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The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

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It was a big bestseller when it was originally published in 1969. It became a major motion picture that provided Robert DeNiro with his first film role. Its title has entered into the language as a catch phrase. And it's terrific fun! The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight is the story of Papa Baccala, a Brooklyn Mafia boss, and Kid Sally Palumbo, a would-be capo who "couldn It was a big bestseller when it was originally published in 1969. It became a major motion picture that provided Robert DeNiro with his first film role. Its title has entered into the language as a catch phrase. And it's terrific fun! The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight is the story of Papa Baccala, a Brooklyn Mafia boss, and Kid Sally Palumbo, a would-be capo who "couldn't run a gas station at a profit even if he stole the customers' cars". There's also Kid Sally's grandmother, who will go to extravagant lengths to see her boy make his mark. A love interest? Sure. Kid Sally's sister tumbles for an artistic type who rides a bicycle and has recently arrived from Calabria... The high adventure begins with a six-day bike race that is only partly responsible for a rash of obituary notices reading: "Died. Suddenly". Eventually it all gets worked out in fine Sicilian fashion -- and, in the end, everybody gets his, in a manner of speaking.


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It was a big bestseller when it was originally published in 1969. It became a major motion picture that provided Robert DeNiro with his first film role. Its title has entered into the language as a catch phrase. And it's terrific fun! The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight is the story of Papa Baccala, a Brooklyn Mafia boss, and Kid Sally Palumbo, a would-be capo who "couldn It was a big bestseller when it was originally published in 1969. It became a major motion picture that provided Robert DeNiro with his first film role. Its title has entered into the language as a catch phrase. And it's terrific fun! The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight is the story of Papa Baccala, a Brooklyn Mafia boss, and Kid Sally Palumbo, a would-be capo who "couldn't run a gas station at a profit even if he stole the customers' cars". There's also Kid Sally's grandmother, who will go to extravagant lengths to see her boy make his mark. A love interest? Sure. Kid Sally's sister tumbles for an artistic type who rides a bicycle and has recently arrived from Calabria... The high adventure begins with a six-day bike race that is only partly responsible for a rash of obituary notices reading: "Died. Suddenly". Eventually it all gets worked out in fine Sicilian fashion -- and, in the end, everybody gets his, in a manner of speaking.

30 review for The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

  1. 5 out of 5

    George

    GOOMBA-OLOGY 101 “…the Mafia originally became a national success during Prohibition, as evil everywhere flourishes under repression.” (p. 12) In northern New Jersey in the early 1950s, where I lived at the time, there were only two types of people—especially in my fifth grade class—‘goombas’ and those who wanted to be ‘goombas’. And why not? They were the rock-stars of middle-school. They were the kids that knew how to dress, how to talk, and how to charm any little girl—and her mama—and to get a GOOMBA-OLOGY 101 “…the Mafia originally became a national success during Prohibition, as evil everywhere flourishes under repression.” (p. 12) In northern New Jersey in the early 1950s, where I lived at the time, there were only two types of people—especially in my fifth grade class—‘goombas’ and those who wanted to be ‘goombas’. And why not? They were the rock-stars of middle-school. They were the kids that knew how to dress, how to talk, and how to charm any little girl—and her mama—and to get away with practically anything, anywhere, anytime. They got all the respect. What yankee-New England, WASP, kid wouldn’t have traded it all to be an Arthur Fonzarelli—‘The Fonz.’ Or a rock-star. Even before we had a Fonzarelli, or even had rock-’n-roll, for that matter. Heck, we didn’t even have Jimmy Breslin’s delightful, madcap of a book, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (first published in 1969) to use as a guide. But, we would have loved it if we had. It would have been nice to know that Brooklyn was so much like northern Jersey. And that the wannabe wise-guys of Brooklyn, in Breslin’s novel, would all have been, intellectually, ‘right at home’ in the fifth-grade. Recommendation: TGTCSS is a delightful romp through street-life in Brooklyn’s 1950s Marfia-land. You should read it for the laughs (if you don’t have too many qualms at laughing at the impaired). A Novel Open Road Media. Kindle Edition, 249 pages.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Barbikat60

