An Offer You Can Refuse #4: The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (dir by James Goldstone)


“Oh, fuck you.”

That was my reaction, last night, as I watched the 1971 film, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.  I was talking to my DVR and yes, I was cursing quite a bit.  You know that a film has to be bad when it actually drives me to start cursing at an inanimate object.  The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight was so bad that I actually got pissed off at my DVR for recording it.  It’s true that I am the one who scheduled the recording but still …. my DVR should have known better than to listen to me!

What is The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight about?  I have no idea.  I watched the damn movie and I have no idea what the point of it was.  The film stars Jerry Orbach as a low-level gangster named Kid Sally.  Kid Sally’s crew — the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight — is made up of a collection of malcontents, morons, and other stereotypes.  One member of the crew is a little person.  That’s the joke.  He’s a tough gangster who is wiling to put a bullet between your legs but that’s just because he’s crotch-height.  Ha ha.

Anyway, the big boss is a guy named Baccala (Lionel Stander).  Every morning, Baccala’s wife starts the car to check for bombs.  Whenever she goes outside, Baccala crawls underneath the kitchen table and waits.  Like a lot of the stuff in this movie, that’s one of those things that would be funny if it hadn’t been taken too such a cartoonish extreme.  Anyway, Baccala has zero respect for Kid Sally and Kid Sally wants to take over Baccala’s rackets.  Is it time for a mob war!?

Maybe.  A lot of people die in various “amusing” ways over the course of the film but I was never quite sure whether or not the killings were part of a mob war or if they were just the type of random mishaps that occur when a bunch of dumbasses get their hands on a cache of weapons.  Trying to follow the plot of The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight is next to impossible.  The editing of the film is so ragged that you’re rarely aware of how one scene relates to another.  If The Godfather showed how a gangster story could be a historical epic and if Goodfellas showed how an editor could recreate the kinetic experience of being a gangster, The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight shows how a mafia movie can just be a collection of random vignettes that may or may not be connected.  It’s impossible to care about the potential war between Kid Sally and Baccala because neither Kid Sally nor Baccala exist as characters beyond their silly names.

A young Robert De Niro is in this film.  He plays Mario, an Italian thief who comes to New York for a bicycle race and joins Kid Sally’s crew.  Or at least, I think he joins the crew.  It’s hard to tell.  Mario often dresses like a priest, for some reason.  He’s also fallen in love with Angela (Leigh Taylor-Young), who is Kid Sally’s sister though she could just as easily be his cousin or maybe his daughter-in-law from Tuscon.  I wouldn’t necessarily say that De Niro gives a good performance here as much as it’s just impossible not to pay attention to him because he’s a young Robert De Niro.  He and Leigh Taylor-Young do have a very sincere and touching chemistry but it’s out-of-place in a film that’s dominated by slapstick and scenes of Kid Sally using a lion to intimidate shop owners.  (Yes, that happens.)  De Niro certainly seems to be trying hard to give a good performance but he’s not a natural comedian.  Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that.  FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WE’VE ALL SEEN DIRTY GRANDPA!

Anyway, the main problem with this film is that it’s a comedy that was apparently put together by people who think that comedy involves a lot of screaming and silly music.  I’ve actually seen a handful of other films that were directed by James Goldstone — Brother John, Rollercoaster, When Time Ran Out.  Significantly, none of those other films were comedies and there’s nothing about any of Goldstone’s other films that suggest that he was anything more than a director-for-hire.  The film itself was written by Waldo Salt, who also worked on the scripts for Midnight Cowboy, Coming Home, and Serpico.  Again, none of those films are particularly funny.  70s era Mel Brooks probably could have made this into a funny film but James Goldstone and Waldo Salt could not.

As bad as The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight is, it is also the answer to a very interesting trivia question.  This is the film that Al Pacino dropped out of when he was cast as Michael Corleone in The Godfather.  The actor who replaced Pacino was Robert De Niro.

Anyway, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight is an offer you can refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #3: The Purple Gang (dir by Frank McDonald)


The 1960 gangster film, The Purple Gang, really took me by surprise.

The film opens with U.S. Rep. James Roosevelt standing in front of his desk.  James Roosevelt was the son of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  He was a notoriously shady businessman who, before entering politics, dabbled a bit in Hollywood.  That probably explains how he eventually came to be standing in his congressional office, filming the introduction for a low-budget B-movie about Detroit gangsters.  Roosevelt tells us that he’s already watched the movie that we’re about to see and that he can assure us that it is an accurate portrayal of not just the history of The Purple Gang but also of how 1920s bootlegging led to a host of other crimes.  Roosevelt goes on to compare bootleggers to modern day drug pushers.  The most interesting thing about the speech is that it almost sounds like a defense of prohibition, the law that FDR famously opposed.

