The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)


Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton star in this stage musical adaptation (based on a true story) about a bordello madam and a county sheriff who fight a tabloid television reporter’s campaign to close a legendary Texas whorehouse called the Chicken Ranch. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is a bawdy good time, with charming performances from Parton and Reynolds, fun musical numbers, and comic supporting turns from Dom DeLuise, Jim Nabors, and Charles Durning.

Under the direction of Colin Higgins (director of 9 to 5, writer of Harold and Maude), there’s nothing remotely salacious about this Whorehouse. The film showcases sexuality as a positive, necessary human attribute — with the Chicken Ranch delivering a vital service to the community. “It’s a business doing pleasure with you,” says Dolly to the state senator as he rewards the winning college football team with a trip to her establishment. We all know what goes on behind the ranch’s closed doors, but the men are all gentlemen, the women are all ladies, and as Dolly sings, “There ain’t nothin’ dirty goin’ on.” It’s refreshing to see an American studio movie with such a sex positive message these days — though who knows if Best Little Whorehouse could even be made in today’s age of political correctness?

The musical numbers aren’t as flashy as other musicals, but they’re fun enough — especially when Charles Durning, as the state governor, performs a modest little song and dance that takes jabs at political wishy-washiness. But the highlight for me is the chemistry between Burt and Dolly. It’s not deep, but neither is the movie. You can nonetheless tell how comfortable Dolly is in her own skin, and how she puts the usually stiff Reynolds at ease — especially in their first scene together. We learn that Burt’s been seeing Dolly on clandestine mid-afternoon dates. The two try on new underwear and sing “Sneaking Around With You.” The film hooked me from that moment, and sealed the deal later on with a sincere performance of Parton singing her own simple but sublime love anthem, “I Will Always Love You.”

Ain’t nothin’ dirty goin’ on.

Oscar Nomination: Best Supporting Actor (Charles Durning)