    What a hilarious and sad book. The character that I had the most empathy for was the Lion. And I really wanted to know what happened to the lion after they raided Kid Sal's place. I found this book to be as illuminating about the Cosa Nostra in NYC as Mario Puzo's book "The Godfather". The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight was raw and fun, an unlikely juxaposition that worked. To make a wacky book about vicious criminals takes talented writing and Mr. Breslin ably wrote a book of raucous violenc What a hilarious and sad book. The character that I had the most empathy for was the Lion. And I really wanted to know what happened to the lion after they raided Kid Sal's place. I found this book to be as illuminating about the Cosa Nostra in NYC as Mario Puzo's book "The Godfather". The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight was raw and fun, an unlikely juxaposition that worked. To make a wacky book about vicious criminals takes talented writing and Mr. Breslin ably wrote a book of raucous violence. I'll have to reread this again. I look forward to reading more of Jimmy Breslin's writings.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Mills

    For some reason I found this book delightful. It's quirky, and I just love Jimmy Breslin's style. Fun, fun reading. For some reason I found this book delightful. It's quirky, and I just love Jimmy Breslin's style. Fun, fun reading.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Stop

    Read the STOP SMILING interview with Jimmy Breslin GO OUT AND GET A STORY: JIMMY BRESLIN Interview BY JEREMY SCHAAP (This interview originally appeared in the 2nd annual STOP SMILING 20 Interviews Issue) As luxury condos tower over the once-downtrodden Bowery and a billionaire tech mogul reigns over a robust tourist mecca (and toast of the Republican National Convention), the days of the government telling New York City to drop dead are but a footnote to this new, untested era of scorched-earth Read the STOP SMILING interview with Jimmy Breslin GO OUT AND GET A STORY: JIMMY BRESLIN Interview BY JEREMY SCHAAP (This interview originally appeared in the 2nd annual STOP SMILING 20 Interviews Issue) As luxury condos tower over the once-downtrodden Bowery and a billionaire tech mogul reigns over a robust tourist mecca (and toast of the Republican National Convention), the days of the government telling New York City to drop dead are but a footnote to this new, untested era of scorched-earth gentrification. Yet the inequities and injustices of old still persist, even while the voices of dissent in the media are ominously silent (or are preoccupied crafting clever quips in the blogosphere). Then there’s Jimmy Breslin, a torchbearer from the days of big-city print journalism, the quintessential constant in an ever-changing megalopolis. As a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for multiple outlets, among them the New York Daily News, the same paper responsible for that infamous “Drop Dead” headline in 1977, Breslin earned his readers’ trust — or raised ire — through a time-tested formula: First, the simple dissemination of facts. Then, “somewhere in the middle, rising on strong, steel legs, is an opinion.” Read the interview...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Forrest

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. It's fiction, so what is the truth contained in the book? I don't know. Breslin has a fair amount of close knowledge of the mob, and not too high an opinion of it. It's obvious in this fiction, which he says (by way of a recent NPR interview) accurately summarizes the laziness, imprecision, and crass motivations of folks involved in so-called 'organized crime'. If it's organized, according to him, it's organized according to rules of chaos. The book is a one day read. If you like kind of silly cri It's fiction, so what is the truth contained in the book? I don't know. Breslin has a fair amount of close knowledge of the mob, and not too high an opinion of it. It's obvious in this fiction, which he says (by way of a recent NPR interview) accurately summarizes the laziness, imprecision, and crass motivations of folks involved in so-called 'organized crime'. If it's organized, according to him, it's organized according to rules of chaos. The book is a one day read. If you like kind of silly crime novels, and appreciate the lexicon of a true Yankee, this would be a good book to read. In some ways, it's reminiscent of the Foxfire books for hillbillies in that it illustrates some characteristics of lower strata city dwellers and their street smarts. The book doesn't leave a favorable impression for the mob, but probably paints a reasonably accurate sketch of the majority of its members... mostly average to below-average folks intent on making as easy a living as possible using violence, as necessary to make it happen, and without a lot of concern for the rule of law. Again, this is a library checkout book, not one to own.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    I read this book when it first came out in paperback. A fun, well written comic novel about an inept group of wanna be mafiaosi by a very talented Newspaper writer who knows New York and gangsters deep within the very marrow of his being. These guys are the opposite of the tough guys at the heart of The Godfather saga and rightly so because we can't live in a world where crooks are super smart, super organized and always fatal shots. Breslin tells a tale as true as that of Mario Puzo...and just I read this book when it first came out in paperback. A fun, well written comic novel about an inept group of wanna be mafiaosi by a very talented Newspaper writer who knows New York and gangsters deep within the very marrow of his being. These guys are the opposite of the tough guys at the heart of The Godfather saga and rightly so because we can't live in a world where crooks are super smart, super organized and always fatal shots. Breslin tells a tale as true as that of Mario Puzo...and just as delightful.

