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Film / The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

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Not your typical gangsters.

The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight is a 1971 American crime comedy directed by James Goldstone, based on the 1969 book of the same name written by Jimmy Breslin, which was in turn based on the life of Brooklyn gangster "Crazy" Joe Gallo.

Brooklyn gangster "Kid" Sally Palumbo (Jerry Orbach) leads a ragtag crew who work for mob boss Antonio "Baccala" Vestrummo (Lionel Stander), who has little respect for them thanks to their collective ineptitude. When Kid Sally is told to put together a six-day (rigged) bicycle race as a money earner for the gang, among the cyclists to fly in for the race is aspiring con artist Mario Trantino (Robert De Niro). Unfortunately for Kid Sally's gang, they only discover on the day of the race that the cycling track has a huge gap in it, and the resulting embarrassment causes Baccala to demote Kid Sally to his personal chauffeur.

At the urging of his grandmother, "Big Momma" Palumbo (Jo Van Fleet), Kid Sally and his gang decide to run their own rackets as part of a scheme to take down Baccala, but their incompetence leads not only to the deaths of several of their own members, but also to increasing police attention. Meanwhile, Trantino stays on in Brooklyn after the failed cycling race to run his own cons, during which he falls in love with Kid Sally's sister, Angela (Leigh Taylor-Young).

The movie also stars Hervé Villechaize (in his feature film debut), Joe Santos, Irving Selbst, and Carmine Caridi. It was released on December 22, 1971.

Tropes for the film:

  • Bad Habits: One of the cons run by cyclist/petty crook Mario Trantino involves dressing in a (stolen) priest's uniform and collecting money for an (imaginary) orphanage back in Italy. His cover is blown when the police see him "in uniform" with his arm around his girlfriend, Angela Palumbo.
  • Bookends: The film begins and ends with scenes of Baccala watching the morning news (which is airing a story about him and/or his business associates) over breakfast, then sending his wife out to start the car. As they both fear Baccala's enemies have booby trapped the car with a bomb, Baccala hides under the breakfast table while his wife winces in fear as she turns the key... only for the engine to start without incident. Baccala heads outside, kisses his wife goodbye, and gets into the car. At the end of the film, the car blows up when he closes the door.
  • Epic Fail: One reason Baccala has so little respect for Kid Sally's gang is that they don't just fail at everything he asks them to do, they fail in spectacular fashion. This continues after they turn on Baccala.
    • The bicycle race is organised on a military base, but since they can't move the motor pool, they don't have room for the full track, which is left with an enormous gap. Kid Sally and co. don't discover this until the race is about to begin; the crowd riots when told the race has to be scrapped.
    • After Kid Sally's demotion, he and his gang try to assassinate Baccala and his right-hand man, Water Buffalo. Their attempts lead to the deaths of four of their own; two are run over by Water Buffalo after losing track of his car thanks to their reluctance to walk through a puddle in their expensive shoes, one is accidentally blown up by a stick of remotely activated dynamite set off by a police radio, and one electrocutes himself after raising a throwing knife straight into a high-voltage cable. When they finally kill Water Buffalo by accidentally giving him a heart attack, they drop him off the Verrazano Narrows Bridge... straight onto a passing barge, where his body is found and reported to the police.
    • Kid Sally's plan to shoot Baccala while he dines with Mario Trantino (posing as a fake priest as part of his own con) goes wrong at every step. Baccala's guards don't order the spiked drinks intended to knock them out until they are ordered to do so at gunpoint. The gang's van sits outside the restaurant for so long that they are given a parking ticket (their attempts to provoke the parking officer, a black woman, with racist and sexist abuse also fail). And the bullets Kid Sally has been given are too large for the gun's chambers, so when he tries to shoot Baccala, the gun blows up in his hand, leaving Baccala convinced a miracle has taken place as Kid Sally flees.
  • External Combustion: Baccala is terrified of being killed by a car bomb and always has his wife or one of his underlings start his car for him. At the end of the film, he is killed by a bomb that is triggered when the driver's door slams after the engine has been started.
  • High-Voltage Death: One of the attempts on Baccala's life by Kid Sally's gang involves an assassin climbing a utility pole outside Baccala's office window and throwing a knife into his back. The assassin raises the knife... straight into a high voltage electrical cable, fatally electrocuting himself. Baccala is puzzled by the lights in his office flickering, but shrugs it off after they stop.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Kid Sally Palumbo lives with his younger sister Angela and their grandmother, "Big Momma" Palumbo. The latter is fiercely protective of her grandchildren, repeatedly telling Kid Sally to "take no bullshit" from his mob boss, Baccala; when she is introduced to con man Mario Trantino and learns from Kid Sally's gang members that he had been posing as a fake priest, she tries to chop off his fingers with a carving knife, and when she further learns that he and Angela are in a sexual relationship, she turns her knife's attention elsewhere until Mario is able to talk his way out of things.
  • Slipping a Mickey: The plan to assassinate Baccala while he dines with Mario Trantino is based on the assumption that his bodyguards will order drinks from the bar, which one of Kid Sally's associates will spike. Unfortunately, they take so long to order the drinks that the bartender forces them to down them at gunpoint before Kid Sally arrives.
  • Stealing from the Hotel: Cyclist/aspiring con artist Mario Trantino is shown to be a petty thief in his Establishing Character Moment. He has already shoplifted an issue of Playboy and an assortment of packs of gum and chocolate bars by the time he checks into his hotel room, after which he promptly empties the bathroom of towels and toiletries, then scoops up the tourist brochures and local restaurant menus and anything else that isn't nailed down.
  • Stupid Crooks: They are aptly named; they are terrible at organized crime, whether acting on orders from their mob boss, Baccala, or trying to kill him for demoting their leader, Kid Sally Palumbo, to personal chauffeur for his ineptitude.
    • The gang are tasked with organizing a (rigged) bicycle race, with the competitors from twelve countries, on a track on a military base. They discover as the race is about to begin that the track has an enormous gap in it because they couldn't move the motor pool, and the crowd riots when told the race must be postponed indefinitely.
    • After Kid Sally's demotion for the bicycle race fiasco, he and the gang decide to kill Baccala and his right-hand man, Water Buffalo. Their attempts lead to the deaths of four of their own members - two are run over by Water Buffalo when their attempt on his life fails thanks to their refusal to walk through a puddle in their expensive shoes, another is blown up by a stick of remotely activated dynamite that is accidentally set off by a police radio, and another electrocutes himself when he climbs a utility pole and raises a knife to throw at Baccala through his office window.
    • Having acquired a lion in the course of preparing for the bicycle race, the gang decide to use the animal to intimidate an assortment of local shopkeepers for a "protection" racket. At a butcher's, they decide to order ten pounds of steak for the lion. Inevitably, the money and the steak are put in identical bags, and the gang doesn't realize they've thrown the wrong bag into the lion's room until after he's eaten every dollar.
    • When Kid Sally tries to kill Baccala himself as he dines with fake priest Mario Trantino, everything that can go wrong does. The bodyguards wait a ridiculously long time to order the drinks they are planning to spike, prompting the nervous bartender to order them to down them at gunpoint. The van they are using as cover sits outside the restaurant for so long that they are given a parking ticket. And the bullets for Kid Sally's gun barely fit into the chambers, so that when he charges into the restaurant and aims at Baccala's head, the gun blows up in his hand.
  • Undignified Death: Four of Kid Sally's gang members end up dead from their botched attempts to assassinate Baccala and/or Water Buffalo. Two of them are particularly humiliating for all involved:
    • The gang acquires a stick of remotely-activated dynamite to put under Water Buffalo's car. They pose as a demolition crew with a "blasting in progress" sign advising passers-by not to use short-wave radios in case they activate the dynamite. A police car passes by, forcing the gang to act innocent while the one with the dynamite hides in the sewer next to Water Buffalo's car; finding the sight suspicious, one of the officers starts to radio his precinct, and... BOOM!
    • Shortly thereafter, another gang member climbs a utility pole outside Baccala's office window, armed with a throwing knife. He raises the knife straight into a high-voltage cable, electrocuting himself while Baccala idly wonders why the lights in his office are flickering.