To use a term from the film’s era, it’s kind of a square opening.  James Roosevelt comes across as being so vacuously earnest that it’s almost as if Beto O’Rourke got his hands on a time machine and went back to 1960.  At the same time, there’s something oddly charming about how awkward it is.  One can only imagine how audiences would react if a film today opened with a speech from a congressperson.  I guess some parts of the country would love it.  Down here in Texas, the theater would probably get set on fire.

Now, based on that less than edgy opening, you might be justified in expecting that The Purple Gang will just be your standard 1960s crime thriller but it most definitely is not.  The Purple Gang is a tough and violet movie, one that is full of shadowy and sometimes disturbing imagery.  A very young Robert Blake plays Honeyboy Willard, a teenage hoodlum who, through pure sociopathic ruthlessness, takes over the rackets in Detroit.  Barry Sullivan is Lt. Harley, the police detective whose quest to bring down the Purple Gang leads to him losing almost everything that was important to him.

Our first impression of Lt. Harley comes when he skeptically listens to a liberal social worker, Joan McNamara (Jody Lawrance), explain that criminals are not born but are instead made by their circumstances.  Harley obviously doesn’t agree.  Later, while Joan is walking around Detroit at night, she is attacked, rape,d and then murdered by the same criminals that she was earlier defending.  With the city outraged over Joan’s murder, Lt. Harley steps up his efforts to bring down the gang so Honeyboy murders Harley’s pregnant wife.

While Harley seeks revenge, Honeyboy is busy making deals with Canadian liquor distributors and building the Purple Gang into the biggest criminal enterprise in the northern midwest.  When a group of distraught businessmen, upset at being extorted by the Purple Gang, turns to the Mafia for help, Honeyboy declares war….

Of course, despite James Roosevelt’s assurance at the start of the film and the semi-documentary approach that director Frank McDonald takes to the material, the truth is far different from the movie.   In real life, The Purple Gang was predominantly made up of the children of recent immigrants from Russia and Poland.  It was run not by Honeyboy Willard but by the four Bernstein brothers.  The Purple Gang did not go to war with the Mafia but instead, they were allied with Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky in their attempts to create a national crime syndicate.  They were also closely allied with Al Capone, to the extent that it’s been suggested that Capone used Purple Gang gunmen to carry out the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  The Purple Gang eventually fell apart due to infighting and the end of prohibition, with the majority of the members who weren’t in jail simply joining other gangs.

So, no, The Purple Gang is not historically accurate but it’s still an effective and surprisingly brutal gangster film.  The noirish photography makes certain scenes seem almost as if they’ve been lifted straight out of a nightmare and, historically accurate or not, the film does do a good job of showing how organized crime came to exist in the United States.  It’s a quick-paced and energetic film and it features a great performance from Robert Blake as the chillingly sociopathic Honeyboy.  The Purple Gang is a low-budget B-movie that packs a punch.

Plus, James Roosevelt did ask you to watch.  Are you going to say no to James Roosevelt?

James Roosevelt, film critic

Previous Offers You Can’t Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface

Music Video of the Day: REALiTi by Grimes (2015, dir by Grimes)


It occurred to me that I have yet to congratulate Elon Musk and Grimes on the birth of little X Æ A-Xii.  It’s interesting to note that Elon and Grimes first discovered each other on twitter, where they independently came up with the same pun.  Personally, my favorite pun has always been, “If it’s not baroque, don’t fix it.”

Enjoy!

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #2: Scarface (dir by Howard Hawks)


Before there was Tony Montana …. there was Tony Camonte!

And, of course, before there was Tony Camonte, there was Al Capone.  The 1932 film Scarface was one of the many gangster movies to be based on the life of Al Capone.  Capone and Tony Camonte even share the same nickname, though — unlike Camonte — Capone hated being called Scarface.  On the other hand, as played by the charismatic and cocky Paul Muni, Tony Camonte wears his scar like a badge of honor.  He says that he got his scar serving in the war.  His best friend, Guino (George Raft, a real-life gangster associate who became a star as a result of his performance in this film), says that the scar is the result of a bar fight.

In many ways, that scar tells you almost everything you need to know about Tony Camonte.  If you can look away from the scar, he’s a handsome and charismatic figure.  But when you see the scar, you’re reminded that his life is about violence.  Everything that Tony has is due to his violent nature and it’s somewhat inevitable that his end will also be due to that violence, not to mention his obsession with his sister, Cesca (Ann Dvorak).  It’s not just Tony’s face that’s scarred.  It’s his soul as well.