  7. 5 out of 5

    L.

    The 1970 saga of two-bit hoods committing the worst crime of all: being dull as dishwater. Kid Sally Palumbo and his gang try (repeatedly) and fail (repeatedly) to take over a rival two-bit hood's hood. A secondary storyline follows Kid Sally's could've-been-interesting-but-ultimately-wasn't sister, Angela, and her inexplicable attraction to a mooch from the Old World. There's also racism, sexism, and animal abuse for those who get their jollies from that. The 1970 saga of two-bit hoods committing the worst crime of all: being dull as dishwater. Kid Sally Palumbo and his gang try (repeatedly) and fail (repeatedly) to take over a rival two-bit hood's hood. A secondary storyline follows Kid Sally's could've-been-interesting-but-ultimately-wasn't sister, Angela, and her inexplicable attraction to a mooch from the Old World. There's also racism, sexism, and animal abuse for those who get their jollies from that.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Justin

    I've read this book at least 7 times.. not sure why (maybe I just like the cover). Mafioso meets the three stooges via Boho-artist styling, set in Brooklyn in the early 80's. With bike racing and lions. funny and comfortable, like that really ugly cardigan you've had for years and wear every winter. I've read this book at least 7 times.. not sure why (maybe I just like the cover). Mafioso meets the three stooges via Boho-artist styling, set in Brooklyn in the early 80's. With bike racing and lions. funny and comfortable, like that really ugly cardigan you've had for years and wear every winter.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Barb

    This book made me laugh out loud, many times. It puts a whole different perspective on criminals than other books and stories. It repeatedly demonstrates that some people who lead a life of crime are not particularly talented in their vocation. Very funny. I've re-read it in February 2011 and enjoyed it again. This book made me laugh out loud, many times. It puts a whole different perspective on criminals than other books and stories. It repeatedly demonstrates that some people who lead a life of crime are not particularly talented in their vocation. Very funny. I've re-read it in February 2011 and enjoyed it again.

  10. 5 out of 5

    James Tracy

    Breslin is one of the true all-time heavy weight champions of prose. His fiction reads with the grit and intensity of his journalism. His journalism is an act of tough love for the English language, the human race, and the city he gave everything to.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Howard

    Ditto my comments on Catch 22 - and to add that after the Pastor discovered me reading this on a church sponsored weekend event, it resulted in my suitability for membership being discussed . . . Ahh, such things create memorable moments!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Vikas Datta

    An uproarious send-up of the mobster genre and pure bedlam at various points as the rivals try to come to grips, albeit with a little bittersweet ending about the fate of a somewhat honourable man....

  13. 4 out of 5

    Tyler Jones

    This book is, to me, like the Mel Brooks movie Blazing Saddles. I have neither seen that movie nor read this book in many years, but I remember both being extremely funny and about 25% too long.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michael Cienkus

    One of the funniest books I have ever read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    columbialion

    Master columnist Breslin offers another semi fictitious insight into the insane lifestyles of NYC Mafiosi

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Fun light read. Less overtly silly than Dave Barry; less concerned with tying every thread together in the same place.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bryson McCheeseburger

    Just couldn't get into it. Characters I really couldn't care about and the story was just so all over the place that every time I picked it up I had to remind myself what had happened before. Just couldn't get into it. Characters I really couldn't care about and the story was just so all over the place that every time I picked it up I had to remind myself what had happened before.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Keith

    It wasn't as funny as I remembered it when I read it back in high school. There are some superior phrase turns, and overall it is a funny (if uneven) story. It wasn't as funny as I remembered it when I read it back in high school. There are some superior phrase turns, and overall it is a funny (if uneven) story.

