Welcome to Fraser Fast Facts • Vol. 1, Issue 36
My Cousin Vinny
Starring a 1964 Buick Skylark Convertible that didn't do it!
Mint green? Positraction? Temptests? Who is this four-wheeled star?
The story goes that two young New Yorkers are traveling through rural Alabama, and are mistakenly arrested for murder, based solely on the vehicle they drive, a metallic mint-green 1964 Buick Skylark Convertible. One of the defendant’s cousin Vinny Gambini, a brand new attorney, attempts to defend them. But it’s Gambini’s girlfriend Mona Lisa Vito that solves the case by proving that the defendant’s car could not have been that of the murderers’.
The film was applauded by the legal community at large for it’s accurate depiction of legal statutes, court procedures, and trial strategies. For instance, Gambini’s cross examination of Sam Tipton (grits), Ernie Crane (dirty windows), and Constance Riley (glasses) represents technically competent impeachment of the prosecutor’s witnesses.
The one flaw in the movie was the most criticized by motor-heads.
Screenwriter Dale Launer explained that while Mona Lisa Vito says on the stand, that there were two cars in the 1960s made with independent rear suspensions, the Corvette and the Pontiac Temptest, there were actually three.
In the film, Lisa (Marisa Tomei) testifies that the 1964 Buick Skylark Convertible couldn’t have made tire tracks linked to the vehicle of the murders. The Skylark had a solid axel rear suspension, so when the vehicle’s right wheel went up on a curb, the left wheel’s tire mark would have been from the edge of the tire, not a full flat imprint.
Unfortunately, there was a third car that could make those marks, a Chevrolet Corvair. And car enthusiasts brought that to the attention of the filmmakers immediately. Launer’s response was that “All of Lisa’s automotive expertise came straight from my own head. There was no research whatsoever.”
Bill Gambini’s Skylark was a two-door cabriolet with a Wildcat 355 V-8 sporting 300 cu. in., and 250 horsepower. It had a one-barrel carburetor and 11:1 compression. It had a three-speed manual transmission. It was 203 in. long, 74 in. wide, and stood 55 in. tall.
Interestingly, 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 was asked how he analyzed the evidence, and 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, straight-faced, “Only on the floor models.”
Fraser Fast Facts
- Screenwriter Dale Launer took a road-trip through the south for inspiration.
- Real events made it into the film, like Launer’s car got stuck in the mud, every restaurant had grits on the menu, and he experienced the unearthly call of the screech owl. He even stopped to talk to the district attorney in Butler, who reminded him so much of Lane Smith; they actually cast Lane in the role of Vinny’s DA.
- The film was inspired by a law student who failed his bar exam 13 times.
- Joe Pesci based his character Vinny on guys from his neighborhood.
- The cast and crew shot for several days in a solitary confinement wing of Lee Arrendale Correctional Institute in Alto, Georgia, and, the movie’s prison guards aren’t actors, they’re real prison guards.
- The filmmakers used an actual screech owl in the memorable “Wake Vinny up” scene, though many thought it was a mechanical prop.
- Austin Pendleton, a real-life stutterer, only did the role of stuttering John Gibbons as a favor to his friend, and director, Jonathan Lynn.
- “Yutes” came from a real conversation Pesci had when prepping for the film. It was nearly identical to what you see in the movie.
- There is a Bollywood version of My Cousin Vinny titled “This Guy Is Fearless”. Even though approved by the studio, FOX sued the Indian production company and settled for a $200,000 payment.
- When Vinny is trying to explain his “real name” to Judge Haller he knocks over the judge’s chess board. This was accidental but director Jonathan Lynn thought it was so funny and authentic he decided to leave 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.
- Beechum County is not a real county in Alabama, but the Sac o Suds is still open, and still called the Sac o Suds, and resides in Georgia, where the movie was filmed.
- The film earned the #3 spot on The American Bar Association’s List of Greatest Legal Movies.
Thinking about building a replica with an american-made engine? Fraser has the right engine ready for you!