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Every James Caan Movie And TV Cameo Ranked

James Caan was a movie star for nearly 50 years. No matter the film, his presence in a production always stands for something, be it two-fisted authority or aching vulnerability. Starring in the "Godfather" trilogy, some of the most popular and critically acclaimed films of all time, will have that effect. Even after Caan left Sonny Corleone behind at a toll booth on the Jones Beach Causeway, the role never quite left him. Indeed, many films he made take advantage of the audience's memory of that hotheaded mobster.

This is especially true of the small roles and cameos he made in film and television over the decades. At worst, these brief appearances are good, quick fun that make viewers exclaim, "Hey, it's James Caan!" with genuine excitement. These brief, warm moments of remembrance can liven up a not-so-good film. At best, though, they take advantage of Caan's icon status to create something more substantial. These are James Caan's movie and television cameos, ranked from worst to best.

13. The Girls Next Door

James Caan's appearance on a 2005 episode of "The Girls Next Door" is barely a cameo at all. The series follows Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner's three girlfriends, Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt, and Kendra Wilkinson, who get into wacky adventures at the Playboy mansion. Though their premises are somewhat similar, the show is more overtly comic than the soapy "Real Housewives" franchise. There is little drama between the trio; though Madison is Hefner's main squeeze, all three women are united in pretending to be romantically and physically attracted to the pajama-clad dinosaur.

In Season 1's Halloween-themed "Ghostbusted," Madison becomes convinced the mansion is haunted. The episode plays clips of Playboy's legendary Halloween parties, in which several celebrities appear — including a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance from Caan. This was his only appearance on the show, but Caan was a longtime friend of Hefner: As he revealed to Esquire, he even lived in the Playboy mansion for a while following a divorce. Caan has nothing else to do with the rest of the episode, but because of his storied history as a Playboy supporter, his brief appearance on "The Girls Next Door" gets the bottom spot.

12. This Thing of Ours

In 2002, when "The Sopranos" was winning Emmys left and right, filmmaker Danny Provenzano co-wrote and directed a mob film called "This Thing of Ours." According to The New York Times, Provenzano is the grandnephew of known mobster Anthony Provenzano, and was actually under indictment for racketeering and tax evasion during the film's production. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison after it was released, served more than four of those years, and got arrested again in 2019, as reported by The New York Post.

Provenzano's real life is far more interesting than the warmed-over mafia clichés of "This Thing of Ours." The film looks distractingly cheap; one might assume most of the budget went to securing a group of mob movie ringers to co-star, including Vincent Pastore, Frank Vincent, and the biggest get of all, James Caan. Caan appears in one scene as ailing gangster Jimmy "the Con" (get it?), who dispenses wisdom and stories about the old days and puts his foot down when ambitious wise guy Nicky (Provenzano) asks permission to whack an associate. Caan's performance is far better than the film deserves, which is probably why Provenzano put the scene at the very start as a flash-forward, then deployed it again towards the end.

11. The Dark Backward

Writer-director Adam Rifkin's 1991 showbiz satire "The Dark Backward" stars Judd Nelson and Bill Paxton as Marty and Gus, a pair of garbagemen with dreams of hitting it big as entertainers. The neurotic, twitchy Marty fancies himself a stand-up comic, but his material is bad and no one will give him the time of day — until he develops a lump on his back that grows into a third arm. Marty and Gus are soon courted by a sleazy talent agent (Wayne Newton), and Marty romances a lonely diner waitress (Lara Flynn Boyle, hot off "Twin Peaks").

Rifkin's morality tale takes place in a grimy, degenerate '50s city, where Marty's third arm makes him barely more grotesque than the average resident. Caan makes a two-scene appearance as aggressive Doctor Scurvy, who initially diagnoses Marty's lump as nothing to worry about. When Marty returns after the lump has grown a hand, Scurvy whines about Marty's wimpy generation. His performance matches the tone of the film, which feels like a weak mix of "Meet the Feebles" and "Edward Scissorhands." It's insistent on its own weirdness, but bereft of a point.

10. The Please Watch the Jon Lovitz Special

"The Godfather" has been parodied countless times. Every so often, an actual cast member of Francis Ford Coppola's timeless classic will get in on the fun, whether it's Robert Duvall and Abe Vigoda on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" or Alex Rocco reprising the role of Moe Greene on the 1992 Fox comedy special "The Please Watch the Jon Lovitz Special." Written by Lovitz and former "Saturday Night Live" writer Alan Zweibel, the special is a parody of 1950s live television dramas, with Lovitz as a New York baseball player who faces death if he slides head-first into home plate one more time.

The audience is full of movie stars, and one of the special's running jokes sees Lovitz beg for film work; he even installs a phone on director Rob Reiner's chair in case he wants to offer Lovitz a role in his next film. During an extended fantasy sequence in which Lovitz's doomed ballplayer imagines himself winning big in Las Vegas, Rocco appears on stage as Moe Greene. When a stray pair of dice takes out Moe's other eye, the camera cuts to James Caan and Robert Duvall sitting together in the audience, giving each other a high-five. Perhaps they're celebrating Moe getting what's coming to him once again, or just the fact that both of them got out of appearing in "The Godfather Part III."

