- Movie Rating -

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)

| July 23, 1982

There is a song early in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas that I think illustrates the basic problem with this movie.  It says of the title bawdy house: “There’s Nothin’ Dirty Goin’ On.”  You can’t help but agree.  Given that title, one might expect something along the lines of a dirty joke book, some fun, some sexiness, some nudity, but you don’t.  This is the cleanest possible movie that could have been made with that title.

I’m not saying that I expected an X-rated sex romp, or maybe I did.  That title seems to promise, or maybe insist upon, something along the lines of Emmanulle or Tom Jones or half the jokes on “Hee Haw” but it never really goes in that direction.  The actors keep their clothes on and their minds on their business.  Sex is the furthest thing from this movie’s mind.

The story is based partially on fact.  There really was a long-running illegal Texas brothel called The Chicken Ranch that ran from 1905 until it was closed by the state government in 1973 and much of the movie in concerned with Sheriff Dodd (Burt Reynolds) and his efforts to keep the doors of the Chicken Ranch open, mostly because of his clandestine relationship with Miss Mona (Dolly Parton) who runs it.

The casting here is inspired.  There are no two more engaging figures in entertainment than Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton and you might think that pairing them together would lead to some sexy fun.  But their relationship is oddly flat, kind of sad and seems to have the quality of a sexual relationship in which the fire has long since gone out.  Their first scene together feels more perfunctory than sexy. 

Burt’s preoccupation in this movie is persistently playing up what an important institution The Chicken Ranch is to the state’s history.  Dolly, meanwhile, seems to lack the spark that she had in Nine to Five.  Remember that scene in that movie where she pins down her harassing boss Dabney Coleman and threatens to change him from a rooster to a hen?  There’s none of that fire and energy here.  Sure she sings and performs beautifully, but the focus of her character seems centered on her legendary bosom.

Burt continues his career trek of diminishing returns.  He’s a good actor, capable of drama as well as comedy, but he takes easy paychecks in movies that don’t challenge him.  Here he lacks the spark that we’ve seen in the Smokey and the Bandit or his endless appearances on The Tonight Show.  It’s like his ribald personal style is in handcuffs here.

The other characters are really just placeholders; we watch actors trying and failing to inject this movie with some juice.  Dom DeLuise plays an investigative TV reporter who is far too manic for the task he’s been given – he’s more like a talk show host.  Jim Nabors gives a distracting performance a Burt’s deputy, just doing a retread of Gomer Pyle.  And Lois Nettleton plays Dolly’s . . . assistant?  We’re never sure exactly what this character is supposed to be.  The only person in the movie that is really given any spark is Charles During as the shifty state governor who sings a fun song about his ability to slip and slide around any situation, or Dance a Little Side-step.  He’s a lot of fun.

The rest of the musical performances seem curtailed by the set design, which is closed-in, claustrophobic and uninspired.  The “Little Old Pissant Country Place” number is so chocked in by the walls and stairs of the brothel’s interior that you’re afraid that the dancers will run into one another.  And Dolly’s sad love song to Burt is way too melancholy for this movie.

I don’t know.  I left The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas with the feeling of false advertising.  It promises so much and delivers so little.  It’s not the raunch-fest that you’re expecting, nor the love story that it wants to be, nor the musical that it was inspired by.  It’s a low-flying, dull comedy that keeps it’s feet on the ground and it’s pants pulled up.  What a disappointment.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1982) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy, Musical