  19. 4 out of 5

    jerry christopher

    This is next on my list, I read this book back in the day and i remember laughing out loud on the bus at a lot of spots. Hopefully the Older (and drug free) self will have the same response.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Patrick DiJusto

    A very bitterly funny book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Chris Brimmer

    A really fun romp written in a breezy easy style. This is what paperback summer trash reading should be.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Henry

    A fun read filled with laughs. Nothing to heavy or serious but worth a look if you enjoy the gangster genre.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sagheer Afzal

    Some funny moments. But very uneven. Rambling and incoherent most of the time.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    Classic. Love this book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Vicki Klemm

    Wacky mafia wiseguys...or not.

  26. 4 out of 5

    KennyO

    It's a kick to read even if you have no idea who Jimmy Breslin is. It's a kick to read even if you have no idea who Jimmy Breslin is.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dyana

    This book is a parody of most of the stereotypes of the Cosa Nostra. It is extremely humorous and had me chuckling out loud frequently. This funny spoof is in juxtaposition to greed, envy, and murder and it works! The author knows how people on the street perceive the mafia and is able to capture this ingeniously through his writing and down-to-earth dialogue. Anthony Pastrumo, Sr. A.K.A. Baccala is one of five big bosses of the Mafia in New York. He rules in Brooklyn and has to deal with a diss This book is a parody of most of the stereotypes of the Cosa Nostra. It is extremely humorous and had me chuckling out loud frequently. This funny spoof is in juxtaposition to greed, envy, and murder and it works! The author knows how people on the street perceive the mafia and is able to capture this ingeniously through his writing and down-to-earth dialogue. Anthony Pastrumo, Sr. A.K.A. Baccala is one of five big bosses of the Mafia in New York. He rules in Brooklyn and has to deal with a dissident group in his gang called Reform Italians. Their leader is Salvatore Palumbo A.K.A. Kid Sally who has big ideas but below average intelligence. Kid Sally wants to be a real big league gangster and have a money making enterprise where he doesn't have to do any work - just rake in the cash. Members of his inept group of incompetents have nicknames such as Big Jelly (425 pounds), Tony the Indian, Beppo the Dwarf, Jerry the Booster, Mike the Driver, Big Lollipop, etc. Baccala wants to get these smart-alecks off his back so he proposes a bike race. He will let Kid Sally handle the whole thing and keep most of the money. Mario Trantino is a champion bike racer and a wanna be artist from a small village in Catanzia, Italy (the Old Country). He never ties his shoelaces and wears his uncle's reading glasses so everyone will know he is a genius and artistic. He receives a letter inviting him to enter the bike race in New York. Of course, things go hilariously wrong the day of the bike race and it never gets off the ground. Kid Sally has to change plans and decides to kill Baccala and take over his territory. Thus a gang war is under way. Kid Sally's gang can't shoot straight or carry out their plans efficiently - totally inept. Mrs. Toregressa is in high demand because she is the finest mourner in all of South Brooklyn. People will do anything to get her to weep at their funerals. A subplot involves what happens to Mario after the bike race fails. He is stranded in Brooklyn with very little money and a plan to forge famous paintings and sell them to unsuspecting customers as originals. He also poses as a priest to coerce money out of people from his village who have immigrated to America so the village priest can build an orphanage. Mario siphons off half so he can stay in America. One of the people on his list happens to be Baccala. He uses his disguise in the climax when Kid Sally finds out about the list and has Mario meet Baccala at a restaurant where Kid Sally has a plan to take Baccala out. Guess how that turns out? Kid Sally's sister, Angela, falls for Mario and they begin an ill-fated romance. She is clueless about her family's business until she gets sucked into Kid Sally's world by suspicious police. Another subplot has Kid Sally acquiring a young lion which he keeps in the basement. The lion is to be taken along when they make collection runs to scare the payees into giving up their cash easily. He forgets that lions urinate and defecate frequently. This causes a problem because the smell forces his group out into the street where they shouldn't be, because they are targeted by Baccala. A very funny novel - well worth reading. This is satire at it's best.