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