Robert Duvall, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)
Philip Kaufman’s superb remake begins with an interstellar sequence so trippy, it’s something of a relief when we arrive on Planet Earth. So, kids enjoying a playground – what could be more innocent and everyday? But hang on, isn’t that Robert Duvall? And why’s he dressed as a priest? And what’s he doing on the swings? A turn so brief the Oscar winner received neither credit nor cash – Kaufman gave him a jacket in lieu of payment – Duvall’s appearance is but the first of many moments that aggravate our sense of unease, the end result being that, long before the pod people show up, we’re already aware that something’s rotten in the state of California.
Alec Baldwin, Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Though he might have been a star before he made James Foley’s drama, back in the early ‘90s Alec Baldwin’s name was the wrong side of mud. More famous for marrying Kim Basinger than for any of his performances, the oldest of the Baldwin boys needed a heavyweight role to turn things around. Enter David Mamet, who wrote the part of business enforcer Blake with Alec in mind. And lo, in the space of eight short minutes, the guy who’d just made the appalling Prelude To A Kiss not only rescued his reputation but delivered *the* great movie speech of the decade. Sample dialogue: “You think this is abuse, you cocksucker?”
Gene Hackman, Young Frankenstein (1974)
It’s by no means essential but it’s fun, from time to time to discover that the world’s great heavyweight actors have a sense of humour. Meryl Streep sending herself up in Stuck On You is a case in point, as is Gene Hackman’s performance in Mel Brooks’ pitch perfect pastiche of the Universal horror cycle. In James Whale’s Frankenstein, it’s the blind man who’s the only person to befriend the not-so-good doctor’s creation. Hackman, meanwhile, dowses Peter Boyle’ man-beast with boiling soup before setting fire to his thumb. His stints as Lex Luthor aside, Hackman has rarely been asked to play comedy since. Watch him here and you’ll agree it’s a great shame.
Craig Stadler, Tin Cup (1996)
That sports star cameos have become so commonplace is perhaps the fault of the Farrelly brothers, who’ve crow-barred jocks into most all of their movies. For a successful supporting performance, however, you have to look to a movie directed by an ex-athlete. Minor league baseball player-turned-sports movie specialist Ron Shelton hired any number of pros to appear in his entertaining golf odyssey. And while none of the players embarrass themselves, Masters winner Craig Stadler stands out on account of his ease on camera and affability. How fitting that the man nicknamed ‘The Walrus’ should put on a display worthy of a performing seal.
Ethan Hawke, Quiz Show (1994)
Ever wonder what happened to Ethan Hawke’s character at the end of Dead Poets Society? Robbed of best friend Robert Sean Leonard and Robin Williams’ inspirational teacher, one struggled to comprehend how Todd Anderson could progress in life once he got down from that desk. Skip forward to the end of Robert Redford’s TV expose and there’s a brief scene in which a student essayed by an uncredited Hawke discusses Don Quixote with Paul Scofield’s professor. Is it possible this is the same Todd Anderson, all grown up and college educated? You don’t have to be a romantic to hope so, but it certainly helps.
Jack Nicholson, Broadcast News (1987)
William Hurt is Tom Grunick, a handsome news anchor with no journalistic flair. Albert Brooks is Aaron Altman, a hugely talented reporter who can’t hold it together under the studio lights. And who is it that both men long to be? Jack Nicholson’s effortlessly charismatic, astonishingly news savvy Bill Rorish. An object lesson in star power, Nicholson only took on this tiddler to thank James L Brooks for directing him to an Oscar in Terms Of Endearment. And the Simpsons creator returned the favour by directing Jack to another Academy Award in As Good As It Gets, the film we have to thank for Helen Hunt’s unfathomable fame.
Paul Auster, The Music Of Chance (1993)
As few authors make for good actors so fewer still are happy to see Hollywood alter the endings. The manner in which Philip and Belinda Hass changed the finale of Paul Auster’s absurdist tale was so ingenious, the writer was only too happy to take on the small but perfectly formed role of ‘Driver’. None of which is to suggest that this story of men, gambling and idiosyncratic wall-building would collapse without Auster’s involvement. But as his presence underlines his approval of the writers’ cunning revisions so it also lends the story a hugely satisfying circularity.
Peter Gallagher, The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
Comedic cameos can be found everywhere these days. And with a very few exceptions – say, Billy Murray in Zombieland – they’re almost always unamusing. Hats off then to the Coen brothers for showing the rest of Hollywood how it’s done. All but forgotten these days, Peter Gallagher was a pretty big name when Joel and Ethan came up with their story of a putz (Tim Robbins) who’s made head of a business empire. So to see him croon ‘Memories Are Made Of This’ in Dean Martin fashion was genuinely surprising. That the Sex, Lies & Videotape star had the comic timing of Dino was more shocking still.
Stacy Keach, The Life And Times Of Judge Roy Bean (1972)
John Huston’s uneven western sees Stacy Keach gives a master class in how to steal a movie in less than 240 seconds. Okay so it helps that the Fat City star is playing a character as eye catching as Bad Bob, a psychopathic albino gunslinger. But it’s what Keach does – from eating a raw radish to shooting a horse and then ordering that it be served blue – that impacts on the memory. Alas, just as he’s built up a head of steam, Bob is dispatched by Roy Bean, and so we’re left to lament the fact that the film is about a miscast Paul Newman rather than the most colourful of supporting characters.
Meet Bad Bob – an albino with attitude:
Marlene Dietrch, Touch Of Evil (1958)
Orson Welles’ loaded his Hollywood comeback with guest turns. Zsa Zsa Gabor as a strip club owner; Mercedes McCambridge as a leather-bound lesbian biker; if you look closely you might even make out a mustachioed Joseph Cotten. It was Dietrich, though, who did most with the little she has to do. As Tana, a former lover of Welles’ bloated cop Hank Quinlan, it’s she who helps to humanise the villain of the piece. And while “What does it matter what you say about people?” isn’t actually the film’s final line, it’s the last word in accurate movie obituaries.