They had bad-boy leading men (see: Burt Reynolds in The Cannonball Run), ridiculous chase scenes (see: any given moment in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World), and some of the most convoluted logic ever to hit the big screen (see: everything Clark Griswold says in National Lampoon’s Vacation).
As madcap comedies, these flicks were light, action-filled fun–which makes us wonder: What made them endure? What turned these big-cast, broad-concept comedies into audience favorites? What transformed goofball knee-slappers into über-quotable cult classics? And what element was at the root of this success (and created an entire career for Charles Nelson Reilly)?
Simply: Their cameos.
Following in the great silly-movie-with-tons-of-guest-appearances tradition, The Blues Brothers (and later, Blues Brothers 2000) jam-packed their roster with as many faces as possible. Seemingly, their work was already half done for them in the form of the Blues Brothers Band. Featuring jazz and R&B greats like guitarists Steve "The Colonel" Cropper and Matt "Guitar" Murphy, bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn, saxophonists Tom "Triple Scale" Scott and Tom "Bones" Malone, trumpetist Alan "Mr. Fabulous" Rubin, keyboardist Murphy "Murph" Dunne, and drummer Willie ‘Too Big’ Hall, the band comprised a perfect storm of guest appearances for music lovers.
Even beyond the Band, both films boasted their share of appearances by musical heavy-hitters. Legends such as Cab Calloway, James Brown, Chaka Khan, John Lee Hooker, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Sam Moore, John Popper, Eric Clapton, Bo Diddley, Isaac Hayes, and Dr. John signed on for various roles, both performance-related and otherwise.
While the focus of both films involved sidemen and singer-songwriters, there was still plenty of room for models, personalities and familiar faces. Look closely, and you’ll find the likes of Frank Oz (of "Sesame Street" fame), John Candy, Paul Shaffer, Paul Reubens (aka Pee Wee Herman), Twiggy, Steve Lawrence, Steven Spielberg, Nia Peeples and Darrell Hammond.
Most folks love a well-timed visit from an unexpected star, and these filmmakers quickly discovered a golden principle: the more cameos, the merrier. Movies like The Blues Brothers and Blues Brothers 2000 would go on to prove the theory a success. If one quick-snippet appearance made audiences happy, ten guest stars meant at least ten times the fun. Dan Akroyd, John Belushi, and director/co-author John Landis not only took this lesson to heart; they used it to develop timeless characters and classic, enjoyable movies.