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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.
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 Hollywood Reporter 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 below).
The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight marked the feature film debut of actor Herv 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 March 4, 1969 Hollywood Reporter 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 Hollywood Reporter on September 28, 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 Hollywood Reporter on January 20, 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 Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter news items in March 1971, Al Pacino was originally cast as "Mario Trentano," but his commitment to The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight would have precluded his appearance as "Michael Corleone" in The Godfather (see below), because of the lengthy, overlapping production schedule of the latter film. In early March 1971, M-G-M received an injunction against Pacino and Paramount Pictures, which was producing The Godfather. As noted in a 17 March Daily Variety 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. Robert De Niro received critical praise for his potrayal of Mario in The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight, with several reviews calling his performance the film's standout.