Tuesday, October 2, 2007
I was in the mood for a musical tonight - so after perusing my vast collection, I decided on THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS! This 1982 adaptation of the Broadway smash (written and directed by Colin Higgins) was a box-office hit and is fondly remembered by fans of both Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds. I have not seen this film since it's theatrical release, so I decided to revisit it 25 years later (with an open mind). Oh yeah - it's based on a true story! Yee-ha!
Narrated by Jim Nabors as if he was hosting one of those Rankin-Bass Christmas specials, we learn all about the 150-year history of this "house of ill repute" through a rousing opening number, promising us that there's nothing dirty going on. I'm still amazed how happy, perky and clean the whores are...sadly, we never get to know any of them, they are just nameless ladies of the evening.
We soon meet our co-stars Burt & Dolly - At 46, Reynolds was still in pretty good post-Cosmo centerfold shape, and Dolly was at her peak following her stunning film debut in the comedy classic 9 TO 5 - and they do have a certain folksy chemistry. Reynolds plays Ed Earl, a sheriff and Dolly is Miss Mona, a madame who runs The Chicken Ranch - a very popular local brothel. These two have an ongoing affair and all seems pretty happy in whore-ville until we meet Houston-based peckerwood/electronic bounty hunter Melvin P. Thorpe (Dom DeLuise - looking slightly slimmer than usual), who stages a musical investigative report about the bordello on his "Watchdog Report" TV show.
Thorpe then brings his crusade to the town square and confronts Burt about taking payola and protecting the whores. Burt scares the be-jesus outta Thorpe and sends him packing (or so we think!). Burt celebrates by taking Dolly camping. They have a painfully long fireside heart-to-heart about spaceships, forgiveness, Jesus, politics, America, dreams, smiles, ballerinas, Dolly's tits, monogamy and other things whores routinely discuss with sheriffs.
The shit hits the fan later that night when Thorpe appears on the local 11:00 News with footage of Ed Earl cussing and firing a gun at him. The local gentry wants to calm the townfolk down and Burt agrees to talk to Dolly into closing down for two months. After a heated argument, Dolly agrees to shut it down. Only it's the day before the big Thanksgiving football game!!! The next day, the whores watch the game on TV as they decorate for the victory party and anticipate which team they are gonna get to screw.
Next up is the best locker room song & dance number ever filmed. Lots of jockstraps and fine naked asses, followed by shirtless shuffling in boxer shorts and tight jeans. Basically, it's Texas two-step night at Oil Can Harry's. And then the eventual bus ride to the Chicken Ranch. To create drama, the bus breaks down and the boys hitch a ride with an old geezer. Dolly and the whores are all awaiting - wearing prom gowns for the special occasion - but not for long! Luckily there was one black whore for the one black football player! (After all it is the south!) I strained my eyes to see if the Asian whore found a likewise Asian footballer. Couldn't tell. Then they all FUCK! Yay!
Jim Nabors shows up at Burt's and tells him that something dirty's going on at the Ranch even though Dolly promised. Of course, Thorpe shows up with camera crew and all hell breaks loose as half-naked whores and jocks battle Thorpe and his crew. What follows as another even more heated argument between Burt & Dolly - and Dolly accuses him of being a chicken-shit sheriff in a chicken-shit town!!! I love when Dolly uses swear words! Then he calls her a "whore" (which she is, kind of). Dolly later tells her housekeeper that she loves Burt. Awww...
The Chicken Ranch soon becomes a political hot potato as the townfolk and local politicos are divided about the issue. We soon meet Oscar-nominee Charles Durning, as the Governor - and his well-remembered musical tribute to political double-talk "Sidestep". The song is clever, reminding me of "One Foot In Front of Another" from SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN - but something about Durning singing and dancing gives me a feeling of anguish. Can't explain why.
Burt and the Governor debate about the Ranch - but Gov. Durning declares to "Shut it down" after a poll claims that's what his people want. They we are "treated" to another rendition of "Sidestep" - this time with a marching band! Burt calls Dolly - apologizes for the other night and tells her to close it down...leading to my favorite Dolly Parton song ever - "Hard Candy Christmas" and some of the whores actually get a bit of airtime as they bid farewell to the cathouse they call home. The girls wave goodbye and board a Greyhound outta whore-ville and Dolly is left alone with her housekeeper. Back to narration by Jim Nabors (who's now the sheriff!).
After Dolly learns that Ed Earl went to the Governer to defend her and the whores, he pays her a visit. He tells Dolly he loves her - and she tells him she's loved him since she was 16! Then Dolly sings her chestnut "I Will Always Love You" a million times better than Whitney Houston could ever sing it! Burt then proposes marriage to Dolly (which she accepts), even though that might endanger his chances to be elected as a state legislator (he is elected anyway, after all this IS Texas!). Happy Hollywood Ending!!!
Of course, the stage play and this film take many liberties in telling the story of the infamous Chicken Ranch.
For a more accurate version of the story, visit The Chicken Ranch! The real Melvin P. Thorpe, Marvin Zindler died this past summer at 86.
I give this one a big 8 out of 10 "Huhs?" just for the candy-coated fictionalization of a real news story and for Burt's horrible singing. But there's nothing dirty going on!