If you've watched TV in southern California for more than five minutes since the 1950s, you've probably seen one of Cal Worthington's ads. The Oklahoma-born car salesman, who died on Sunday, September 8, at 92, was a staple of the southern California airwaves.
His motor-mouthed pitches, combined with a total earworm of a jingle ("Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal!") and the recurring gag of a wide variety of wild animals -- from a tiger to Shamu the killer whale -- that he introduced as "my dog Spot," became so ingrained in the local culture that he became something of a meme. Worthington's commercials appeared in movies ranging from Jack Lemmon's midlife crisis drama Save the Tiger to the John Landis caper Into the Night, and crop up in Thomas Pynchon's early '70s detective-novel pastiche Inherent Vice, now being filmed by Paul Thomas Anderson. With his signature white cowboy hat and genial good-ol'-boy demeanor, he even appeared several times on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show in the 1970s and '80s. How many local TV commercial pitchmen could say that?
For one of his most famous ads, Cal — a WWII pilot who kept flying after the war — strapped himself standing upright onto the wing of a vintage biplane which then flew upside down: that insane stunt was so popular that footage from that 1960s ad was still being used in commercials two decades later.
Though Worthington stopped doing the "My Dog Spot" ads in the 1980s, his more recent ads still used nostalgic clips from them. Remember, camels are always a guaranteed laugh.
So are sea lions. (You can tell it's a sea lion and not a seal because it has ears.) Also: holy crap, 1980s cars were ugly.
And finally, if you really want to get that insidious jingle wedged into your head, check out this full-length version set to various clips from vintage Cal commercials. By the way, many folks claim that they've always heard the "Go see Cal!" hook as "pussycow." I think they just like saying "pussycow." Can't really blame 'em for that. Pussycow! [Ed. note: it even inspired a raucous and popular L.A. band!]
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Caroline (Hudson) is a hospice nurse who goes from one terminally ill patient to another. The Devereauxs--stroke victim Ben (John Hurt) and his supposedly caring but overprotective wife Violet (Gena Rowlands)--are her next case. It all starts off innocently enough with Caroline seeing Ben's misfortune as a means to pay for her nursing school tuition. But once she arrives at the foreboding house a manse set on a bayou in the boondocks surrounding New Orleans (as if N'awlins isn't inherently spooky enough we have to contend with the city's desolate outskirts?) it's clear that this place comes with history. Seems the former owners' black servants used to practice "hoodoo"--a local folk magic--way back when in the attic and were strung up for it. Now their spirits could still be up there. So when Caroline hears noises emanating from above the (conveniently) curious houseguest investigates. Ben too seems spooked. Despite being deemed bedridden by Mrs. Devereaux he's escaping out of windows. Caroline believes someone--or something--may be tormenting him (you think?) and she searches for the answer which may or may not be lurking in the attic.
How The Skeleton Key does at the box office is pretty important for Hudson. Coming off her stellar Oscar-nominated turn as the groupie with a soul in Almost Famous the young actress hasn't been able to pull off the same magic since. Each of her last three films --Alex & Emma Le Divorce and Raising Helen--have been under-performers. So she needs Skeleton to work and thankfully as the doggedly inquisitive Caroline she holds up her end of the deal. Hudson refreshingly doesn't scream or over-emote like so many horror heroines have done before her--but her cutesy demeanor does rear its pretty head on occasion. Oh well can't win them all. Film veteran Rowlands puts on a fine show as the matriarch with something malevolent brewing behind the fading Southern belle routine. And poor John Hurt who is relegated to being tormented one way or the other as Ben. You can't help but feel badly for his character whose plight takes on a cartoonish form at times made even worse by the fact the esteemed actor has virtually no coherent dialogue throughout the film. And then there's the indie darling Peter Sarsgaard who plays the Devereauxs hands-on lawyer who's maybe a little too hands on. Although his screen time is limited he still adds a nice element to the proceedings.
Director Iain Softley's films up to and including this point are as disparate as can be: the underrated Beatles dramatization Backbeat; Hackers computer-lovers' cult favorite that gave Angelina Jolie her first big role; the critically acclaimed period drama The Wings of the Dove; and finally 2001's other-worldly K-PAX. Now with Skeleton Key it's ghost stories and Softley makes a critical decision not to reveal any sort of monster. The decision to only hint at something wicked without showing it in a summer full of the same tired gory special effects is a gutsy choice that pays off for the most part. It unequivocally leaves room for the audience to use their imagination--and Softley wants our collective imagination to run rampant. But even with this technique the scare factor still seems to be lacking. It's only at the very end do we feel any tangible danger--and that's a long time to wait.
