The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

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The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJames Goldstone
Screenplay byWaldo Salt
Based onThe Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight
by Jimmy Breslin
Produced byRobert Chartoff
Irwin Winkler
StarringJerry Orbach
Leigh Taylor-Young
Jo Van Fleet
Burt Young
Lionel Stander
Robert De Niro
Irving Selbst
CinematographyOwen Roizman
Edited byEdward A. Biery
Music byDave Grusin
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • December 22, 1971 (1971-12-22)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight is a 1971 American crime comedy film directed by James Goldstone and written by Waldo Salt, based on the 1969 novel of the same title by Jimmy Breslin, which in turn was based on the life of gangster Joe Gallo. The film stars Jerry Orbach, Leigh Taylor-Young, Jo Van Fleet, Lionel Stander, Robert De Niro and Irving Selbst. The film was released on December 22, 1971, by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.[1][2]


Kid Sally Palumbo (Jerry Orbach) grows jealous of his older, mobster boss Baccala (Lionel Stander), who has little respect for the crew Palumbo commands. Baccala allows Kid Sally to supervise a six-day bicycle race (for the purposes of keeping the money generated), and among the 12 Italian cyclists brought into the city is Mario Trantino (Robert De Niro), a budding thief. When the bicycle race does not take place due to outside interference, Sally is demoted to serving Baccala as a chauffeur, and Trantino stays in New York City to run his own cons, including masquerading as a priest. Kid Sally's mother Big Momma (Jo Van Fleet) urges him to take down the old, entrenched mobsters in power, but it appears the only fatalities are in his own camp, and the increase in violence draws the attention of the city police.



According to Irwin Winkler, Francis Ford Coppola asked to write and direct the movie but Winkler turned him down, feeling Coppola did not have the skills to make a mafia film. Al Pacino was originally cast in the lead but during rehearsal pulled out to play the role of Michael Corleone in The Godfather. He was replaced by Robert De Niro.[4]

Shot on location in South Brooklyn, the film was the subject of a Robin Green-written November 25, 1971 Rolling Stone article "Shooting the Gang That Couldn’t" which was described in its subtitle as "a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of a Robert DeNiro [sic] movie."[5]

Hervé Villechaize made his feature film debut, but his lines were dubbed to conceal his French accent as he was playing an Italian-American character.[3]

Winkler wrote in his memoirs that he felt the director was more interested in sticking to the schedule than working with the actors. He felt the final film was neither funny nor dramatic.[4]


The movie received negative reviews. Roger Ebert gave it 2/4 stars, writing: "Maybe part of the trouble is James Goldstone's direction, which tends toward the heavy-handed" and "The performances are too broad, the characters are too many, the plot is too indifferent to the structure of the movie, and - surprisingly - the movie is too sweet."[6] New York Times reviewer Howard Thompson called the film "a tasteless mess" and Jo Van Fleet's performance "terrible." His only praise was for the interaction between Leigh Taylor-Young and Robert De Niro.[7] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a score of 0% based on 6 critic reviews.[8]

Home media[edit]

The movie has been released on VHS and DVD.

In Pop Culture[edit]

Arizona State House Speaker Russell Bowers referred to the book during the January 6 Select Committee hearings, when asked his thoughts on the Trump Campaign’s fake electors scheme.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight (1971) - Overview -". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  2. ^ "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight". TV Guide. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  3. ^ a b The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight (1971) – American Film Institute (AFI). Retrieved February 18, 2020
  4. ^ a b Winkler, Irwin (2019). A Life in Movies: Stories from Fifty Years in Hollywood (Kindle ed.). Abrams Press. pp. 726–814/3917.
  5. ^ Green, Robin. "Shooting the Gang That Couldn’t," Rolling Stone, November 25, 1971. Retrieved February 18, 2020
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (December 28, 1971). "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight". Retrieved September 26, 2017.
  7. ^ Thompson, Howard. "Gang That Couldn't' Opens Here," The New York Times, Thursday, December 23, 1971. Retrieved February 18, 2020
  8. ^ "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight - Rotten Tomatoes". Retrieved 2023-04-01.
  9. ^ "Rusty Bowers said Trump's 2020 push was illegal. But he'd vote for him again in 2024". Washington Post.

External links[edit]