The Law Community Gave the Film High Marks
Lawyer Maxwell S. Kennerly said about ‘My Cousin Vinny’, “The movie is close to reality even in its details. Part of why the film has such staying power among lawyers is because, unlike, say, A Few Good Men, everything that happens in the movie could happen—and often does happen—at trial.” Law professor Alberto Bernabe, from the University of Chicago, gives his students a list of law movies organized by category, and puts Vinny under “Education”.
The film has also been praised by a Seventh Circuit Court Judge; referenced by former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; used to teach young lawyers at legal conferences; and appeared in a legal textbook.
Launer Headed South for Some Script Research
In order to research the script, Launer decided to take a road trip through the South. He started off in New Orleans, continued towards Mississippi and Alabama, and finished by driving down the Gulf Coast. The trip ended up supplying tons of material for the script. His car got stuck in the mud, there were grits on every single restaurant menu, and he heard the ghostly cry of the screech owl for himself. He even found time to meet with the Butler district attorney, who reminded him a bit of actor Lane Smith. Therefore, it is no surprise that Smith was eventually cast as the DA in the film.
Another important thing that he experienced during his drive was the friendly attitude of the people. According to the bio, everyone “was very friendly and helpful, but when he told them he was making a movie that took place in the south—they’d get very concerned—afraid that Hollywood movies always made them look like bumpkins. That too [was] weaved into the story.”
Launer Wanted Robert De Niro to Play Vinny Gambini
When the script was completed, Launer held a casting meeting with the president, vice president, and CEO of Fox. He brought up the name Robert De Niro as his first choice for the part of Vincent LaGuardia Gambini. Launer later told Writer Unboxed, "the prez looked uncomfortable, embarrassed that I would suggest such an actor."
‘De Niro, uh … well … he’s not funny. And … his movies don’t make money.’ … Now … the only movies De Niro acts in that make money? Comedies! So, I feel vindicated. But I wish I could’ve been given a big fat check when I [ended up] being proved right.”
The Film's Director Never Even Saw 'The Karate Kid' Before Casting Ralph Macchio
Director Jonathan Lynn talked about casting the role in the DVD commentary, “I was very eager to have Ralph Macchio in the movie, I must confess, I had never actually seen 'The Karate Kid'."
Lynn went on to say, "I watched him in a couple of videos that his agent sent and I thought he was just perfect for the part. … He’s very good in the movie.”
Vinny Was Based on Guys from Joe Pesci’s Neighborhood Growing Up
The actor, who grew up in New Jersey, later admitted that Vinny's character was based on people he knew when he was growing up.
In an interview with The Movie Show in 1992, Pesci said there were a lot of people like that in smaller neighborhoods, like the one he lived in, so he used these characters as inspiration for Vinny.
The Character of Mona Lisa Vito Was Almost Cut from the Movie by the Studio.
In an interview with Writer Unboxed in 2007, Launer revealed that the studio had initially wanted to get rid of the colorful character of Vinny’s unemployed hairdresser/car expert girlfriend. Launer was forced to add a scene, specifically requested by the studio president, to the second draft in order to keep the character in the movie. He said, "He wanted Vinny’s girlfriend to complain that he’s not giving her enough attention."
Launer said that he eventually, “figured out a way where they’d HAVE to keep her and embellished her character … she does complain, but at least apologizes for bringing it up, and you don’t hate her for bringing it up largely because it’s funny. … Now, I thought if she brought this up at this point where he is simply going through hell—he should be pissed off. And he is. So he kinda tears into her.” In the end, the scene which features Mona Lisa’s tirade about her “biological clock”, became one of his favorites in the entire script.
Will Smith Almost Played Stan Rothenstein
Actor Mitchell Whitfield had just completed his move from New York to Los Angeles, when he heard that auditions for 'My Cousin Vinny' were happening in New York and decided to fly back for the screen test.
Whitfield told Abnormal Use that Will Smith was also up for the role! He must have made an impression, because Whitfield got the part of Stan and had to drop 25 pounds in order to play him.
Marisa Tomei Was Relatively Unknown When She Got the Part
When she was cast as Mona Lisa Vito, Marisa Tomei did not have a lot of big screen experience. Lynn talks about his decision to cast her in the DVD commentary, explaining that he'd seen a performance where Tomei played a 1920s blonde flapper, but he could tell she was incredibly funny and talented. Soon after, Tomei auditioned for 'My Cousin Vinny' and nailed it.