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    So, these wise guys, see, you’ve got a difference of opinion. On one side you’ve got Anthony Pastrumo, Sr., “one of the five big bosses of the Mafia gangsters in New York.” He’s known as “‘Baccala’ by his friends and associates, all of whom share a common feeling toward Baccala. They are scared to death of him.” But not Kid Sally. He’s on the other side, see. “For some time Kid Sally Palumbo and his group have wanted to get their hands on a major revenue-producing enterprise.” But “Baccala was o So, these wise guys, see, you’ve got a difference of opinion. On one side you’ve got Anthony Pastrumo, Sr., “one of the five big bosses of the Mafia gangsters in New York.” He’s known as “‘Baccala’ by his friends and associates, all of whom share a common feeling toward Baccala. They are scared to death of him.” But not Kid Sally. He’s on the other side, see. “For some time Kid Sally Palumbo and his group have wanted to get their hands on a major revenue-producing enterprise.” But “Baccala was of the opinion that Kid Sally Palumbo couldn’t run a gas station at a profit even if he stole the customers’ cars.” So, Baccala decides to shut the kid up. He orders up a six-day bike race for Kid Sally to run and tells him he can take the profits from all the gambling. Everybody knows Italians love bike races, right? So, what could possibly go wrong? Well, of course, just about everything in the late Jimmy Breslin’s riotous tale of the cosa nostra in Vietnam-era New York, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, a classic novel about the Mafia. Now, don’t get the impression that Jimmy Breslin had a low opinion only of the Mafia. The police don’t come off any better. “The only thing not for sale in the 91st Precinct is the captain’s bowling trophy.” And the mayor (John Lindsay at the time)? Fuhgeddabouddit! Breslin’s comic style is hard to resist. For example, how could you not laugh at this: “Raymond the Wolf passed away in his sleep one night from natural causes; his heart stopped beating when the three men who slipped into his bedroom stuck knives in it.” Or this: “Baccala’s office in Brooklyn is in a building which is listed as the home of the Lancer Trucking Company. There is no trucking company. If Baccala wants a trucking company, he will steal one from a Jew.” No? Okay, I tried. About the author Jimmy Breslin (1928-2017) wrote a widely-read column for various New York newspapers, including Newsday and the Daily News. His columns won him the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1986. Breslin’s classic novel about the Mafia was just one of the dozens of books he wrote. On several occasions during his long career, his writing caused an uproar and earned Breslin a reputation as pugnacious, sexist, and racist.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    This book tells the story of a Mafia lieutenant who wants to become the big boss. So Kid Sally Palumbo gathers together his closest allies and tries to knock off Papa Baccala and take over his gang. As you can tell by the title, things don't go smoothly and there are a lot of funerals for the upstarts. The most amazing thing about this book is just how well it captures the time it was written. It just reeks of 1960s New York, with bad cops, corrupt officials and Mafia dons. Breslin, of course, fo This book tells the story of a Mafia lieutenant who wants to become the big boss. So Kid Sally Palumbo gathers together his closest allies and tries to knock off Papa Baccala and take over his gang. As you can tell by the title, things don't go smoothly and there are a lot of funerals for the upstarts. The most amazing thing about this book is just how well it captures the time it was written. It just reeks of 1960s New York, with bad cops, corrupt officials and Mafia dons. Breslin, of course, followed the maxim of "write what you know" and he knew this turf better than anyone. He had funny swipes at everyone, from the Mayor to newspapers. Every page just drips with small time corruption and grifters trying to grift. Oh, and it is funny as hell. So many amazingly apt descriptions that make you smile or even break out in laughter. And I am as big a New York City hater as any Boston boy could be, but this was just a delightful read, even today.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Mayo

    I picked a copy of this up thinking the title made it a western, and a western written by Jimmy Breslin, a New York Daily News columnist seemed interesting at the moment. Western it isn't. It's based on the life of New York gangster Joey Gallo, a Colombo crime family member who instigated the biggest New York mob war in a generation. But this is actually a comedy, focusing on Kid Sally (based mostly on Gallo with bits and pieces of other mobsters), a guy who "couldn't make a profit at a gas stat I picked a copy of this up thinking the title made it a western, and a western written by Jimmy Breslin, a New York Daily News columnist seemed interesting at the moment. Western it isn't. It's based on the life of New York gangster Joey Gallo, a Colombo crime family member who instigated the biggest New York mob war in a generation. But this is actually a comedy, focusing on Kid Sally (based mostly on Gallo with bits and pieces of other mobsters), a guy who "couldn't make a profit at a gas station if he was stealing the clients cars." Though based on Gallo this is mostly fiction with Breslin showing great skill as a writer. The humor comes in the two-bit mobsters trying to start wars to take over the larger gangs themselves, and failing repeatedly. Not laugh out loud funny, but it has some comical moments.

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