Sunday, January 13, 2013

Capsule Film Reviews: The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight, MGM, 1971, Directed by James Goldstone, Screenplay by Waldo Salt, WB DVD, 1:85:1

There's a gang war and oedipal struggle going on in Brooklyn between Anthony "Papa Baccala" Pastrumo (Lionel Stander) and his mobility on the mind lieutenant Kid Sally Palumbo (Jerry Orbach). This adaptation of the then New York Daily News reporter and columnist Jimmy Breslin's successful 1969 novel of the same name, a novel based on Breslin's experiences with the Lucchese crime family as he was investigating municipal corruption in New York City and who beat him up because of it--was The Gang payback?--is no The Godfather (1969, film 1972). Rather than celebrating the mafia or the police and prosecutors after them The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight skewers Sicilian emotionalism, Sicilian families--Baccula makes his wife start his car each morning in case there is a bomb underneath it--Sicilian mammas--Palumbo's Big Mamma is the shaker and mover behind his urge to take over the Baccula crime family--the ties between Catholicism and the mafia, the district attorney's office, the state of New York City--Brooklyn with its dirt, trash on the streets, boarded up buildings, and seedy apartments whose rent is way too high looks like it is about to literally drop dead--New York City political, legal, and economic corruption, the television media, political media whores--the DA and the police wait for the media to arrive before they break into Palumbo's "headquarters" and arrest him and re-enact the raid afterwards with tear gas masks off for the camera--and the mafia itself--they are pretty ineffectual and hapless in a slapstick sort of way--along the way. A subplot about the developing romantic relationship between Sally's good girl NYU student sister, Angela Palumbo (Leigh Taylor-Young) and a bicycle racer from Calabrese who comes to New York City to participate in a Baccula run bike race that never gets off the ground and who masquerades as a priest who is collecting for the needy (Robert DeNiro) doesn't quite mesh with the main oedipal tale though it does intersect with Sally's attempt to whack Baccula at the end.

Was it just me or is this broad slapstick mafiosi parody just not that funny beyond Palumbo's use of a lion to extort money from those "protected" by Baccula and its portrayal of woman who is a professional mourner at mafia funerals and just not that satirically on target beyond its very funny portrayal of a DA trying to tie the mafia to student "terrorism" through Angela? A 30 Rock before its time. In 1975 Breslin's newspaper The Daily News famously reported to its readers that US President Gerald Ford had told a New York City on the brink or bankruptcy in 1975 to drop dead. Too bad Breslin didn't tell Hollywood to do the same when they wanted to option his book. Pretty abysmal film. One star for just showing up.

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