The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight (1971)

GP | Comedy | December 1971

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HISTORY

The film opens with "Anthony 'Baccala' Vestrummo" watching a television news broadcast by well-known newsman Sander Vanocur. For several minutes, while the action shifts from the start of Baccala's day to that of "Salvatore 'Kid Sally' Palumbo," Vanocur's broadcast continues as voice-over narration, providing background on the characters and situations. At various points within the film, Vanocur's newscasts relate plot information, including the sequence involving the arrest of Palumbo's gang, when Vanocur is providing a live television feed. The explosion at the end of the film takes place just after another Vanocur newscast. In the end credits, property master Joseph Caracciolo's surname is misspelled "Carraciolo."
       The novel on which the film was based, and to which the film was relatively faithful, was the first by noted New York columnist Jimmy Breslin. According to HR news items, producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler purchased the rights to the novel a few months prior to its publication in the fall of 1969. The film's pressbook stated that 1,110,000 copies of the novel were sold in its first month of publication. As some reviews of the film indicated, the story was a comic turn on the themes explored in Mario Puzo’s internationally best-selling novel [and soon-to-be-released film adaptation] The Godfather (see entry).
       The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight marked the feature film debut of actor Hervé Villechaize (1943--1993). Villechaize, whose first name appears as "Herve" in the onscreen credits, was best known for his appearance as "Tattoo" in the popular late 1970s-early 1980s television series Fantasy Island. Because Villechaize's character, "Beppo, the dwarf," is supposed to be an ...

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The film opens with "Anthony 'Baccala' Vestrummo" watching a television news broadcast by well-known newsman Sander Vanocur. For several minutes, while the action shifts from the start of Baccala's day to that of "Salvatore 'Kid Sally' Palumbo," Vanocur's broadcast continues as voice-over narration, providing background on the characters and situations. At various points within the film, Vanocur's newscasts relate plot information, including the sequence involving the arrest of Palumbo's gang, when Vanocur is providing a live television feed. The explosion at the end of the film takes place just after another Vanocur newscast. In the end credits, property master Joseph Caracciolo's surname is misspelled "Carraciolo."
       The novel on which the film was based, and to which the film was relatively faithful, was the first by noted New York columnist Jimmy Breslin. According to HR news items, producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler purchased the rights to the novel a few months prior to its publication in the fall of 1969. The film's pressbook stated that 1,110,000 copies of the novel were sold in its first month of publication. As some reviews of the film indicated, the story was a comic turn on the themes explored in Mario Puzo’s internationally best-selling novel [and soon-to-be-released film adaptation] The Godfather (see entry).
       The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight marked the feature film debut of actor Hervé Villechaize (1943--1993). Villechaize, whose first name appears as "Herve" in the onscreen credits, was best known for his appearance as "Tattoo" in the popular late 1970s-early 1980s television series Fantasy Island. Because Villechaize's character, "Beppo, the dwarf," is supposed to be an Italian-American, Beppo's lines were dubbed to mask the French-born actor's characteristic accent. Producer Winkler's wife, actress Margo Melson Winkler, portrayed an airline clerk in the film. She had acted in earlier films under the name Margo Melson and appeared in several additional films that her husband produced.
       Although a 4 Mar 1969 HR news item stated that the film was originally scheduled to be shot in London, it was shot entirely on location in New York City, with much of it shot in the Red Hook section of South Brooklyn, according to the film's pressbook. In an article in HR on 28 Sep 1971, director James Goldstone was quoted extensively about problems the production had with local labor unions, which required extraneous drivers and other workers for the shoot. The article also reported that several producers set to shoot in New York City were considering moving elsewhere because of union contract requirements.
       According to an item in Hank Grant's "Rambling Reporter" column in HR on 20 Jan 1971, actors Marcello Mastroianni and Omar Shariff were, at one time, set to play "bumbling" gangsters in the film, with Mastroianni presumably cast as Baccala. As noted in news DV and HR news items in Mar 1971, Al Pacino originally was cast as "Mario Trentano,” but his commitment to The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight would have precluded his appearance as “Michael Corleone” in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather (see entry), because of the lengthy, overlapping production schedule of the latter film. In early Mar 1971, M-G-M received an injunction against Pacino and Paramount Pictures, which was producing The Godfather. As noted in a 17 Mar DV news item, the dispute was settled for an undisclosed, out-of-court settlement, thus enabling Pacino to appear in The Godfather. The article suggested that terms most likely included a commitment by Pacino to act in a future M-G-M production, but, as of 2007, Pacino has never appeared in an M-G-M release.
       When Pacino was no longer affiliated with The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight, Robert De Niro was offered his part. De Niro had been signed for the role of "Carlo Rizzi" in The Godfather, but was released by Coppola so that the actor could appear in the much larger role of Mario in The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight. When the film was released, several critics called his performance the film's standout.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
3 Jan 1972
---
Daily Variety
10 Dec 1971
---
Daily Variety
11 Mar 1971
---
Daily Variety
17 Mar 1971
---
Filmfacts
1971
pp. 742-44
Hollywood Reporter
26 Feb 1969
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Mar 1969
---
Hollywood Reporter
11 Mar 1971
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jan 1971
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Mar 1971
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Apr 1971
p. 12
Hollywood Reporter
2 Jul 1971
p. 11
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jul 1971
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Sep 1971
---
Hollywood Reporter
10 Dec 1971
---
Los Angeles Times
25 Dec 1971
Section II, p. 10
Los Angeles Times
13 Oct 1974
Calendar, p. 1, 40
New York Times
23 Dec 1971
p. 20
Newsweek
10 Jan 1972
---
San Francisco Chronicle
30 Dec 1971
---
Time
25 Dec 1971
---
Variety
15 Dec 1971
p. 18
Variety
25 Aug 1976
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Sam J. Coppola
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Robert Chartoff-Irwin Winkler Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
William [C.] Gerrity
Asst dir
2d asst dir
DGA trainee
PRODUCERS
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Tom Priestley Jr.
Asst cam
Gaffer
Key grip
2d grip
Best boy
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Master scenic artist
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
George DeTitta
Set dec
Joseph Caracciolo
Prop master
Set dresser
Const grip
Carpenter
COSTUMES
Joseph Garibaldi Aulisi
Cost des
MUSIC
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting, extras
Unit mgr
Unit prod mgr
Scr supv
Auditor
Prod secy
Unit pub
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight by Jimmy Breslin (New York, 1969).
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
December 1971
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 22 Dec 1971; Los Angeles opening: 24 Dec 1971
Production Date:
26 Apr--early Jul 1971
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
17 December 1971
LP40317
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Metrocolor
Length(in reels):
96
MPAA Rating:
GP
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

