking at it. If you flush something down the toilet, it will end up in the septic tank, not outside. Also, most roads (especially Russian roads) aren't built to handle the weight of a plane setting down on it (the scene was actually filmed at an airport).
- The Mafia: One of the treasure hunters is an Italian mafioso.
- Needle in a Stack of Needles: The one clue that everyone hears during Olga's grandmother's Deathbed Confession is that the treasure is "underneath a lion". When they arrive to Leningrad, they are shocked to discover lion statues everywhere. Some fans have calculated that there are at least 60 lion statues in the city. It turns out that the treasure is hidden under an actual lion. Under its cage, to be precise.
- The Stateless: The doctor is unable to get off the plane in either Leningrad or Rome, since the mafioso flushed his passport down the toilet, so he keeps shuttling between the two cities for most of the film, while the authorities keep telling him to look for his passport on the plane.
- Stuff Blowing Up: On their way to Leningrad, the two treasure hunters (accompanied by Andrei) stop at a gas station near the railway tracks to fill up. The mafioso, riding a train passing by, sees the trio and flings his cigar out of the window - sure enough, it touches a puddle of oil, and in a few moments the whole gas station goes up in flames in a terrific explosion, but not before the trio and the gas station attendant rushes to safety.
- The scene soon morphs into a macabre montage of car parts flying around the flames, some still working.
- Treasure Map: A verbal one with several clues. All the treasure hunters know is that it's hidden "under a lion" in Leningrad. Unfortunately for them, there are dozens of lion statues all over the city, and the cops aren't likely to be kind to foreigners ruining the city's landmarks. Olga later reveals that her grandmother whispered another clue to her (the treasure is a certain number of paces from a fountain). It turns out that the treasure is under the cage of a real lion.
- Undercover Cop Reveal: Andrei reveals himself as undercover police captain near the end in order to claim the treasure for the Soviet state and offer the Italians a reward for finding it. They previously suspect him of being another treasure hunter. He's almost immediately promoted to major.