My Cousin Vinny: a British class comedy

This is perhaps more MPSIMS but since it’s movie related I’ll put it here.

MY COUSIN VINNY is one of those movies like COMING TO AMERICA and STEEL MAGNOLIAS that I’ve seen so often I can pretty much recite it from heart, but having exhausted my Netflix movies this holiday weekend I stuck it in the DVD and for the first time ever listened to the director’s commentary. It’s among the most interesting I’ve ever heard for a movie that I’ve watched a thousand times.

The director was Jonathan Flynn, British writer/actor/director best known as the chief cook and bottle washer responsible for Yes, [Prime] Minister. I knew absolutely nothing about him biographically save that presumably he was alive when My Cousin Vinny was shot (and, for that matter, he still is). Most interesting where the movie is concerned perhaps is that he has a law degree from Cambridge and is a courtroom junkie both in England and here, and he said that one of his pet peeves was legal inaccuracies in movies- things that absolutely could not and would not ever happen in a courtroom- and that he re-wrote a part of the script to minimize these from VINNY. (I had actually heard from lawyers and law professors that it’s one of the best movies about criminal proceedings in terms of this, and now I know why; the main inaccuracy is of course that there’s no way “the two utes” would ever have come to trial that soon.)

More to the point of the title, though, is that he said when he read the script he never saw it as a “fish out of water” comedy that it was marketed as and that most people take it as. He saw it as an Americanized version of a British class comedy: Vinny is the blue collar rookie with street smarts pitted against the “establishment” white collar and patrician Yale educated Judge Haller (Fred Gwynne) and the well-to-do well-connected attorney Jim Trotter, III (who in a moment of biographical exposition mentions to Vinny that he made a fortune as a defense attorney in Birmingham before returning to prosecute criminals instead of getting them acquitted). It’s an interesting revelation, because when you watch it that way it takes on different dimensions.

Other interesting revelations:

Neither Fred Gwynne nor his agent had anything to do with his being cast as he was semi-retired and living on his cattle farm in Virginia. (I remember an interview in which Gwynne said that retirement was the best thing he ever did careerwise because when he was a working actor nobody wanted him and when he left LA and NYC everybody did.) Flynn wanted him because he’d seen him in Pet Semetary which let him know he could do regional accents (“sometimes dead is bettah”) and from Cotton Club which let him know he could do menacing, and from both the fact he was huge was apparent, and once Joe Pesci signed he wanted a very tall man to play the judge to get the “little boy in the principal’s office” visual. Flynn had never seen a single episode of The Munsters and was only vaguely familiar with it and was cautioned that “Americans only know him as Herman Munster” (not quite right but he was typecast to a degree) and thus Flynn wasn’t bothered, and Fred got arguaby the best movie role of his career.

To prepare for the movie Flynn watched several days worth of trials in rural Georgia and used much of them in the movie. He replicated a courtroom almost entirely from the actual one, and little moments that I’d noticed and loved were copied almost verbatim from the trials:
—The judge giving an ass chewing to an attorney who made an under his breath joke
—The white patrician Trotter mentioning “our ancestors back in England” as the camera pans a black juror
—The dignified old lady saying “Fry 'em” when asked about capital punishment
and others.

Also the diet: Flynn had never seen “a grit” until the location shooting (after which he added them to his regular diet) and worked this as well as the lard breakfast and menu with “Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner” written on the inside.

Anyway, there’s more of interest in the commentary- it’s one of the best I’ve listened to throughout the movie. Since there’s no real question or game here I’ll just say use this to discuss anything MY COUSIN VINNY related.

I love this movie. I’ll have to listen to the commentary. Like you, I’ve seen it I don’t know how many times and it’s funny every single time.

Thanks for all the tidbits! It’s nice to hear that the director mentioned The Cotton Club. We love that movie too, it’s very underrated IMO. Fred is fantastic in it.

Very interesting, Sampiro!I too have watched this so many times as to be able to quote it line for line and never even knew there *was *commentary on the DVD (that’s because I watch it every time it’s on TV and therefore have never gotten a chance to watch my copy). The funny thing is that I’ve always thought of it as something I love “in spite of it being totally unrealistic” :smack: And the director is a Brit? Holy cow, the limey boyfriend who is almost as big a fan as I will be so happy to have yet another thing to claim bragging rights over (apparently the English invented everything that is good and right in the world:dubious:).

I’ll agree that the movie is one of the best for legal procedure. It’s not quite a Crim Pro training film, of course, but compared to some of the utter fantasy that’s put on screen about courtrooms, this one is very solid.

Lynn, not Flynn.

I probably see a scene from it in at least one CLE a year.

Do they mention the silly rumor that Marisa Tomei won the Oscar because they read the wrong name during the ceremony?

“What is a ‘yoot’ ?” cracks me up every time.

One thing that I find interesting…the typically Italian Vinny doesn’t recognize grits as simply a bastardized version of polenta. Of course, most Americans probably don’t realize that the dofference is mostly regional, and wouldn’t have gotten the “joke.”

Lynn (not Flynn :smack:) said that was actually added to the script after he had the “I-DENTICAL!” exchange with Pesci during shooting. Like the judge he honestly didn’t know what Pesci was saying.