According to the director, he knew he made the right choice after reviewing the dailies of the first scene they shot with her, in which Mona Lisa and Vinny arrive in Alabama. The way she tells him, “Oh, yeah, you blend,” was all he needed.
Although Tomei is from Brooklyn, She Doesn’t Share Her Character’s Way of Talking
Growing up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, Tomei told The New York Times in 1992, “I really knew the neighborhood.” That doesn’t mean that she talked exactly like Mona Lisa.
“I don’t think that extreme, but I could be wrong,” she told NPR’s Fresh Air in 2010. “My mom was an English teacher, and she was on my butt about that kind of thing and correcting my speech from a young age.”
The Legal System is Portrayed Quite Accurately
Lynn, who has a law degree from Cambridge University, talks about the legal aspects of the film in the DVD commentary, saying, “I get terribly irritated when I see films in which the legal procedure is obviously wrong.” He made additional adjustments to the script which had already been researched by Launer in order to achieve maximum accuracy.
Lynn went as far as to sit in on a murder trial in the Monticello, Ga. courtroom which was the inspiration for the courtroom set. “Some of the lines in the [Vinny trial] came directly from that trial,” he said, including Lane Smith’s pronunciation of heinous (“high-a-nus”) and his line about “our little old ancestors” in the opening remarks.
The Character of Vinny Was Initially Dyslexic
In the first version of the script, when Vinny is questioned about having to take the bar exam six times, he replies, “I’m a little dyslexic.” Launer envisioned viewers literally seeing Vinny’s difficulty reading the enormous book of Alabama Criminal Court procedure, with the camera zooming in on an indecipherable word, which would become clear and readable and then moving on the next word which would again be impossible to read, and the pattern would repeat.
Launer told Abnormal Use that in the final version, Vinny’s dyslexia was dropped because Lynn said "he did not know how to portray dyslexia. The screenwriter was very unhappy about the omission because it made Vinny seem “not so bright. You don’t know why it took him so long to get through the bar. And then suddenly he starts acting smart. What you have to do is make assumptions that he is actually a smart guy, and the law is just complicated and boring.” In the version of the film, which was ultimately released, there is no explanation given for the fact that Vinny only passed the bar on his sixth try.
A Whole Scene Was Taken from a Comedy Book About the Law
The book included funny things which actually took place in real courtrooms. Launer was inspired by the book when writing the unforgettable scene in which Vinny is talking to a potential juror.
Launer told Abnormal Use, the lawyers “ask them their opinion on capital punishment, and they said something like, ‘I think it should be left up to the victims’ families.’ Then they described exactly what the murderer did, and then the juror actually said, ‘Fry them.’ So I put that right in the movie.”
The Film Was Shot in a Real Prison
Several days of shooting took place in the solitary confinement wing of a state prison in Gainesville, Georgia. Lynn talks about the authentic experience in the DVD commentary, saying, “It does have a death row, right beside the wing where we were shooting, and I looked all around death row. It was a very frightening building, and we were all pretty scared when we were there, even though we had guards with us at all times.”
The cast and crew had to spend up to 40 minutes just to get from outside the building to the shooting location inside the prison. Whitfield says that the experience of being inside a real prison was actually terrifying.
The Prison Guards Used Are Not Actors
The prison guards which appear in the film are actual prison guards. Real prisoners were also used as extras on two occasions, once shouting in the background as Stan and Bill are being led into the prison, and also for a short scene in which the two play basketball in their exercise time.
Lynn says in the DVD commentary, “The prisoners were all extremely cooperative and did exactly what we asked. I don’t know what incentives or threats were made in order to achieve that.”
The Scene in Which Vinny and Stan Misunderstand Each Other Was Cut from the Script
This hilarious scene, in which Vinny and Stan meet for the first time, appeared in the script which Lynn received, but was cut from the shooting script. All parties involved felt like the scene had to be added back in, and it ended up getting some of the biggest laughs. The scene, which took place inside Stan and Bill’s cell, could not have happened in reality because any interaction between defendants and their attorneys could only take place in an interview room.
The filmmakers discussed this point and tried to solve it a little by showing Vinny giving the guard money. Lynn has said that making the scene accurate would have caused them to lose that brilliantly funny scene, so they decided not to use it and hoped nobody would notice the small inaccuracy. And nobody ever did.