9. Don Rickles: Buy This Tape You Hockey Puck

James Caan made a lot of friends in show business, one of whom was insult comic extraordinaire Don Rickles. In 1975, Caan made an appearance at a star-studded Rickles show in Las Vegas. That show was eventually released on videotape as "Don Rickles: Buy This Tape You Hockey Puck."

The special is a typical Rickles Vegas revue, with a big band behind him and as many songs as there are jokes. The opening number trots out celebrities of the day such as Jack Palance, Loretta Swift, and even the shark from "Jaws." Caan makes an appearance near the start of the show in a cream-colored three-piece suit with the widest bell bottoms you've ever seen, alongside his "Harry and Walter Go to New York" co-stars Elliott Gould and Michael Caine. He tries a bit of comedy himself, singing "Happy Birthday to You" under his breath to remind himself of his own name, but the bit never gets off the ground. Anything would be better than what's to come, however, as Rickles leads Caine, Caan, Gould, and a member of the audience in an "Apache prayer," which is a truly dreadful bit of Native American kitsch, even for 1975. Rickles was a master of offensive comedy, but some things are beyond even a master's grasp.

8. Santa's Slay

Like "Tales from the Crypt" and "Futurama" before it, the 2005 horror comedy "Santa's Slay" dares to ask, what if Santa Claus were a violent psychopath? The film proceeds to weave an unnecessarily complex mythology in which Santa (pro wrestler Bill Goldberg) is an evil demon cursed to be good for 1,000 years. But now that millennium is up, and Kris Kringle can return to his true nature by laying waste to a small Canadian town.

There's a moral component to Santa's killings, as he primarily targets the vain, greedy, and hypocritical. The Mason family is a prime example. They're introduced in the film's first scene and played by a host of famous faces: James Caan and Fran Drescher are the unpleasant parents, Rebecca Gayheart is their vapid daughter, and "Saturday Night Live" star Chris Kattan is their lecherous son-in-law. Just as violence is about to break out at the dinner table, Santa bursts out of the chimney and dispenses his own bloody brand of holiday cheer. Caan has little to do in the scene but fume at Drescher's blatant flirting with Kattan and eventually choke to death on a turkey leg. Moreover, the fact that Santa and many of his victims (including Caan, Drescher, and Saul Rubinek) are played by Jewish actors feels like a satirical barb without a clear target.

7. Get Smart

Spy spoof series "Get Smart" premiered in 1965, part of a spate of James Bond-biting secret agent shows including "Mission: Impossible" and "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." The adventures of inept secret agent Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) and his more competent partner Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) ran for just five years, but reruns have been on syndicated networks, basic cable, and streaming services ever since. Over the decades, there have been attempts to revive the series via a 1989 television movie and a short-lived 1995 reboot series starring Andy Dick. 2008's "Get Smart" gives the franchise a big screen makeover with Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway stepping into Adams and Feldon's shoe phones.

One of the film's most 2008 touches is its depiction of the nameless president, played in just a handful of scenes by original series alum James Caan with a distinctly George W. Bush-style twang. Caan's dim-bulb POTUS ignores warnings from Agent 99 and the Chief (Alan Arkin), and nearly gets blown up at the symphony before Smart saves the day. Caan is fine in the role, if a little dull — a problem that afflicts the movie as a whole.

6. Silent Movie

After landing 1974's one-two punch of "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein," comedy legend Mel Brooks took yet another high-concept gamble with 1976's "Silent Movie." The title is no exaggeration: This is an (almost) entirely silent film done in the style of comedies made half a century earlier, complete with a ragtime score, wild sound effects, and title cards spelling out the dialogue. Brooks plays a Hollywood director who attempts to launch his comeback with an old-fashioned silent picture. The film boasts cameos from a number of movie stars, including James Caan.

Caan is first seen working a heavy bag when Brooks and company approach him to appear in their film. Caan's boxing gloves seem to have a mind of their own, as he accidentally knocks the trio around. Once inside his lavish trailer, Caan instructs them to be very careful, as it has a broken spring and is off balance. A stray sneeze from Dom DeLuise sends the trailer rocking backwards, throwing all four men into a pile. The sequence is a nice send-up of Caan's tough guy image, but only up to the point when Brooks decides to button the scene with a homophobic slur.

5. Dick Tracy

Warren Beatty's "Dick Tracy," a star-studded adaptation of the classic comic strip, is a truly unique movie. Its Oscar-winning production design and makeup creates a vivid Art Deco fantasyland where good cop Dick Tracy (Beatty) battles diminutive gangster Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino) and his grotesque henchmen. Their names tell you everything you need to know: Pruneface (R.G. Armstrong) has a prune-like face, Mumbles (Dustin Hoffman) likes to mumble, and so on. Everything marches to the beat of Danny Elfman's Gershwin-esque score, while Madonna sings torch songs penned by Stephen Sondheim. Three decades on, as comic book movies roll straight off an assembly line, "Dick Tracy" remains one of the most unique examples of the genre.

