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Disorganized Crime
by Jon Schuller

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There have been countless movies, panned by the critics, but beloved by audiences. Regardless of the cast or the script or the whatever, films have impacted us for decades and many of them became classics despite what the "experts" wrote or said. I can think of several that were marvelous the first time I saw them and millions of others did too. For one reason or another in many instances the critics were offended by language or content these films hit chord with viewers who either identified with the characters or simply fell in love with them. Spoofs of serious pictures have been staples of movie makers for decades. The original is serious; the spoof could care less. Galaxy Quest poked fun at Star Trek. Charlie Chaplin made everyone laugh and cry simultaneously. Blazing Saddles took a classic western theme and tore it to pieces. Kelly's Heroes made ordinary soldiers braver
than ever while creating laughter from serious subjects. In 1972, The Godfather entered the stage and re-created an entire genre and became an instant classic. One year earlier a movie premiered that, like The Godfather, was all about wiseguys in Brooklyn but this bunch was inept, stupid and the best of all, funny.

The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight, based on columnist, Jimmy Breslin's award-winning 1969 book, premiered on December 22, 1971. It starred Jerry Orbach as Kid Sally, Leigh Taylor-Young as Angela, Jo Van Fleet as Big Momma, Lionel Stander as Baccala, Joe Santos as Exmo, Burt Young as Willie Quarequlo, Jackie Vernon as Herman and a young, newcomer, Robert De Niro as the thief, Mario. It was based on the life of the hothead gangster, Joey Gallo.

Baccala heads a crime family in Brooklyn and Kid Sally wants to take it over by any and all means possible.
The only problem is Sally's gang can't do anything right. Every time they try to hurt Baccala, something goes wrong and he simply laughs in their faces. Some of the scenes may remind you of a silent film comedy. You know it'll go wrong but waiting and watching is part of the fun. While The Godfather (which premiered in March, 1972) was a serious treatment of a deadly family business, The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight turns that on its head from the opening scenes.

Of course there's some romance in the film as Leigh Taylor-Young, as Sally's sister, falls in love with Mario, the Italian bicycle rider who steals anything he can and goes around dressed as a priest. This film helped De Niro get the choice roles he wanted like Mean Streets and the Godfather, Part 2.

There's a charity bike race and the klutzy wise guys of Sally's crew are supposed to organize it. It's
cancelled and everyone's blaming everybody else. A war breaks out but they're all so inept that nothing but mistakes and sight gags happen. They keep a real lion at their clubhouse and every day try to devise a meaner and more horrible death for Baccala and his crew. Eventually Mario must go back to Italy and Angela frees the lion. The entire film, with a great, colorful cast, portray a bunch of people you can't believe exist until you see them in action.

Like so many comedy spoofs, it has serious moments and you might even feel a bit sorry for so many people living a life of crime, holding up gangsters as saints and heroes from another age. Once The Godfather became the mega hit it was, everyone knew what those legends were all about. Some critics disliked it, but the public counts and, especially in the New York area, they loved it. Sure, it's over the top. It's supposed to be.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

It's Inevitable. Comparisons Will Be Made

In Just Two Short Weeks

Another Great Year for Movies

Some Guy Says You Get Power With Money.

Homage: Respect or Reverence Paid

All Columns

Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 29 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.

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