The art of the movie character cameo

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The subject of cross-movie cameos has been on my mind for a few weeks… actually it pops up often and I bring it up with friends and they don’t usually cite much nor have anything in mind on the topic outright.

It piques my interest and amuses me when it happens though: A character from a movie shows up at random in another film. It’s just a passing moment for people who don’t know or who haven’t seen many movies. It’s a laugh or amusing for others who know movies and cinema.

What my friends have cited most often when I bring this subject up is an out-of-character moment, but at the same time the incident carries huge weight because it was a franchise-film invocation in the cameo moment: Danny Glover confronting Mel Gibson in the film Maverick. Glover and Gibson are renown in film for their roles as Roger Murtaugh and Martin Riggs respectively in the Lethal Weapon films. Glover showing up in Gibson’s comedy-western was a fitting laugh:

…But  it’s not much of a direct character-in-another-film moment.

Alien had a pretty shocking, gory moment to start the terror of the film and John Hurt was the central figure of the gore and pain. Hurt played a wide variety of roles and characters in his cinematic career and this one was one of the most memorable because of the horror of the moment. He brought it back for a laugh in Spaceballs, Mel Brooks space / science fiction parody that’s overdue for a sequel (Rick Moranis, please bring back Lord Helmet like you did on The Goldbergs).

That scene is parody and comedy, a visual re-invocation. Is it still funny and fitting? Oh, yeah… yeah… I can’t fault it. But seeing the character died in Alien, it’s not a true continuation.

True continuation, I only have two examples in mind. One is a truly brief pair of incidents that are forgettable while the other in mind is more in-previous-story as well as a continuation of character.

The brief, brief examples that I can think of are by way of Brendan Fraser. They are both truly short cameos of his character Link from Encino Man. Link, in case you haven’t seen Encino Man, is from the stone-age and gets reintroduced to the world in the early 1990’s. In both his cameos, he shows his animal side in passing during Pauly Shore starred films, such as Son in Law

…and In the Army Now.

It’s sort of odd to see that progression of Link in life, but then again? It’s pretty good to see that relationship in cinema between Shore and Fraser. I wonder if we’ll see that again (in a more mature way) with Fraser returning to his acting career.

Finally, the cameo that led me to write this post (as it’s been on my mind a lot) is during the film Coming to America. Props to Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall for how many characters they hilariously played and how great the flick turned out. It’s over the top in image as well as sexuality being mixed into the dialog. My compliments and Murphy/Hall’s many character portrayals have nothing to do with the cameo, though. It has everything to do with one of Murphy’s previous films.

The movie Trading Places came out in 1983, a twisted Wall Street/finance comedy with Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, and Jamie Lee Curtis, all in protagonist roles (though Murphy’s Billy Ray stole life from Aykroyd’s Louis). The true antagonists are Mortimer and Randolph Duke (Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy) who twisted things on a one dollar bet…and then got financially ruined by Louis and Billy Ray in retaliation.

And that’s where the cameo takes things: Five years after the Trading Places climax, Prince Akeem Joffer (Murphy’s starring role in Coming to America) wants to play the pauper during his time in America while trying to find a bride. His friend, Semmi (Arsenio Hall) got too much of a cash loan from home, the kingdom of Zamunda. Akeem physically takes the cash and… well, what better to do with it than give it to someone in need?

That’s when the Duke Brothers come in.

In a way, you have to know Trading Places to take the weight of the moment. It’s just a fill-in, passing moment for anyone else, a real throw-away (but story complimenting) action by Akeem and two receptive homeless guys in one of the world’s financial capitals.

Knowing who these guys are and hearing the dialog is what really hits me. Randolph comes off at odds with Mortimer. “I’m still not talking to you.”  With how the Dukes exited Trading Places, why the hell would he want to?

And while these guys were the true antagonists in Trading Places, the event in Coming to America (with the huge windfall donation) was grounds for another story or movie….or at least the potential was there. Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy have both passed, so suggesting it is unwise to begin with. Fittingly, another blog didn’t exactly pitch a sequel idea when summarizing the Dukes. He called it (accurately) life imitating art very appropriate at the time of publication and continues that way with the state of government right now.

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There have got to be more cameos than what I’ve cited, characters (as themselves) popping up in other films for a second or three. I’m not talking “they mentioned him as a real person in this movie!”  The modern comic book movie universe doesn’t apply either as cameos and character mixings are deliberately included to keep everyone relevant.

I’m also not talking cartoons. It took Who Framed Roger Rabbit for Disney characters to appear with the Loony Tunes characters; it’s studio related when famed characters mix or don’t.

What classic films (and modern ones at that) have great cross-film cameos?

 

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