The film follows Tony, from his early days of working as a gunman for Johnny Lovo (Osgood Perkins) to his eventual usurpation of Lovo’s place as the king of the underworld.  Tony not only takes over Lovo’s rackets but he also goes after Lovo’s girlfriend, the glamorous Poppy (Karen Morley).  The well-bred Poppy may be dismissive of Tony’s ambitions but, as Tony shows her, he lives in the glow of a neon sign that announces, “The World Is Yours.”  That’s something that Tony truly believes and, for a while, the world is his.  He’s done with a gun what other do with lawyer and a clever accountant.  He’s achieved the American dream and he has the money and the beautiful lover to prove it.  Only for a while, though.  You reap what you sow.

The film recreates many scenes from Al Capone’s life.  One of Tony’s rivals is gunned down in a flower shop, much as happened to Dean O’Bannion when he challenged Capone’s power.  At another point, two of Tony’s men dress up like policemen and gun down rival gangsters, just as happened during the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  The script was written by Ben Hecht, a Chicago native who had actually met Capone.  When Capone heard that Hecht was writing a film called Scarface, he sent two men to find out what the film was about.  Hecht assured them that the film was not about Capone but was instead a parody of the gangster genre.  Hecht was left alone but the fact that Capone was worried about his public image is quite a contrast to more recent stories about made men studying The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos for tips on how to go about their business.  Of course, the film was made before Capone’s anticlimatic downfall so it’s not a combination of tax evasion and syphilis that ends Tony Camonte’s reign of terror.  Camonte goes out in a much more dramatically satisfying manner.

It’s a violent film.  It was a violent film for 1932 and, in some scenes, it’s a violent film for even today.  I’ve read that director Howard Hawks used live ammunition in the scenes that featured guns being fired.  In many of the scenes in which someone is portrayed as running for their lives, the actors in question were literally running and ducking for their lives.  Luckily, the cast survived making the film, though it’s been said that one crew member lost an eye.  Paul Muni went on to have a very distinguished film career, one that inspired future acting greats like John Garfield, Montgomery Clift, and Marlon Brando.  Despite his star-making turn as Muni’s best friend, George Raft’s career was not quite as distinguished, as he ended up turning down a chance to star in Casablanca.  Osgood Perkins’s son, Tony, would become a horror icon when he played Norman Bates.  And Boris Karloff went from portraying a bowling gangster in this film to playing the Monster in Frankenstein.

And, of course, the legacy of Scarface lives on, thanks to the 1983 remake starring Al Pacino.  There’s a third remake on the way, reportedly from Luca Guadagnino, who I guess decided that since he got away with tarnishing the legacy of Suspiria, he might as well go after another classic cult film.  Both versions of Scarface are rightly known as being classics of the gangster genre.  The 1983 version is great but so is the original.

Previous Offers You Can’t Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy (1931)

Music Video Of The Day: Dangerous by Olivia Krash (2016, dir by ????)


This video features Olivia Krash covering one of my favorite songs, Big Data’s Dangerous!

Covers are always interesting.  I like covers when they bring something new to the song and I think that Olivia Krash definitely does that with her version of Dangerous.  Her version is a bit less paranoid than the original version that was performed by Big Data and Joywave.  It takes an anthem to suspicion and turns it into a party song and there’s nothing wrong with that.  In the future, all parties will be paranoid.  Really, they already should be.  I remember there was a Brinks Home Security commercial that featured a woman throwing a house warming party and discovering, to her surprise, that she didn’t know one of the guests.  His name was AJ and later, he broke into her house.  If she had been properly paranoid, she would have said, “Hey, what’s the stranger doing at my party!?”  Instead, she was just like, “Who’s that?  I don’t know him!  Ha ha!”  It’s not so funny once you’ve got a broken window that you’re going to have to pay to get repaired, is it?

My least favorite covers, by the way, are the ones that sound like duplicates of the original.  I mean, what’s the point?  I’m also not a fan of extremely overdramatic cover versions.  For instance, there used to be a WGU commercial that featured the most over-the-top version of The Times They Are A Changing that I had ever heard and it was so terrible that I always had to hit mute whenever I came across that commercial.  I’m also not a huge fan of the song Amazing Grace, largely because everyone who sings it always seems like they’re on the verge of tears and that’s just not fun to watch.  Plus, I just take issue with any song that requires me to describe myself as being a wretch.  I mean, I like songs that make me feel confident, y’know?  Calling myself a wretch would be the exact opposite of that.