Pesci Actually Performed His Famous Card Trick
When Vinny is trying to convince Bill to allow him to represent him, he performs a card trick. Lynn talks about the authenticity of the scene in the DVD commentary, explaining that it was imperative for him for the trick to be real.
So, Pesci had to actually learn how to do the trick! And he did it brilliantly.
Bill’s Mother’s Scenes Were Dropped in Editing
While they were getting ready to shoot the film, someone at the studio brought up a big hole in the plot, how is it that Bill’s Italian mother never shows up to support her son who is going on trial. “Well, that was a tough question, because the answer is, Mother ought to have been there,” Lynn said in the DVD commentary. But then he went on to say that it would've been a problem because the script was already too long.
Instead, they added some scenes where Bill's mother suffers from a heart attach right after Vinny goes to Alabama. But when editing, they realized the scenes were going to ruin the film's continuity, so they decided to cut them out.
A Live Screech Owl Was Used to Create One Unforgettable Scene
One of the movie’s most memorable running gags is that Vinny can never wake up naturally and is always startled awake by something, be it a steam whistle, boisterous pigs, and even a screech owl. Lynn talks about their decision to use a real screech owl in the DVD commentary, which he later admits was probably a ridiculous thing to do. The owl's behavior was so perfect that people thought it was fake. "It screeched, it looked back at Vinny, and then it looked back at the camera and screeched again. We got amazingly lucky with that screech owl.”, said Lynn.
The screeches were actually added in later. The filmmakers used a special trick to get the owl to open its mouth at the right time: “We discovered that if you put a little bit of meat into its beak, it half swallows [it] and then, approximately three seconds later, opens its beak as the meat goes down,” Lynn said. “So we fed it a little bit of beef just before the camera starting turning so that for its first screech, which is added afterwards, his beak opened at the right moment. Everything else he did in that scene was pure luck!"
Austin Pendleton Made the Cast Laugh During Shooting
Actor Austin Pendleton, who has a real-life stutter, was cast by his friend, director Jonathan Lynn, as the tongue-tied public defender. Lynn told Abnormal Use that, even though he knew Pendleton would be hilarious in the scene, he wasn't expecting it to be that funny. Apparently, he had to hide behind the camera because he couldn't stop himself from laughing.
Mitchell Whitfield also found his scenes with Pendleton hilarious.
The Memorable "Yutes" Was Inspired by a Real Conversation
The scene in which Vinny and Judge Haller discuss the “two yutes” was “perhaps the most quoted piece of dialogue from the film,” according to Lynn in the DVD commentary, and it was based on an actual conversation that took place between Lynn and Pesci.
The two were prepping the film at the Mayflower Hotel in New York and Lynn recalls, “He said something about ‘these two yutes’ who were on trial and I said ‘what?’ and he said ‘what?’ and I said ‘what’s a yute?’” Lynn recalled. “I realized as we were having that conversation that that was something that ought to happen between Vinny and the judge, so I simply wrote it in the way it happened naturally.”
Pesci’s Oscar Almost Made a Surprise Appearance
Pesci had won an Oscar for the movie 'Goodfellas' the night before the shooting of the scene in which he is in jail for contempt of court and finally sleeps soundly, while a prison riot takes place around him.
Lynn takes an amused look back on that day in the DVD commentary, saying, “He flew in from Los Angeles, and on the first take, when we panned to him, he was clutching the Oscar in his arms. We sent that to the studio as the dailies.”
Many Locations from the Film Are Open to Visitors
Although the story takes place in Alabama, the film was actually shot in different spots in three small towns in Georgia. Director Jonathan Lynn says in the DVD commentary, “Apart from the courtroom,” which was a set, “virtually everything was shot on location. It wasn’t a very expensive movie, and that was the cheaper way to go. It also had more authenticity.”
That means that even today you can visit a number of the film’s locations, including the newly reopened Sac-O-Suds convenience store, where you can buy as much tuna as you want, as long as you remember to pay for it!
The Law Community Gave the Film High Marks
Lawyer Maxwell S. Kennerly said about 'My Cousin Vinny', “The movie is close to reality even in its details. Part of why the film has such staying power among lawyers is because, unlike, say, A Few Good Men, everything that happens in the movie could happen—and often does happen—at trial.” Law professor Alberto Bernabe, from the University of Chicago, gives his students a list of law movies organized by category, and puts Vinny under “Education”.
The film has also been praised by a Seventh Circuit Court Judge; referenced by former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; used to teach young lawyers at legal conferences; and appeared in a legal textbook.
