In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Self aware enough to know this is a slight, fun, almost goofy.”
“You know, it’s always a business doing pleasure with you, Charlie!”
Aaaah, 1982, a time when you’d be hard pressed to find two bigger stars than Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds. Dolly can still sell out live shows all over the world these days, but I can’t imagine she’s attracting many new fans under 40. And poor old Burt did his best to immediately squander the comeback Paul Thomas Anderson gave him via Boogie Nights almost 20 years ago. But thanks to the wonder of film, it’s possible to relive those glory days of 1982 when these two were at their best, via The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
For the last century or more, a brothel nicknamed the Chicken Ranch has operated on the outskirts of small town Gilbert, Texas. It’s the kind of community that openly accepts the house of not so ill repute, welcoming it as a necessary service for the town’s men, young and old, and is even a source of income for the town. These days, the Chicken Ranch is run by madam Miss Mona (Parton). She keeps her women and the patrons clean and healthy, and contributes generously to the local community.
Local Sherriff Ed Earl (Reynolds) openly accepts the brothel and is secretly three years into an affair with Miss Mona. Gilbert is the kind of town where the local senator treats the local football team to a visit to the Chicken Ranch when they win a big game. But this status quo is threatened with the arrival of Melvin P Thorpe (Dom DeLuise), a TV tabloid reporter who uses his expose of the whorehouse as his latest tool to gain ratings via his sensationalistic reporting.
And did I mention that The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is a full blown musical? A banjo pluckin’, toe tappin’, country musical. A musical that’s so fun and light on its feet, I’d even recommend it to people who don’t think they like musicals. It’s also a musical from a time when camera movements and editing weren’t quite as frenetic and A.D.D as they are now. What that means is, it remains really lively, while giving us more wide shots and long, still camera takes than you would get in any modern movie musical. And for me, that makes the dance numbers more impressive and easier to appreciate.
Burt Reynolds is at his cocky best, Dolly Parton is adorable and Dom DeLuise is hilarious. Even a one song, five minute cameo from Charles Durning as the governor of Texas is so much fun and so memorable, it feels like he’s a main character. I have to assume that his performance here was at least partly the inspiration for the Coen Brothers when they cast him as Governor Pappy O’Daniel in O Brother, Where Art Thou.
The cast is perfect, but in the end, this is a musical, so it lives and dies by its songs. And the songs in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, several written by Parton, are fantastic. Like the entire movie, the songs are self aware enough to know this is a slight, fun, almost goofy movie. By never taking itself too seriously, it makes these slight, fun, almost goofy people and their predicament all the more entertaining and engaging.