|My Cousin Vinny|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jonathan Lynn|
|Produced by||Dale Launer
|Written by||Dale Launer|
and Fred Gwynne
|Editing by||Stephen E. Rivkin|
|Distributed by||Twentieth Century Fox|
|Release date(s)||March 13, 1992|
|Running time||120 min.|
My Cousin Vinny is a 1992 comedy film written by Dale Launer, and directed by Jonathan Lynn, starring Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio and Marisa Tomei, and featuring Fred Gwynne in his final role. The film deals with two young New Yorkers traveling through rural Alabama who are put on trial for a murder they did not commit, and the comic attempts of a cousin, Vincent Gambini, a newly minted lawyer, to defend them.
Much of the humor comes from the contrasting personalities of the brash Italian American Vinny and his fiancee Mona Lisa, and the more somber Southern townspeople. Pesci and Tomei received vast critical praise for their performances, and Tomei won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Additionally, Gwynne, who had long been typecast due to his role as Herman Munster in the television show The Munsters, received critical acclaim for his performance as the candidly human Judge Chamberlain Haller.
In the August 2008 edition of the American Bar Association Journal, My Cousin Vinny was rated #3 in their cover story listing of "The 25 Greatest Legal Movies", after To Kill a Mockingbird and 12 Angry Men.
While driving through the fictional Beechum County, Alabama, on their way to visit UCLA, New Yorkers William "Billy" Gambini (Ralph Macchio) and his friend Stanley "Stan" Rothenstein (Mitchell Whitfield) accidentally forget to pay for a can of tuna after stopping at a convenience store. After they leave the store, the clerk is shot and killed in a robbery that happens off-screen, and Billy and Stan, who match the descriptions of the murderers given by witnesses, are then pulled over and detained in connection with the murder. Due to circumstantial evidence and a series of miscommunications based on the boys' assumption that they have merely been detained for shoplifting, Billy ends up being charged with murder, and Stan is charged as an accessory.
The pair call Billy's mother, who tells her son that there is an attorney in the family, Billy's cousin, Vincent LaGuardia Gambini (Joe Pesci), who travels to Beechum County accompanied by his fiancee, Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei). Unfortunately, after meeting with Billy and Stan at the state prison where the guys are held, although Vinny is willing to take their case, he tells them that he is a neophyte personal injury lawyer from Brooklyn, New York, newly admitted to the bar (after six attempts to pass the bar exam), with no trial experience whatsoever.
Although Vinny manages to fool the uptight and conservative trial judge, Chamberlain Haller (Fred Gwynne), about being experienced enough to take the case, his ignorance of basic court procedures during his first day at the preliminary hearing, and his inadvertent abrasive, disrespectful attitude towards the judge gets him into trouble immediately. Haller holds him in contempt of court and sends him to jail. The following day, much to his clients' consternation, Vinny, due to his inexperience, does not even bother to cross-examine any of the witnesses in the probable cause hearing, partly because the D.A., Jim Trotter III (Lane Smith) has not bothered to disclose his evidence to Vinny. As their claims go unquestioned, it appears that the prosecution has an airtight case that will inevitably lead to a conviction at the trial. After Vinny's poor showing at the hearing, Billy and Stan decide to fire him and use the public defender John Gibbons (Austin Pendleton), but Vinny then realizes that Trotter is mandated by law to furnish his evidence to Vinny, which he immediately does after Vinny makes a request. Vinny then asks Billy and Stan for a chance to question one witness to prove himself, and if that fails to shake the prosecution, he will return home and the pair can stick with Gibbons.
The trial then opens with Vinny representing his cousin and Gibbons representing Stan. Despite some further missteps, including wearing an old-style long-tailed, red tuxedo to court (Judge Haller appears in shock that Vinny is mocking Alabama men, until Vinny explains that his suit fell in the mud and holds Haller to his own rules that he needs to appear in court in a suit made out of cloth) and sleeping through the opening statement made by Trotter, Vinny shows that he can make up for his ignorance and inexperience with an aggressive, perceptive questioning style. While Gibbons stutters through a line of ill-prepared questions that appear to bolster the case against the boys, Vinny quickly and comprehensively discredits the testimony of the first witness. Billy's faith is rewarded, and Stan yells out in court that he wants to retain Vinny after all, firing Gibbons.
