My Cousin Vinny (1992)

A review by Shlomoh Sherman
September 14, 2014

My Cousin Vinny (1992)
Director: Jonathan Lynn
Writer: Dale Launer
Stars: Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei, Ralph Macchio
Run Time: 120 min    
Genres: Comedy - Crime    
Release Date: March 13, 1992 (USA)   
Plot: Two New Yorkers are accused of murder in rural Alabama while on their way back to college, and one of their cousins--an inexperienced, loudmouth lawyer not accustomed to Southern rules and manners--comes in to defend them.
Rated R for language
Country: USA
Language: English
Release Date: March 13, 1992 (USA)   
Also Known As: Mi primo Vinny   
Filming Locations: Alto, Georgia, USA  
Production Co: Palo Vista Productions, Peter V. Miller Investment Corp., Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

There are some movies that I have to see twice in order to get how really funny they are. These are the movies which the first time I see them leave me cold. NAPOLEON DYNOMITE and DUDE WHERE'S MY CAR are two such examples. And of course, MY COUSIN VINNY.

The story is about Bill Gambini and Stanley Rothenstein, two friends from New York who make a trip down to Alabama and there get mistaken for the perpertrators of a murder a local convenience store owner. Having no money to afford a lawyer, Bill takes on his cousin, Vincent Laguardia Gambini to defend him and his buddy. Just their luck, Vinny is not the best lawyer in the world. That's putting it mildly. He has no experience with trial law. But because of his affection for his cousin,Vinny has to rise to the occaision to defend his clients. The prosecution appears to have inciminating evidence, the judge is a southerner with no ggod will to Vinny's type of Northeasterner, And the locals are not kindly disposed to Vinny or his clients either. It seems the cards are stacked against the young men and cousin Vinny.

When all seems lost, Vinny receives unexpected support and help from an unlikely source, his fiancée, Mona Lisa Vito, who may yet save the day.

There are some great, funny sequences; Vinny's ongoing impatience to meet the challenge of a local tough to beat the local up and win $200 which he uses to pay off one of the several times he is locked up for cfontempt of court, Vinny's lack of sleep due to various night time noises no matter where he makes his bed, and his endless arguments with his fiancee due to his insensitivity over her concerns.

All the roles in this unforgettable comedy are played broadly, stereotypically, and wonderfully. Mona Lisa is played as a smart and balsy chick by the beautiful and talented Marisa Tomei who, as she has aged, has become even more attractive. Joe Pesci, fresh from his academy award for GOODFELLAS, is brilliant as the cocky and fearless Vinny. It seems as though Ralph Macchio has done a lot of maturing since THE KARATE KID. I correctly identified the Actor portraying the prosecutor, Lane Smith who did a remarkable job playing Richard Nixon in THE FINAL DAYS. Austin Pendleton, as the stuttering co-defense lawyer was seen in Game Change (TV Movie) as Senator Joe Lieberman and in many episodes of LAW AND ORDER. Bruce McGill is remembered for his wroles in LINCOLN and LAW ABIDING CITIZEN as well as his appearence in Oliver Stone's W as CIA director, George Tenet.

And not least of all, Fred Gwynne in his last major film rolse as irritable Judge Chamberlain Haller. Gwynne was a really good actor and I used to wince every time I heard Howard Stern ask him, "Mr. Gwinn, have you ever been in a movie where you weren't made up to look like Frankenstein?"

MY COUSIN VINNY sure has to rank with the best of late 20th century comedy movies. It really is as funny as people told me it was back in the day. Rent it if you can.