Enjoy!

TV Review: Night Gallery 2.1 “The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes/Miss Lovecraft Sent Me/The Hand of Borgus Weems/Phantom of What Opera?”


The second season of Night Gallery premiered on September 15th, 1971.  Once again, Rod Serling led viewers through a darkened museum, inviting them to look upon macabre paintings and imagine the story behind image.

The first episode had four — that’s right, four! — different stories!  Apparently, the show’s producers demanded that, for the 2nd season, each episode feature shorter stories along with some light-heated segments.  From what I’ve read, Rod Serling was not particularly happy with the directive and it’s perhaps significant that, after writing every story featured in Night Gallery‘s first season, he only wrote one of the stories featured in the second season premiere.

The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes (dir by John Badham, written by Rod Serling)

Herbie (played by 12 year-old Clint Howard, younger brother of Ron) is a little boy with a very special gift.  He can see the future.  He seems like a normal child, the type who rambles about random subjects except that, at random, he’ll suddenly stop and ominously predict the future.  After Herbie correctly predicts both the rescue of a missing girl and an earthquake, Herbie is given his own TV show.  For a year, Herbie makes predictions, all of which come true.  Then, suddenly, Herbie refuses to shares his latest prediction and says that he doesn’t want to do the show anymore.  What has Herbie seen and is it a good thing or a bad thing?

The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes gets the second season of Night Gallery off to a good start.  Centered by a natural performance from Clint Howard, The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes is an intelligently written and thought-provoking story.  Not only does it examine the burden of being able to see the future but it’s also a provocative look at how society exploits the gifted.  With the exception of Herbie’s grandfather (William Hansen), the people around Herbie are less concerned with what he predicts than that people keep watching.  The segment ends on an appropriately dark note, one that will keep the viewer thinking.

Miss Lovecraft Sent Me (dir by Gene Kearney, written by Jack Laird)

A gum-chewing babysitter (Sue Lyon) show up for her latest job.  It’s at a castle!  And the owner of the castle (played by Joseph Campanella) has gray skin, is wearing a cape, and has a Transylvanian accent!  What could it all mean?

This is a short comedic segment.  Apparently, the producer of Night Gallery, Jack Laird, had the idea to liven things up with sketches like this one.  Serling was apparently not a fan of the idea but Miss Lovecraft Sent Me isn’t that bad.  It’s silly and insubstantial because Joseph Campanella and Sue Lyon handled their roles well.  It’s impossible not to laugh when the babysitter reads aloud the names of the books that Campanella has sitting on his bookshelf.

The Hand of Borgus Weems (dir by John M. Lucas, written by Alvin Sapinsley)

Peter Lacland (George Maharis) sits in a doctor’s office and asks Dr. Ravadon (Ray Milland) to remoe his right hand.  Peter explains that his right hand has a mind of its own and that it keeps trying to kill everyone who Peter comes into contact with.  Peter explains that his hand has been possessed!

There’s a surprisingly large number of stories out there about possessed hands.  The Hand of Borgus Weems doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the genre and it gets a bit bogged down with its flashback structure but it’s still an enjoyably creepy little segment, featuring good performances from George Maharis and Ray Milland.  Possessed hands are also creepy, no matter what.  Like The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes, it also has an effective ending, which is quite a contrast to the often insubstantial conclusions of Night Gallery’s first season.

Phantom Of What Opera?  (written and dir by Gene Kearney)

This is a short, 4-minute comedic story — a skit really — featuring Leslie Nielsen as the Phantom of the Opera and Mary Ann Beck as Christine. This version starts out like a typical Phantom segment, with the Phantom kidnapping Christine, taking her down to the dungeon, and telling her never to remove his mask.  Christine, of course, removes his mask while he’s playing the organ just for him to then discover that she’s also wearing a mask.  It all leads to love and a happy ending!  It’s kind of a sweet segment, actually.

So the 2nd season of Night Gallery got off to a pretty good start!  Would future episodes continue the trend?  We’ll find out soon as I continue to watch Night Gallery.

Previous Night Gallery Reviews:

  1. The Pilot
  2. The Dead Man/The Housekeeper
  3. Room With A View/The Little Black Bag/The Nature of the Enemy
  4. The House/Certain Shadows on the Wall
  5. Make Me Laugh/Clean Kills And Other Trophies
  6. Pamela’s Voice/Lone Survivor/The Doll
  7. They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar/The Last Laurel