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A Cavalcade of Movie Cameos

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A well-executed movie cameo is a beautiful thing. It jump-starts an ordinary film and propels a good film to greatness. These are some of my favorites.

TOM CRUISE IN “TROPIC THUNDER” (2008)

Cruise is stunning in this cameo – and totally unrecognizable as studio mogul Les Grossman. His end-of-the-movie dance scene? Crazily hypnotic. I’m not kidding.

WILL FERRELL IN “WEDDING CRASHERS” (2005)

There’s a high degree of difficulty to Ferrell’s cameo in “Wedding Crashers.” His character is mentioned several times in larger-than-life terms, and you don’t really expect to see him. When we do see him at the end of the film, Ferrell makes him one notch wilder than anyone else. He’s the right guy for the job.

ALEC BALDWIN IN “GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS” (1992)

So here’s the Cameo King. Baldwin delivers an electrifying motivational speech from Hell in “Glengarry Glen Ross.” It’s the kind of performance that elevates an entire career. It’s also a performance I’ve quoted from for years. Just hope that Mitch & Murray from Downtown never send this guy to your office.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK IN “NORTH BY NORTHWEST” (1959)

As many fans are aware, Hitchcock loved to make a cameo appearance in films he directed. My favorite was in the title sequence of “North by Northwest,” where he is trying to catch a bus. Rather than just being funny or odd, these cameos added a sinister sense that things are not what they seem to be.

DREW BARRYMORE IN “SCREAM” (1996)

Barrymore sets a terrific tone for the movie. She’s having fun with the role AND she’s taking it seriously, by screaming her little heart out.

TIM ROBBINS, BEN STILLER, LUKE WILSON IN “ANCHORMAN” (2004)

I absolutely love this scene. A bunch of TV people from rival San Diego stations go all “Gangs of New York” on Will Ferrell in “Anchorman.” Watch out for Tim Robbins as a hoodlum from PBS.

THE THREE STOOGES IN “IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD” (1963)

This cameo is perfect because it understands you don’t even have to have the Three Stooges say anything. Just give the audience a chance to see them full-on and pause the camera a couple of seconds.

BILL MURRAY IN “ZOMBIELAND” (2009)

Murray is sheer heaven playing himself – playing a zombie. Like all great cameos, it comes straight out of the blue, like finding money in the street. And get this: Bill makes comments on his actual movie career, while playing a version of himself pretending to be a zombie.

GENE HACKMAN IN “YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN” (1974)

With his long gray beard, it’s hard to tell this is Hackman playing a blind man opposite Peter Boyle’s monster. Hackman handles the scene’s simple shtick with superb comic timing.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER IN “TERMINATOR: SALVATION” (2009)

Just when you think a “Terminator” movie can’t offer any more surprises, along comes a digital effect that places a young Arnold back into the futuristic saga. Truly amazing.

CLINT EASTWOOD IN “CASPER” (1995)

You mean you didn’t see the 1995 movie version of Casper the Friendly Ghost? Don’t worry – it’ll be on cable several times this month for Halloween. Look for Clint to pop up in a wonderfully silly scene in a mirror.

TOM CRUISE, GWYNETH PALTROW, DANNY DEVITO, JOHN TRAVOLTA IN “AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER” (2002)

Mike Myers cast his movie-within-a-movie brilliantly. It seems as if Cruise, Paltrow & company enjoyed themselves as much as the audience.

RICHARD BURTON IN “WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT?” (1965)

Burton’s cameo is so fleeting I couldn’t even find a picture of it. This was a 60s hipster cameo in a hipster movie from a hipster era. Burton is on the screen only a moment, rubbing elbows with pal Peter O’Toole in a strip club. O’Toole yells out, “Say hello to what’s her name!” It’s a reference to Burton’s wife, Elizabeth Taylor.

MIKE TYSON IN “THE HANGOVER” (2009)

Casting Tyson was inspired. I think it works particularly well because Iron Mike isn’t even the second or third strangest twist in the plot. Events are so far out of control that Tyson is able to play it low-key, making it ever so cool.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN IN “HIGH FIDELITY” (2000)

Springsteen’s appearance here is a classic, fantasy cameo. He shows up to offer John Cusack some soulful, sage advice.