Nabbed a Top Spot on the American Bar Association’s list of Greatest Legal Movies
The film comes in third place on the American Bar Association's list of greatest legal movies. Launer was honored by the ranking and said it was “like getting the Oscar. In some ways, better.”
Vincent Gambini also came in at Number 12 on the association’s list of Greatest Fictional Lawyers (Who Aren’t Atticus Finch).
Tomei Heard About Her Oscar Nomination in an Unexpected Place
Actress Marisa Tomei was sleeping on her very pregnant friend’s couch when she discovered that she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She told David Letterman in 1993, that her friends were watching television in the other room and they woke her up. She said, “I didn’t know if she was going into labor or what.”
She went on to win the Oscar, and despite rumors to the contrary, which claimed that 74-year-old presenter Jack Palance said the wrong name, the actress really did win.
There Were Talks of a Sequel
Launer’s bio from 2004, claims that he had written a sequel, but some of the actors weren't interested back then. Years later, everybody seemed to be on board but the studios said too much time had passed already.
Whitfield has said that the sequel was supposedly centered on Vinny going to Europe.
Joe Pesci Released an Album as Vincent Gambini
Joe Pesci was a lounge singer before he became an actor, and six years after 'My Cousin Vinny' hit the screens, he released an album titled 'Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You'.
It features the songs “Wise Guy,” “Take Your Love and Shove It,” “Yo Cousin Vinny,” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” a duet with Tomei as Mona Lisa. The album debuted at Number 36 on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart.
Bollywood Made a Film Based on the Story
The film 'Banda yeh bindaas hai' (“This Guy is Fearless”) which was directed by Ravi Chopra and starred Govinda, Lara Dutta, and Sushmita Sen was based on 'My Cousin Vinny'. Chopra claims that they reached out to Fox in 2007 for approval to produce the remake, and were granted permission to make a film loosely based on the original idea.
However, Fox sued the film’s production company, B.R. Films, for $1.4 million, in May 2009, claiming that the remake had not been approved, and that a script review showed the film to be “a ‘substantial reproduction’ of the U.S. film” with an identical story-line, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. B.R. Films denied the claims and insisted that their version featured different characters and settings. The issue was finally settled in August 2009, with B.R. agreeing to pay the studio $200,000.
Patriots Coach Compared Himself to Mona Lisa Vito During Deflategate
When asked about the pressure of the footballs, Bill Belichik said, “I would not say that I am Mona Lisa Vito of the football world.”
When Marisa Tomei heard the reference, she immediately texted Joe Pesci. She told The Rich Eisen Show, “We thought it was pretty funny.”
Knocking Over the Chess Board Was Unintentional
In the scene where Vinny is trying to tell the judge his “real name”, he ends up knocking over the chessboard the judge was so clearly enjoying.
This was an accident and didn’t appear in the script, but director Jonathan Lynn felt the moment was so authentic and funny, he decided to use it in the film.
Production Gave a Shout Out in the Film to the Jasper County Sheriff
When the trial is nearing its end, Sheriff Farley tells the court that, "two boys, who fit the defendants' description, were arrested two days ago by Sheriff Tillman in Jasper County, Georgia."
'Mack' Tillman was the actual Jasper County sheriff at the time, and his name was used in the film to show thanks for all his help during filming.
Lorraine Bracco Was the First Choice for Mona Lisa Vito
While she was at the height of her success, actress Lorraine Bracco was offered the role of Mona Lisa Vito. She refused due to personal issues, and the role was then offered to Geena Davis, who also turned it down.
When they passed, they opened the door for newcomer Marisa Tomei to be cast, and eventually win an Oscar for the role.
Andrew Dice Clay Was Supposed to Play Vinny
He tells the story in his 2014 autobiography, 'The Filthy Truth'. According to Clay, the film was developed with him in mind at Fox, but the studio backed out after the failure of his film 'The Adventures of Ford Fairlane'.
Other actors which were considered for the role include Danny DeVito and Jim Belushi.
The Film is a Criticism of the Death Penalty
The film may feel like a comedy, but it also has some serious things to say about the legal system and the death penalty.
Director Jonathan Lynn told Abnormal Use, “For me personally, what the film was about is how wrong capital punishment is and how people can so easily be executed when they’re not guilty if they’re not adequately represented or if there’s a lack of relevant evidence available."