New York City crime boss Anthony "Baccala" Vestrummo ponders the morning news as television anchor Sander Vanocur describes Baccala's empire and Brooklyn District Attorney Goodman's concerns that unrest among the local crime families may cause a gang war. After Baccala's dutiful wife performs her daily ritual of starting his car to make sure that no one has connected a bomb to the ignition, he drives from his Long Island mansion to his Brooklyn headquarters. Meanwhile, low-level gangster Salvatore “Kid Sally” Palumbo leaves his walk-up apartment as his gun-wielding grandmother, Big Momma Ferrara, warns him to watch himself. At Baccala's office, Sally argues that he wants to move up, prompting Baccala to promise Sally the lucrative job of running an upcoming bicycle race that will feature an Italian team. A short time after Sally jubilantly arranges for a bicycle track to be built inside a small stadium, the Italian bicyclists arrive in New York. One of the cyclists, Mario Trentano, adapts easily to his new surroundings, quickly stealing most of the amenities in his hotel. At a party to welcome the cyclists, Sally's sister Angela meets Mario and is amused when she sees him pocketing hors d'oeuvres and sandwiches. Later, after they walk through the neighborhood together, she gives Mario a token for the subway, but as soon as she leaves, he hails a taxi. On the day of the bicycle race, the entire Italian-American community joins in the festivities, but the stadium crowd turns hostile when they discover that the bicycle track has not been completed and, consequently, the race must be cancelled. Having failed in his big chance, Sally is ...

