L-R: Ralph Macchio, Mitchell Whitfield and Joe Pesci in “My Cousin Vinny”; 20th Century Fox/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — 25 years ago today, two “yoots” were put on trial for a murder they didn’t commit, and were saved by their lawyer cousin. Yes, it’s the 25th anniversary of My Cousin Vinny.
The 1992 film starred Joe Pesci as Vincent LaGuardia Gambini, an inexperienced Brooklyn, NY lawyer who travels to a small Alabama town to defend his younger cousin, played by Ralph Macchio, and his friend against murder charges. Marisa Tomei played Vincent’s automotive expert fiancee, Mona Lisa Vito.
Most of the film’s comedy comes from the contrast between tough New Yorkers and small-town Southerners, the latter epitomized by the presiding judge and the prosecutor, played by the late Fred Gwynne and Lane Smith, respectively. In one memorable scene, Vinny’s Brooklyn accent confuses the judge when Vinny refers to the defendants as “the two yoots,” instead of “youths.”
Tomei, a relative newcomer, won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role, which required her to spout arcane technical automotive details as Vinny’s expert witness. It’s her testimony about Chevrolet’s Positraction system that helps clear Vinny’s cousin.
A nasty rumor circulated around Hollywood for years that presenter Jack Palance announced Tomei’s name in error at the 1993 Academy Awards, and she wasn’t really the winner. This myth has been debunked, but persists.
Believe it or not, My Cousin Vinny has been praised by legal professionals for its accurate depiction of courtroom scenes and trial strategy, as Vinny eviscerates the testimony of witnesses by pointing out inconsistencies in their stories. It’s even mentioned in one legal textbook as an “entertaining [and] extremely helpful introduction to the art of presenting expert witnesses at trial for both beginning experts and litigators.” Not surprising, perhaps, given that director Jonathan Lynn has a law degree from Cambridge University.
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