Did You Know?
*The misunderstanding between Vincent Gambini and Judge Haller regarding the two "utes" was in fact a real conversation between Joe Pesci and director Jonathan Lynn. Lynn, who is British, at first had a hard time understanding Pesci's pronounced New Jersey accent. He decided that the routine was quite funny and put it in the film.
*According to the DVD commentary, when Gambini says, "Now, Mrs. Riley, and ONLY Mrs. Riley, how many fingers am I holding up now?", Joe Pesci ad-libbed the "only Mrs. Riley!" part.
*When Vinnie is trying to explain his "real name" to Judge Chamberlain, he knocks over the judge's chessboard. This was accidental, but director Jonathan Lynn thought it was so funny and authentic, he decided to leave it in the film.
*Director Jonathan Lynn actually has a degree in law and so was very adamant that the legal proceedings depicted in the film were realistic.
*According to director Jonathan Lynn, the screech owl in the scene at the woods cabin was a real owl had had a little prior training so it wouldn't be frightened by the gunfire. The screeches were added afterward and were artificially induced, and the crew got it to open its mouth by giving it little pieces of beef; but its reaction to Vinny shooting the gun was authentic and needed only one take. "We got amazingly lucky with that screech owl," Lynn says on the DVD commentary.
*According to director Jonathan Lynn, the screech owl in the scene at the woods cabin was a real owl had had a little prior training so it wouldn't be frightened by the gunfire. The screeches were added afterward and were artificially induced, and the crew got it to open its mouth by giving it little pieces of beef; but its reaction to Vinny shooting the gun was authentic and needed only one take. "We got amazingly lucky with that screech owl," Lynn says on the DVD commentary.
*The exchange between the prosecutor and automotive expert about the equipment used to analyze the tires was taken almost verbatim from an actual court transcript. The witness, asked how he analyzed the evidence, answered "I have a dual-column gas chromatograph, Hewlett-Packard model 5710a with flame analyzing detectors." The D.A. quipped, "Does that thing come turbo-charged?" and the witness answered, "Only on the floor models." This appears in lots of "funny things said in court" collections.
*Austin Pendleton, a real-life stutterer, originally turned down the part of the stuttering John Gibbons. But he did it as a favor to his friend, Jonathan Lynn. According to Pendleton, he had trouble finding work in film for years because he became typecast as a stutterer.
*MY COUSIN VINNY was the final feature film for Fred Gwynne.
*Joe Pesci won the Academy Award for Goodfellas (1990) while making this film and brought the award to the set to show cast and crew.
*Although set in Alabama, the film was actually shot in Georgia.
*Director Jonathan Lynn proposed Fred Gwynne for the role of the judge after seeing him in The Cotton Club (1984).
*The prison scenes were filmed at Lee Arrendale Correctional Institute in Alto, Georgia. Though depicted in the film, the prison has neither a death row or death chamber facility. The prison was also the setting for the movie Unshackled (2000).
*Temperatures soared in excess of 100 degrees during the courtroom scenes. These were filmed in a converted warehouse with a corrugated metal roof in the midst of a Georgia summer.
*Lorraine Bracco was the first choice for the role of Mona Lisa Vito but declined the role.
*Joe Pesci reprised his character for his 1998 album "Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You".
*Lisa's pink camera is a disc camera. Disc cameras were discontinued in the mid-1990s.
*The town square where the exteriors were shot is in Monticello, Georgia. Vinny and Mona stop in front of Lucy's Secondhand Store to check the tire knocking noise. This is an establishing shot for the town they are conducting the trial in and where Mona later gets Vinny's "ridiculous thing" - his red tux. The courthouse in the background is, in real life, Jasper County Superior Court in Monticello. Wahzoo City, Alabama, is a fictional town. However, there is a Yazoo City in Mississippi.
*The red convertible that Vinny and Lisa are driving is a 1962 Cadillac.
*When the preliminary hearing is being conducted, a door to the right rear of the witness is open, and a photograph may be seen hanging on the wall. The picture is of William Randolph Hearst, a somewhat odd choice to hang in a courthouse.