The original Seuss story is a wonderful--albeit simple
--children's tale about two bored kids left alone in their house on a cold wet day. They're visited by a six-foot-tall talking adventure-seeking feline who's looking for a little fun (OK maybe a lot of fun). Against the warnings of the children's seriously repressed pet goldfish the Cat (with the help of a couple of troll doll look-a-likes called Thing One and Thing Two) turns the house upside down then puts it all right-side-up again before the kids' mother gets home. The question for Hollywood is how to turn a story like this one that's left an indelible impression on millions of readers young and old since 1957 into a major motion picture? While the film thankfully keeps to this original's plot talking fish and all it obviously tries to flesh things out adding some new characters and tacking on a few life lessons. The kids now have very distinct personalities: Wild older brother Conrad (Spencer Breslin) plays fast and loose with the rules while sister Sally (Dakota Fanning) an uptight control freak has driven all her friends away with her rigidity. Their mother Joan (Kelly Preston) works at the town's real estate office run by the anal retentive Mr. Humberfloob (Sean Hayes) and she's dating the guy next door Quinn (Alec Baldwin) a superficial scumbag who wants to send Conrad to military school. On the particular cold wet day in question Joan leaves instructions not to mess up the house since she's having an important business meet-and-greet there later that night. When the Cat (Mike Myers) arrives he quickly assures Sally and Conrad they can have all the fun they want and nothing bad will happen. Ignoring vocal opposition from the Fish (voiced by Hayes) the Cat quickly puts into motion a series of events that will a) prove his point b) destroy the house and c) teach the kids a sugary-sweet but valuable lesson about being responsible while living life to the fullest.
Just as Jim Carrey immortalized the Grinch Mike Myers seems born to play the Cat in the oversized red-and-white striped hat--he has the sly slightly sarcastic wholly anarchistic thing down cold. Myers' impersonations of a redneck Cat mechanic (with requisite visible butt crack) an infomercial Cat host and a zany British Cat chef are outrageous as are the hilarious little asides he spouts although they'll probably go over kids' heads: "Well sure [the Fish] can talk but is he really saying anything? No not really." But even though Myers has some fun moments he just isn't the Barney type and when he turns on the come-on-kids-let's-have-fun charm and adopts a dopey laugh he seems uncomfortable. As for the kids Fanning and Breslin (Disney's The Kid) do a fine job reacting to the wackiness the Cat surrounds them with although Fanning basically plays the same uptight character she created in the recent Uptown Girls. Of the supporting players Baldwin has the most fun as the villainous Quinn a bad-guy role that while a little superfluous gives Baldwin plenty of opportunities to chew the scenery. Hayes is also good in his dual role; he stamps Humberfloob indelibly on our brains then kicks butt as the voice of the beleaguered Fish.
It must have been a no-brainer for producer Brian Grazer to do another Dr. Seuss adaptation after all the fun magic and profits the 2000 hit How the Grinch Stole Christmas generated. With Cat in the Hat however he didn't collaborate with his usual directing partner the Grinch's Ron Howard. Instead Grazer took a chance on first-time director Bo Welch who previously served as production designer on Tim Burton's Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands and has three Oscar nods to his credit for production design on other films. Welch certainly takes his quirky cue from Burton when it comes to the look of Cat in the Hat especially Sally and Conrad's suburban Southern California neighborhood with its lilac frames and blue roofs. The gadgets are cool too from the Cat's Super Luxurious Omnidirectional Whatchamajigger or S.L.O.W vehicle to the Dynamic Industrial Renovating Tractormajigger or D.I.R.T. mobile for cleaning up the house. When we enter the Cat's bizarre world though the film's Seussian look starts to have problems possibly because there's nothing of this place in the original book. Hidden within the feline's magical crate the Cat's world can produce "the mother of all messes " and in keeping with that purpose there's some effort at making it look like a fragmented Cubist painting. But it's more plastic than Picasso and in the end it's about as interesting as a Universal Theme Park ride (a fact the movie actually mentions).