James Caan plays Spud Spaldoni, the city's sleazy criminal attorney, in a Clark Gable moustache and a jaunty purple suit. As Big Boy gathers his criminal associates together to consolidate power, Spaldoni opts out, preferring to go it alone. Big Boy responds to this declaration of independence by blowing up Spaldoni's car. As cameos go, Caan gets it pretty easy; he's recognizable under his moustache and fake nose, unlike, say, William Forsythe, who boasts a triangular skull as Flattop. Explosion aside, though, the real thrill of Caan's appearance is seeing him reunite with Pacino.

4. NewsRadio

Considering that any stranger might insist on an autograph, unfurl their life story, or throw up on them, it's no wonder many stars keep the public at arm's length. All three of these things happen to James Caan in "Movie Star," a 1996 episode of "NewsRadio." Playing himself, Caan visits the offices of New York radio station WNYX to shadow pompous broadcaster Bill McNeal (Phil Hartman) for an upcoming role. He repeatedly tells Bill that all he's interested in learning about are the job's technical aspects, but Bill insists on getting into what makes him tick to live out his fantasy of being a tortured, intense, James Caan-ish character.

Caan becomes fascinated by Matthew (Andy Dick), the office oddball, who's so nervous, he lets a coffee urn pour all over his feet and forgets his own name. "That's mesmerizing," Caan says, as Matthew hangs an entire box of floss and a pair of scissors from his mouth, much to Bill's chagrin. The brilliance of this episode is in how naturally Caan plays his visit: He never reaches for a laugh and underplays his reactions, even when Bill tries to tell him that he got into radio because his uncle was killed by one

3. The Simpsons

Eight years after playing himself as an affable everyman on "NewsRadio," James Caan got to embrace being a hard-partying tough guy on a 2004 episode of "The Simpsons." In "All's Fair in Oven War," Homer buys Marge a remodeled kitchen after she gets jealous of the house next door. The improved appliances inspire her to up her baking game, and soon she's competing against other Springfield bakers in a competition judged by reclusive author Thomas Pynchon.

The remodeling uncovers an old stack of Playdude magazines, which Marge throws away, only for them to be found by Bart and Milhouse. Entranced by the cosmopolitan lifestyle presented within, they open up a Playdude mansion in their treehouse, complete with Caan sitting in a kiddie pool, telling Charlie Callas stories and going home with Mrs. Krabappel. "Some guys like a challenge," Caan says of Bart's teacher. "Not me." But Caan's womanizing gets the best of him when he steals away Brandine, wife of Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel and winner of Marge's baking competition. A jealous Cletus won't let Brandine go without a fight, and Caan winds up on the receiving end of some very familiar retribution

2. Dogville

The first of a planned trilogy of films about American history, Lars von Trier's 2003 provocation "Dogville" tells a story about the eponymous Depression-era town and a lost woman named Grace (Nicole Kidman). The town doctor (Paul Bettany) convinces his neighbors to let Grace stay in exchange for odd jobs around town. But when it's discovered that Grace is on the run from the mob, the town's demeanor changes. They still allow her to stay, but the price they require grows from service and companionship to exploitation and assault.

When the mob finally does track Grace down, we discover she's trying to get away from her father, a black-clad mobster played by James Caan, with whom she disagrees about human nature. But her time in Dogville has given Grace new perspective. When her father and his goons torch the town and kill everyone in it, she does not stop them. This role is simultaneously right at home within Caan's filmography and an intriguing exception from its norms. While the character suffers from heavy-handedness, like the film as a whole, he's also genuinely fascinating, and enjoys solid chemistry with Nicole Kidman.

1. The Godfather Part II

James Caan's greatest cameo is the one he's likely most known for: His one-scene return as Sonny Corleone in "The Godfather Part II." Sonny is the eldest son of Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) and heir apparent to his empire. But while he's inherited his father's violence, he has none of his patience, and his hotheadedness ultimately gets him murdered. By the end of the first film, youngest son Michael has inherited the family business. In "The Godfather Part II," he struggles to maintain it in a changing world, losing what remains of his family and soul in the process.

After doing the unthinkable by having his brother Fredo (John Cazale) killed, Michael retreats into a distant memory of his father's birthday in 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Sonny is still alive, seated at the head of the table as they prepare a surprise party for their father. When Michael announces he's joined the Marines, Sonny loses his temper and attacks him; Fredo is the only one who encourages his decision. Two years after his Oscar-nominated turn, Sonny still fits Caan like a glove. His tough-guy charm and insistence of family over all stands in especially marked contrast to the cold, distant monster Michael has become.