To me the most unrealistic thing about the movie is the deus-ex-machina ending with the other “two yoots” being arrested in the 63 Cutlass with the .357 magnum. Lynn said he actually disliked that as well, but the studio wanted it put in because they felt it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying an ending without the real bad guys being caught (even though this isn’t a who-dun-it) and because without something that “smoking gun” the prosecutor probably wouldn’t drop the charges.

There are no deleted scenes on the DVD, but the director mentions a deleted sideplot that was evidently shot involving the mother of Ralph Macchio’s character. In the original script you see her- she’s morbidly obese, smoking cigarettes, and has a (non-fatal) heart attack while getting ready to go to Alabama, and this was included solely to explain “why isn’t this Italian mama worried enough to leave NYC to come stand by her baby?” It was cut because it didn’t really advance the plot, it wasn’t necessary, it killed the mood, and Lynn said that not one person in the test audiences ever questioned why his mom wasn’t there. (Of course if they ever make it into a stage musical ala Legally Blonde or Dirty Rotten Scoundrels they can add her back in and maybe work in a love triangle with the judge or Trotter.)

I don’t recall him mentioning the Marisa Tomei rumor. He said he loved her performance and that the moment she read and that when she thumped her foot while reading the “my biological clock is TICKING” during the audition he saw other actresses only out of courtesy.

He also said the original choice for Vinny was John Travolta, then Al Pacino, but both were way out of budget range. (It’s actually a very low budget movie compared to most courtroom thrillers and was filmed almost entirely in Georgia; for a couple of parts they actually rebuilt a run-down hotel and pool hall; something odd is that the interior motel and hotel and bar shots really were shot inside motel/hotel/bar rooms. Lynn recalled that the place was so economically depressed due to plant closings that the locals clamored to be extras not just for the movie-making experience but the $50/day or so.

I was surprised to learn the movie didn’t do well in southeastern theatres. It was mobbed when I saw it in Alabama. I totally understood when he said that many southerners were offended in principal due to all the southern stereotypes in comedies, but I actually thought from the first viewing that it’s one of the most accurate if not outright flattering portrayals of the small town south: the judge is a graduate of Yale, the prosecutor has a computer/fax machine/Xerox [this is almost 20 years ago when that was less a necessity], the people are polite but except in a few cases they’re not stupid (and there most certainly are stupid people down here), the sheriff is a good ol’ boy but he’s not corrupt, and they have every conceivable reason to arrest “the two yoots”- it’s not just a railroading of two Yankees.

He also mentioned Austin Pendleton, the character actor who played the stuttering stamoring DA. He and Pendleton have been close friends since they appeared in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF together in London in the 1960s, and Pendleton (who is primarily half of a husband/wife acting teacher team but of course has a zillion acting credits as well) really does have a severe stammer in real life, but took the role anyway as a favor to his pal. Lynn said the first take of Pendleton bungling his opening statement was perfect except that it was totally ruined by him (Lynn) falling apart on the other side of the camera and laughing so loud it made extras and other crew members fall apart; in the scene that made it you’ll see that the yoot who isn’t Ralph Macchio has his hand over his mouth as if the character is saying “Oh my god…” but in fact was the actor falling apart and trying to hide it.

It’s surprising Pesci did not want big money since he had just won an Oscar for Goodfellas.

He’s apparently not that money motivated. He left movies completely from 1998 to 2006, then only came back for a cameo part as a mob-boss/doting grandpa in The Good Shepherd as a favor to DeNiro. He’s got one coming out later this year (Love Ranch- “A drama centered around a married couple who opened the first legal brothel in Nevada” he and Helen Mirren’s are evidently the married couple) but that’s all that’s on his development plate.

It’s a great movie for sure. Marisa Tomei prancing around in her cat suit didn’t hurt it a bit, either :eek:.

I was amazed when I saw The Wrestler at how well she’s aged without looking like “Hollywood non-aging” (i.e. obvious facelifts mixed with lighting).

Wonderful movie.

Rumor has it Pesci is not easy to work with so his time off from movies may not have been 100% voluntary. :slight_smile:

Three factual questions for those of lawyerly demeanor:

  1. Would Mr. Gambini’s attire (no jacket or tie, or leather jacket over black shirt and tie) be tolerated in a Brooklyn courtroom?

  2. Are defendants in criminal trials in general (and capital offense trials more specifically) really tried together, at the same time?

  3. Can a judge summarily admit an out-of-state attorney, whether or not properly credentialed, to act as counsel in his courtroom without otherwise being admitted to that state’s bar?

I was watching through the TV show, Rescue Me, and thinking the whole time that Tomei had aged amazingly well. Then all of a sudden in one episode, Marisa Tomei shows up and talks with Marisa Tomei, only the new one looks even younger.

I’d accidentally confused Callie Thorne for Tomei. Tomei is 5 years older, and looks 10 years younger. She still looked perky.

It’s somewhat humorously over the line, but some judges might allow it. Maybe in the summer. Brooklyn Supreme (the trial court, including the criminal trial court) is an absolute fucking zoo. It’s not really what people imagine. And nothing like the small town courthouse.

They can be. It’s neither required nor forbidden.

Yes, in a special circumstance and for one particular case.

This is called “admission pro hac vice.” Except, you must be admitted to the bar somewhere. That’s why the judge wanted to see his paperwork.

My favorite line.