BRUCE WILLIS IN “OCEANS TWELVE” (2004)

Willis has a tricky job to do in this cameo. He’s playing himself, while pretending the movie stars all around him are ordinary crooks. Some viewers found it too forced; I thought it worked.

SEAN CONNERY IN “ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES” (1991)

Some cameos, like this one, are intended to add a bit of pedigree to a movie. Connery rides in as King Richard to Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood here. The chemistry between them isn’t great (unlike “The Untouchables”), but I’m always happy to see Connery. He’s movie royalty.

BILLY CRYSTAL AND CAROL KANE IN “THE PRINCESS BRIDE” (1987)

My favorite cameo ever. Crystal and Kane played an old wizard and his wife, bickering their way into film greatness in “The Princess Bride.” They are hilarious. Puts me in the mood for a mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich – with the mutton nice and lean.

So many cameos, so little time. Please tell me your own favorites!

The OTHER Men in Black

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This weekend we get the latest installment in the “Men in Black” movies, and I’m looking forward to seeing Josh Brolin’s take on a young Tommy Lee Jones. But let us never forget that Will Smith and Co. are not the only men in black to come down the pop culture pike. Feast your eyes on these guys.

DARTH VADER

Give it up for Lord Vader, the tragic centerpiece of the “Star Wars” mythology. Voiced by the immensely talented James Earl Jones, Vader is a villain for the ages.

ZORRO

Zorro, the heroic alter ego of Don Diego de la Vega, has been rocking the black hat and mask for generations. From Douglas Fairbanks and Tyrone Power to Antonio Banderas and the ever popular Duncan Regehr, there’s been a Zorro for just about every era.

“THE MATRIX” CREW

For all the cutting edge technology and funky spirituality at the heart of “The Matrix,” it’s also undeniable that part of the fun of the original film is seeing Morpheus, Neo and Trinity in their black-clad personas. “The Matrix” is sort of like the coolest clothing store ever.

SNIDELY WHIPLASH

What kind of guy would tie a pretty girl to a railroad track? Snidely Whiplash, of course. He was the gleefully evil counterpoint to Dudley Do-Right on the old Bullwinkle show. Part of the reason he was so memorable is because he was voiced by the terrific Hans Conreid.

DEAN MARTIN

Nobody looked more natural in a black tuxedo than Dino. He had a masterful ease and assurance, whether he was singing with Sinatra, clowning with Jerry Lewis or pretending he was hammered on TV.

RICHARD LEWIS

Lots of comedians wear black, but Richard Lewis takes it to another level. Black is the perfect manifestation for his neurotic style of comedy and it brands him better than any catch-phrase. He’s a gem in a black jacket.

THE GRIM REAPER

You may also know him as Death. He’s a grim symbol of our impending date with…something, and he finds his way into everything from Charles Dickens to “Family Guy.”

BORIS BADENOV

Here’s another man in black from the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” stable. Bumbling spy Boris Badenov is hilarious, especially when he’s outsmarted by “Moose and Squirrel.” He’s actually charming in his badness.

RICHARD BOONE AS PALADIN

Few are likely to remember Richard Boone as the gunslinger Paladin on TV’s “Have Gun – Will Travel,” but he was wonderful. Boone’s character was a highly-educated, Shakespeare-quoting gun for hire who made the black outfit a statement in style and menace.

THE MAN IN BLACK FROM “THE PRINCESS BRIDE”

Here, the “Man in Black” is a Zorro-like character intended to instill fear by reputation, as well as physical prowess. Cary Elwes played him to perfection in one of the sweetest films of all time.

THE MAN IN BLACK FROM “LOST”

Sweet is not a word to describe Titus Welliver’s character on TV’s “Lost.”  Welliver’s ancient, angry “Man in Black” is the malevolent force riding roughshod over that crazy island.

JOHNNY CASH

My apologies to those reading through this entire list thinking, “Where’s Cash? He’s got to include Cash, right?” In a word, yes. Johnny Cash is my favorite man in black. His scowl was black, his sneer was black, and often his songs were tinged with a darkness fueled by anger, passion or pain.

Those are my picks. Who are some of your favorite men in black?