*The position of the mud splatters change on Vinny's body when he slips in the mud near the car.
*After examining a witness, Vinny turns around and goes to Mona where they slap hands. They obviously miss but the sound of a slap is heard anyway.
*During the final courtroom scene as Mona Lisa Vito is being dismissed from the stand by the judge, the shadow of a boom mic can be seen moving around on the wall above the judge.
*In the judge's office, Gambini claimed that he had been practicing law for about 16 years. A few moments later he stated that he defended the "first guy they caught" in the Son of Sam murders. Assuming that the film is set in 1992, that would mean that Gambini began practicing law in 1976. The Son of Sam murders occurred from July 1976 to August 1977 when David Berkowitz was arrested. Never mind the fact that a suspect would not go to trial during an on-going murder investigation, it would also mean that this trial of "the first guy" would have had to have taken place prior to Berkowitz being arrested and charged. This would mean that Gambini's very first case would have been to defend a high profile serial killer which would have been very unlikely. This could be an attempt at ironic humor by the film makers however, as Gambini's first real case is to defend murder suspects, which once again would be very unlikely.
*During his objection, Vinny uses the word "verocity", making a phonetic confusion with "ferocity". The correct word is "veracity".
*The pool hustler "J.T." is called "J.G." by one of his flunkies during the nighttime $200 rolled-up wad of bills scene with Vinny.
*When the Judge calls New York to speak to the court clerk about lawyer Callow he is told the clerk would call back after 3. After the trial ends the clock tower shows about 3 minutes till 3 indicating they completed the trial in the nick of time, however, Alabama is in the central time zone and New York is eastern so if the court clerk had called at three in New York it would have been two in Alabama, one hour before the trial ended.
*When Vinny's car is first shown going through town, it says, "Cadillac" on the grill. When the car pulls into the parking space to examine the tires, it doesn't say "Cadillac" on the grill.
*When Vinny and Lisa eat lunch at the picnic bench after Lisa bails Vinny out of jail for the first time, they are shown unwrapping the cutlery. Then, when the shot changes, they are shown unwrapping it again.
*When the courtroom is waiting for Vinny to appear, the jury box is completely empty. Vinny then arrives and explains his awful tux and why he was late. In the following shot, when the judge calls for the prosecutions opening statement, the entire jury is present and seated. The transition between shots may be assumed to represent the passage of time, but the scene seems continuous, and it seems that the jury "magically" appears.
*When Vinny is bailed out of jail there is a group of protesters outside protesting an upcoming execution. The only prison in Alabama that holds Death Row is Holman Prison in Atmore, Al. Atmore is on the West side of Alabama near Mobile ... nowhere near the Georgia line.
*This film was made in Jasper and Putnam Counties in Georgia, nowhere near the Alabama line. On the highway scenes the highway signs have been changed to Alabama signs but for in town scenes, which is actually Monticello, Georgia the signs are still the actual Georgia highway signs.
*While judges do make errors once in awhile, it is practically impossible that any judge would overrule Vinny's objection to George Wilbur's testimony. To do so would almost certainly cause a conviction to be overturned at the appellate level.
*When Bill and Stan get arrested, they're under the impression that they're in jail for shoplifting until Bill figures it out during the confession. Due to the Writ of Habeas Corpus, it's nearly impossible for someone in custody to go that long without being told what he has been arrested for.
*Vinny seemingly has 1-2 weeks to prepare for a murder trial, and investigates on the fly. In actuality he would have as much time as needed for a murder trial.
*The black lady on the jury (seen when Trotter talks of "our ancestors from England") also serves Vinny in the café during the lunch recess before his presentation of evidence. If she's on the jury, she would not have been allowed to leave the court to work, and least of all to serve the defense attorney.
*Near the end of the movie, Judge Haller walks out of his office, and the sign on the door says "Probate Court". A Probate Judge would never conduct a criminal trial; murder trials in Alabama (and most states) are always conducted by Circuit Judges.
*Vinny is a lawyer licensed to practice law in the state of New York and not Alabama. While his lies about his career would give the judge reason to allow him to practice pro hac vice, his defense team would need to include someone who is licensed to practice in Alabama to make a motion in court to allow him to practice for the trial.
*When Vinnie has his final confrontation with J.T. in front of the store, He takes a flying leap through the air as he swings with his fist. As they both come to a landing, we can see them "bounce", indicating that they hit the stunt mattress.
*When Vinny hears the owl screech while he and Lisa are in Trotter's cabin, he grabs a pistol from a gun case, opens the cylinder and snaps it shut with a flick of his wrist, however, it is clear that there are no bullets in the cylinder.
*Vincent "corrects" the judge to say that his name is Jerry Callo. But Lisa is not there. The next scene is the diner and there's no conversation about the name change. Lisa storms out and they don't talk to each other until back in the courthouse. There is never an opportunity for Vincent to tell her that he changed his name to Callo, yet Lisa was able to call the judge in New York to get the judge's clerk to fax a letter documenting the stellar record of Jerry Callo.
*When Vinny is looking at the pictures of the tire tracks supposedly made by spinning tires you can clearly see the tread pattern. If the tires had been spinning the tracks would have been smeared. The tracks shown with clear tread pattern would only have been made if the car had driven through water or paint.
*The photo of the skid marks is an obvious fake - it is virtually impossible to lay a perfectly straight skid mark caused by acceleration (not braking) and there would be discontinuity as the tire bounced up and over the curb. They actually painted skid mark on the vertical surface of the curb, all the way into the corner.

Stan: Why didn't you ask them any questions?
Vinny Gambini: Huh? Ask who questions?
Bill: The witnesses! You know you could have asked questions, didn't you, Vin?
Stan: Damn it, Vinnie! Maybe if you'd put up some kind of a fight, you could have gotten the case thrown out!
Vinny Gambini: Hey, Stan, you're in Ala-fuckin'-bama. You come from New York. You killed a good ol' boy. There is no way this is not going to trial!

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Joe Pesci           ... Vinny Gambini
Ralph Macchio       ... Bill Gambini
Marisa Tomei        ... Mona Lisa Vito
Mitchell Whitfield  ... Stan Rothenstein
Fred Gwynne         ... Judge Chamberlain Haller
Lane Smith          ... Jim Trotter III
Austin Pendleton    ... John Gibbons
Bruce McGill        ... Sheriff Farley
Maury Chaykin       ... Sam Tipton
Paulene Myers       ... Constance Riley)
Raynor Scheine      ... Ernie Crane
James Rebhorn       ... George Wilbur
Chris Ellis         ... J.T.
Michael Simpson     ... Neckbrace
Lou Walker          ... Grits Cook

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