Are cameos in movies worth it?

Alfred Hitchcock's cameo right after his "directed by" credit in North by Northwest

Alfred Hitchcock’s cameo in North by Northwest

This fall, fans of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. television series wondered if the show’s original stars would have a cameo in a new film version underway. Some fans were vocal, arguing that of course they should.

It’s not known if such a cameo took place for the U.N.C.L.E. movie. (Robert Vaughn said more than once he’d welcome the opportunity; David McCallum made comments suggesting he wouldn’t participate.) The subject though got this blog to thinking: are such cameos worth it, or are they more of a distraction for a finished film?

The king of such cameos was director Alfred Hitchcock, who made a cameo in his more than 50 films. They can be something of a mixed bag. In North by Northwest, he appears right after his “directed by” credit as a man missing his bus in New York City. The appearance, in effect, is an extension of the main titles designed by Saul Bass. At this point, the viewer hasn’t been watching the actual story of the film.

In other cases, Hitchcock’s appearance almost draw attention to themselves. In 1969’s Topaz, there’s an airport scene. The viewer is drawn to Hitchock, in a wheelchair, guided by a nurse. Hitchcock meets a man, abruptly stands up and shakes the man hand before walking off. By this point, more than 20 minutes of the story have been told. You could argue it’s a distraction, although it’s over pretty quickly.

In the James Bond series produced by Eon Productions, co-boss Michael G. Wilson has been performing cameos for decades. Again, they’re a bit of a mixed bag. In some cases (Skyfall, The World Is Not Enough), they’re fleeting, something for the hard-core fans while more casual 007 cinema goers aren’t likely to notice. In others (Tomorrow Never Dies, Casino Royale), they draw attention to themselves. Here are some:

The interest among U.N.C.L.E. fans whether the movie has cameos is different. Vaughn and McCallum established the original show’s popularity. There’d be no movie if there hadn’t been a television show in the first place. If one was filmed, would it distract from the Guy Ritchie-directed story? The counter question: do you owe it to the original actors if they’re interested? (Especially since Ritchie appears to have squeezed former soccer star David Beckham into the movie.)

None of these questions have right or wrong answers. Fan tastes vary. Hitchcock fans, for example, take pleasure in trying to spot the director’s cameos. In any case, it’s likely such cameos will continue in movies.

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One Response

  1. I think production staff cameos work but actors associated with previous roles such as Vaughn and McCallum would be SERIOUS distraction in the new UNCLE feature.

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