Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Homebody Film Series: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

Today is Dolly Parton's 64th birthday, so it seems only fitting that I just finished watching The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) (completely unplanned). Based on a play, BLWIT is the story of the Chicken Ranch, a historic brothel in a tiny Texas town that Melvin P. Thorpe, a prissy whackjob TV "announcer", is hell-bent on shutting down. Dolly Parton plays Mona, the owner and Burt Reynolds plays Ed Earl Dodd, the sheriff who's fighting to keep the Chicken Ranch open. [spoiler alert]

"Little Whorehouse" is of course a musical, chock full of campy goodness. Dolly and her working girls really are whores with hearts of gold (whores with real problems and reservations about their jobs don't always do that well in movies). You don't even really get to feel sorry that they're prostitutes until the end, when you realize they have no other marketable skills. Parton's first number goes through her rules as madame: no tattoos, no drinkin', no cussin'; in short, her girls must always conduct themselves like ladies. The first Dolly number outlines it all:

How great are her costumes? Dolly Parton delivers a great performance, even in a movie that's campy enough not to put too much pressure on its actors. But what really steals the show in her singing. Her performance of "I Will Always Love You" really is touching, probably the most poignant moment of the movie.

Burt Reynolds is great as well, though he doesn't always sound Southern enough to be the sheriff of a "little bitty pissant country place". He looks great (I'm biased, I kind of have a thing for Mr. Reynolds). His character really cares for Mona even though at first it seems like they're only messing around. There's no mention of money when we first see them together, so there's no reason to think it's strictly business.

The Mona-Ed Earl relationship is the main plot after the battle over the Chicken Ranch, but the movie still takes the chance to do a little bit of social commentary--with a song and dance, no less. The governor also does a great number called "Dance a Little Sidestep" that is essentially about how politicians can hardly give a straight answer to even the simplest questions. Charles Durning was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as the governor.Beyond that, when a reporter asks the governor what he thinks about the crisis in the Middle East, he says, "I think the Jews and the A-rabs should sit down and solve their problems in a Christian fashion." Even the fact that Mona insists there's nothing dirty happening in her brothel could be read as her making the statement that sex itself not isn't dirty.

Dolly Parton, Burt Reynolds, and Charles Durning were all great, but Dom DeLuise, who plays Melvin P. Thorpe, definitely deserves recognition for his work. He is absolutely hilarious. He gets all dressed up in ridiculous costumes, a man-corset and a wig to get on his soapbox about the evils of the Chicken Ranch. He's a laughable villain, possibly because we all know a Melvin P. Thorpe in real life.

And where is Dolly now? Here's a really great interview with her on BBC from about 2 years ago. All these years later she's still hilarious and sweet:

I hope wherever she is, she's having a wonderful birthday.
Like what you see? Tweet This


  1. I adore Dolly. She's so inspiring! I still haven't seen this film, though! :O
    -Andi x

  2. My god, can you believe shes 64? I've always liked Dolly.


Thanks so much for your comments!