On the second day of the trial, Vinny's cross-examinations of the two remaining eyewitnesses are similarly effective, but Trotter produces a surprise witness: George Wilbur (James Rebhorn), an FBI analyst who did not appear at the probable cause hearing but who testifies that his chemical analysis of the tire marks left at the crime scene shows that they are identical to the tires on Billy's Buick Skylark. Allowed only a brief recess to prepare his cross-examination and unable to come up with a particularly strong line of questions, Vinny becomes frustrated and sarcastically taunts Lisa about the apparent uselessness of her wide-angle photographs of the tire tracks of the crime scene. She storms out, leaving Vinny alone. Moments later he later realizes that that photo actually holds the key to the case: the flat and even tire marks reveal that Billy's car could not have been used for the getaway. Vinny needs Lisa, an expert in automobiles, to testify to this. He forcibly drags her into court, and during Vinny's questioning, they patch up their differences.
Lisa proves Vinny's theory correct, as the pictures show that the getaway car had to have both a limited-slip differential (posi-traction) and an independent rear suspension, and Lisa testifies that only two General Motors cars of similar vintage to Billy's Skylark offered both of these features and had the power to make such tire marks: the Chevrolet Corvette (which, due to its well-known body shape, would not be mistaken for any other car) and the Pontiac Tempest (which is similar in body styling to Billy's Skylark and was also available in the same metallic green color). Vinny then recalls the FBI analyst, who concurs with Lisa that Billy's car did not produce the tracks. Next, Vinny calls the local sheriff, Dean Farley (Bruce McGill), who ran a records check at Vinny's request. The sheriff also testifies that he spoke to a sheriff in Georgia, where two men resembling Billy and Stan were arrested driving a stolen, metallic green Pontiac Tempest with a white convertible and in possession of a gun of the same caliber used to murder the clerk. Vinny rests his case, and without bothering to make a closing summary, Trotter then moves to dismiss all charges against Billy and Stan. With the prosecution having stepped down, Haller declares Billy and Stan not guilty of murdering the convenience store employee.
Throughout the film, Vinny and Judge Haller play a game of cat-and-mouse over Vinny's qualifications. Haller first discovers that, despite Vinny's claims that he tried "quite a few" murder cases, there exist no records of anybody named Vincent Gambini trying any case in New York State. Vinny then claims that he had his name changed during a previous career as a stage actor and continued to use the name when he opened a law practice. Vinny, believing that he should give the judge the name of someone with the kind of resume he claimed to have, supplies the name of a prominent New York attorney, Jerry Gallo. Unfortunately, Lisa reveals the source of Gallo's most recent publicity: he died the week before. Vinny then claims that Haller misheard "Gallo" when Vinny actually said "Callo".
Finally, Lisa gets Vinny off the hook by calling his mentor, Judge Malloy from New York, who responds to Haller's request by claiming that "Jerry Callo" has a long and impressive trial history. The film concludes with Haller apologizing for doubting Vinny and praising his skills as a litigator. Vinny and Lisa then drive off together, arguing about plans for their wedding.
Sac-O-Suds convenience store is located on Georgia State Route 16 in Jasper County, Georgia, which is east of Jackson, Georgia. The courthouse is still in the town square of Monticello, Georgia. Dave's Barbecue and Sea Food (where Vinny and Lisa get in a fight near the end of the movie) is adjacent to the town square.
Shooting took place in and around Jasper and Putnam County, Georgia. Putnam General Motel where they first stay the night and then learn about grits in the morning is located on Highway 441 North in Putnam County outside of the town of Eatonton. The motel is still open but the restaurant is now closed and has been for a few years. The actual lumber plant that is supposed to be across the street from the Motel in the movie is actually the Georgia Pacific Plant in Jasper County Georgia. Sheriff Farley mentions that the two boys arrested in the Tempest were arrested in Jasper County, Georgia.
With a budget of $11,000,000, My Cousin Vinny was more successful than any had anticipated, grossing $52,929,168 domestically and $11,159,384 in the foreign markets, bringing its overall total to $64,088,552.
Marisa Tomei won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, the film's sole nomination, at the 65th Academy Awards in 1993. The film's director, Jonathan Lynn, later remarked that he wasn't the least bit surprised at either her nomination or her win.
Pesci later reprised the Vincent LaGuardia Gambini character for his album, Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You, which contains the song "Hey, Cousin Vinny." The album cover portrays Pesci in a red suit similar to the "ridiculous" suit he wore in the film.
|Joe Pesci||Vincent LaGuardia "Vinny" Gambini|
|Ralph Macchio||William Robert "Billy" Gambini|
|Marisa Tomei||Mona Lisa Vito||Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress|
|Fred Gwynne||Judge Chamberlain Haller||Gwynne's final film role prior to his death|
|Mitchell Whitfield||Stanley Marcus "Stan" Rothenstein|
|Lane Smith||District Attorney James "Jim" Trotter III|