MY COUSIN VINNY
Now this film brings it all together, in a way that simplifies a pro se’s life inside, and outside, a courtroom. It should be rented and viewed by all who aspire to appear in such a place as part of a lawsuit, and is the most helpful. It’s a comedy, and the casting and performances are exquisite.
Few might think of a courtroom as a place for comedy, because no question it is a war zone. And what goes on inside is a blood sport, conducted by humorless attorneys and judges under the watchful eye of armed deputies. So it is important to be able to step back and view this environment for what it really is, a dark, sardonic, fictitious theatrical invention.
In this 1992 film, Joe Pesci plays a one time New York actor with a Brooklyn sense of humor who becomes an untried lawyer after having failed the bar exam five times. He has nothing legal going for him but an innate common sense, useful in the application of the common law, and the refreshing qualities of a pro se mind. And the reassuring outcome of victory over his opponents.
He finds himself in Alabama (the site and cause of the famous N.Y. Times Co. vs. Sullivan landmark defamation case), trying to defend family members, 2 boys, in a murder case.
This film will put you right inside a courthouse, highlighting its procedural rules and absurdities, placing those two strutting imposters in a light the pro se can readily recognize.
I’m not sure why, but watching this film, I began to reflect that there are actually two kinds of actors in our profession.
First the guardedly pompous who wallow in it, seeking and finding an identity through titles, awards, and important positions. They tend to not share the irony of the best kind of humor, go around with brown stains on their noses, and require a well stocked support system.
Second the regular guy, who comments wryly on the mores of society, derives almost no pleasure from obeying didactic calls to satisfy someone else’s vision, and wishes to experience the mutability of life, finding a rare pleasure in things outside the profession. This kind of person has a well developed sense of the incongruities present in real existence.
No doubt my ex is in the first group, and I am in the second group. I was her interface with the world. Which, I think, made us a good team, now gone our separate ways thanks to the efforts of Judge Gold and his ex employee James Eliaser, Esq.
Which should never have happened, if for no other reason than that poor old Lynn no longer belongs in that fellowship of truly great actors, and the theatre-loving public is deprived of our good work projects together.
This film seems to say a lot about what goes on in courtrooms and cases around the country, and it doesn’t make you feel good at all. But, it’s a story of perseverence, of bias, of corruption, and of lawyer power. Paul Newman seems more of an impassioned pro se than a licensed lawyer. The ending is perfect, he doesn’t win over the system, he can’t prove his case in light of adverse technically correct rulings from the bench, but what he does do is he makes the jury understand that they have a duty to vote with their hearts, and not just on the evidence. Not a good film for the judiciary, nor rich law-firms, but if you have a sense of justice, you should see this.
THE WINSLOW BOY
I have a fondness for this Terrence Rattigan play and movie, because I played the boy in the play in London, and then his older brother in another West End production when I got older. It is actually an early study of Defamation based on a real case from nearly a century ago in England.
A young cadet, still in school, is expelled for stealing a five shilling postal order. The evidence is largely circumstantial, but Power in the shape of the school administration executes its decision, he’s gone, and the kid has no recourse.
But then his father steps in, and in the face of ruinous cost to his family, fights, keeps losing, but just won’t give up. Many say that the issue is paltry and not worth fighting for, but of course this is really a battle over the good name of a family. As Shakespeare said “…he that filches from me my good name….makes me poor indeed.”
The concept of keeping one’s family escutcheon unblemished may seem quaint today. Which is more of a sad commentary on the state of today’s society.
Winslow is getting nowhere, until he engages the interest of a King’s Counsel and member of the House of Lords. Who, at the risk of his own future, and the threat of bringing down the government, wins the point, and the boy, disinterested all along, is reinstated.
But the meaningful lesson for me is stated at the end.
According to the lordly barrister, the issue was not to see justice done, it was to see right done.
“Let Right Be Done”. A phrase that I believe should be enshrined wherever the name of “Justice” is invoked.
MY COUSIN VINNY