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New York City crime boss Anthony "Baccala" Vestrummo ponders the morning news as television anchor Sander Vanocur describes Baccala's empire and Brooklyn District Attorney Goodman's concerns that unrest among the local crime families may cause a gang war. After Baccala's dutiful wife performs her daily ritual of starting his car to make sure that no one has connected a bomb to the ignition, he drives from his Long Island mansion to his Brooklyn headquarters. Meanwhile, low-level gangster Salvatore “Kid Sally” Palumbo leaves his walk-up apartment as his gun-wielding grandmother, Big Momma Ferrara, warns him to watch himself. At Baccala's office, Sally argues that he wants to move up, prompting Baccala to promise Sally the lucrative job of running an upcoming bicycle race that will feature an Italian team. A short time after Sally jubilantly arranges for a bicycle track to be built inside a small stadium, the Italian bicyclists arrive in New York. One of the cyclists, Mario Trentano, adapts easily to his new surroundings, quickly stealing most of the amenities in his hotel. At a party to welcome the cyclists, Sally's sister Angela meets Mario and is amused when she sees him pocketing hors d'oeuvres and sandwiches. Later, after they walk through the neighborhood together, she gives Mario a token for the subway, but as soon as she leaves, he hails a taxi. On the day of the bicycle race, the entire Italian-American community joins in the festivities, but the stadium crowd turns hostile when they discover that the bicycle track has not been completed and, consequently, the race must be cancelled. Having failed in his big chance, Sally is demoted by Baccala, who berates him for his incompetence. After the other cyclists return to Italy, Mario, who wants to stay in New York, is forced out of his hotel, so Angela finds him an inexpensive, ramshackle room to rent. Some time later, Sally and his cohorts decide to execute a plan that Big Momma has suggested to assassinate Baccala. The first stage is to kill Baccala's bodyguard, Francis "Water Buffalo" Cosanto, but this fails when Sally's men accidentally shoot Water Buffalo's tire instead of him, then lose him when he escapes into a junk yard. That night, the men who failed their assignment boast that they completed the job, but later, Water Buffalo hits the men with his car, causing them to fall into Sally's basement, which houses the lion Sally adopted when he bought old circus cages to use as starting gates for the cyclists. Meanwhile, Mario steals a priest's suit from an ecclesiastical tailor and asks Dominic Laviano, a friend of Baccala, for money for poor Italian children. Thinking that Mario is, indeed, a priest, Laviano gives him Baccala's name and telephone number, saying that his friend that will contribute generously. After other attempts to murder Baccala and take over his mob turn out badly, Sally decides to use his lion to frighten some of the local merchants into paying him protection money. His tactics work, until he accidentally feeds the lion the bag of money he has collected instead of a bag of steaks. With gangland violence increasing, the frustrated mayor insists that Goodman do something to stop it. Goodman, in turn, has inspector Cornelius Gallagher arrest Sally and his family, hoping to get information. The police learn nothing, but decide that the pretty Angela, who is an NYU student, might be intriguing to the press. Upset and frightened when reporters follow her, Angela goes to Mario's place, where they make love. Later, Angela asks Mario to come to dinner at her house, where Big Jelly Catalano, one of Sally's henchmen, remembers having seen Mario dressed as a priest. Certain that Mario not only is a con man but has taken Angela's virginity, Big Momma is about to cut off his fingers when he produces Baccala's telephone number and says that Laviano has arranged a meeting. Sally now senses a golden opportunity, and Big Momma outlines a plan whereby Sally can kill Baccala while he is talking with Mario. Soon Mario has his meeting with Baccala and arrives at the designated restaurant in his clerical suit. Outside, Sally, Big Jelly and their cohort, Beppo the dwarf, are holding Water Buffalo prisoner and waiting for their chance to enter the restaurant. Aided by the bartender, who gives Baccala's men "mickeys," Sally walks into the restaurant and fires at point blank range, but the gun, which Big Jelly has fitted with the wrong caliber of bullets, blows up in Sally's hand, leaving Baccala unscathed. Thinking that he has been saved by a miracle, Baccala is overjoyed with Mario and promises him money. Sally and the others quickly get away in their van, and when the police arrive, Baccala and the others deny that they know or saw anything. Later, Sally tries to feed Water Buffalo to the lion, but Water Buffalo dies of a heart attack first, so Sally decides to dump the body off the Verrazzano Bridge. That plan also goes awry when the body lands on a passing tugboat. News of the incident further insenses the mayor and Goodman, who decide to stage a large-scale raid on Sally's office. Delayed because one of the television networks could not arrive on time, the raid finally takes place without bloodshed as Sally and his men casually play cards when Goodman, Gallagher and the police arrive and arrest the entire Palumbo family. Because Goodman has been wearing a gas mask, in case of tear gas, a reporter asks him to restage his entrance without the mask, but Goodman accidentally opens the basement where the lion lives, forcing him to call out to Sally for help. Later, at the police station, Goodman and Gallagher question Mario, who has also been picked up. They threaten him with deportation until Goodman says that if he testifies against Angela before the grand jury, he may stay in the country. Mario agrees, but when he is questioned before the grand jury, Mario pretends not to speak any English, infuriating Goodman. With no evidence against Angela, whom Goodman had hoped to tie to college radicals, she also is released, but not until after a police woman tells her that Mario did not testify against her and, as a consequence, is being deported. Angela then rushes to the airport but is only able to see Mario as he boards a plane for Italy. When she returns home, Angela goes to the basement and lets the lion go. The next morning, after announcing that a lion is at large in Brooklyn, Vanocur reports that Sally and his cohorts have confessed to various crimes and will each be serving a year in jail. After the broadcast, Baccala's wife successfully starts his car, Baccala kisses her goodbye, then shuts the door, causing the car to explode.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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