Mitchell Whitfield Went on to Play Barry, Rachel's Ex on 'Friends'
Actor Mitchell Whitfield was almost cast as Ross on legendary sitcom 'Friends', he lost out on the part to David Schwimmer at the last minute and was cast as Rachel’s ex-fiancé, Barry, instead.
He told Abnormal Use about the experience, saying, “Someone once asked me, “What was it like kissing Jennifer Aniston?” I said, “Okay, imagine kissing someone that you really have no romantic feelings for in front of 200 people in 120 degree lights with no top on in a dentist chair. How do you think that went down? Not too good. Yeah, that’s about it. Not too good. It was kind of awkward and sweaty.”
Judge Haller Was Famous for Playing Herman Munster
Fred Gwynne, who played judge Haller in 'Vinny', is best known for his work on iconic television series 'The Munsters'. Abnormal Use asked Mitchell Whitfield what it was like to be tried by Herman Munster. He replied, “Let me tell you something.
Fred Gwynne was such a great guy. Such a good soul and a good heart. It’s a very intimidating presence and of course, growing up – a lot of people remember him, obviously, as Herman Munster, but he’s a great actor."
Mona Lisa’s Expert Testimony Which Won the Case Was Inaccurate
At the end of the film, the “two yutes” are exonerated based on Mona Lisa Vito’s expert testimony. She claims there were two cars made in the 1960s with independent rear suspension, but there were actually three. Dale Launer told TheWrap about his decision to change the script, “I can think of one person I personally know who would know that.
Oddly enough, I had not seen him since high school, and I saw him at the premiere. He said [laughs], ‘You know, there were actually three cars with independent rear suspension.'” Launer is a car buff and says that all of Vito’s knowledge about cars came from him.
Mona Lisa’s Character Was Based on a Group of Jersey Girls Launer Met in France
Launer’s first ever encounter with young women from New Jersey was when he traveled to France, and he was completely blown away. Remember, this was before reality TV had made the “Jersey Girl” stereotype widespread.
He told The Federalist that he was backpacking and saw a group of women in the water, saying, “They wear jewelry in the water. I never saw that! That always kind of stuck in my head.” He added, “As I approach them, I can’t quite understand their language. When he asked them where they were from, they replied, “New Jersey,” and that is when he realized they were Americans. The image stayed with him and inspired him when it came time to write the character.
Launer Wanted to Show Southerners as the Opposite of ‘Rednecks’
When writing the script, it was important to Launer not to show the people of the South as stereotypical dumb rednecks. Director Jonathan Lynn talked to Abnormal Use about how they purposely made the judge and prosecutor educated and wealthy, blatantly showing how they both went to Yale and were highly intelligent.
Lynn wanted to break the typical portrayal of Southern people in Hollywood.
'My Cousin Vinny', the Novel Series?
Author Lawrence Kelter, who is a big fan of the film, wrote a novelized version of 'My Cousin Vinny'. He also released a sequel to the film in 2017 titled 'Back in Brooklyn' which finally lets fans know what Vinny and Mona Lisa are up to after the trial.
The book received good reviews and has four and a half stars on Amazon, and there is talk of more books in the series.
The Courtroom Set Was Used for Television Series 'In the Heat of the Night'
'My Cousin Vinny' was shot in a sound stage in Covington, GA, and used the same courtroom set which appeared in long running police series 'In the Heat of the Night'. There are other connections between the movie and the series, Jill Jane Clemens, who plays the court reporter, also played as a pawnbroker on the series.
The Sac-O-Suds which played such an important role in 'Vinny', appeared in an episode of the series as Munn’s Market and the tan Ford Bronco driven by Vinny and Jim Trotter to go hunting, was also Bubba Skinner’s car in 'Heat'.
Launer Imagined the Character of Vinny Like Stand-up Comedian Sam Kinison
He told Abnormal Use that he thought that the comedian, known for his screaming rants, could be a good reference for Vinny’s cross examinations.
He said that the way Kinison dealt with hecklers was what he hoped Vinny would do in court. Saying, “So it was going to be Sam Kinison, at least his personality"
The Jumpsuit Tomei Wore in the "Biological Clock" Scene Was Not a Costume
Mona Lisa Vito’s most iconic look was the floral jumpsuit from the scene in which she talks to Vinny about her biological clock. There is something about that skintight, open-backed outfit that just suits the character perfectly.
The funny thing is, the jumpsuit was not from the costume department, it actually belonged to Jonathan Lynn’s assistant.