Founded in 1910 just outside of the city limits of Gilbert located in Lanville County, Texas, the Chicken Ranch has for generations been known as the best little whorehouse in Texas for its wholesome fun, strict moral code, and cleanliness, all perpetuated by its original owner, Miss Wulla Jean. Seven years ago, Miss Wulla Jean died, leaving the Chicken Ranch to her favorite working girl, Miss Mona Stangley, who wants to keep the same traditions of Miss Wulla Jean. The Chicken Ranch has always had the unofficial blessing of the local authorities, who see the ranch providing an important community service, one which most in local authority have used at one time or another in their lives. In fact, Miss Mona and Lanville County Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd have been in a relationship for years, Ed Earl, who is Miss Mona's protector, albeit one with a hot temper and good ol' boy attitude that doesn't exactly match the needs of his law upholding position. That blessing may change when television personality and consumer watchdog, Melvin P. Thorpe, one of the most powerful men in the state, starts an on-air exposé of the illegal activities at the Chicken Ranch, the exposé which includes Ed Earl's role in letting it happen. Ed Earl and Miss Mona's relationship goes through some difficult times on how to deal with this issue, especially with the upcoming annual party night with the players following the Thanksgiving Day football game between the University of Texas and Texas A&M, this party which is arguably the Chicken Ranch's busiest night of the year, and one filled with tradition for the ranch and the participating schools. Will the Chicken Ranch be able to remain open especially in light of a spineless Governor who sways to the direction of polls, and will Ed Earl and Miss Mona's relationship be able to withstand the pressure?
From the same director
Burt Reynolds (Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd), Dolly Parton (Mona Stangley), Dom DeLuise (Melvin), Charles Durning (Governor), Jim Nabors (Deputy Fred), Robert Mandan (Senator Wingwood), Lois Nettleton (Dulcie Mae), Theresa Merritt (Jewel), Noah Beery Jr. (Edsel (as Noah Beery)), Raleigh Bond (Mayor), Barry Corbin (C.J.), Ken Magee (Mansel), Mary Jo Catlett (Rita), Mary Louise Wilson (Modene), Howard K. Smith (Howard K. Smith), Gail Benedict (Chicken Ranch Girl), Valerie Leigh Bixler (Chicken Ranch Girl), Leslie Cook (Chicken Ranch Girl), Carol Culver (Chicken Ranch Girl), Lorraine Fields (Chicken Ranch Girl), Trish Garland (Chicken Ranch Girl), Sandi Johnson (Chicken Ranch Girl), Lee Lund (Chicken Ranch Girl), Paula Lynn (Chicken Ranch Girl), Lily Mariye (Chicken Ranch Girl)...
Sure, the movie shows some skin, but that's not all there is to it, so don't let the prospect of that keep you from watching this movie. There's much more to it than that. Sitting down to watch this film, you're immediately drawn in by one of the most ambitious parts of the film - the history of the Chicken Ranch, decade by decade, depicted with singing, dancing and huge productions that last only a moment, all set to the tune of "Twenty Fans" and narrated by Jim Nabors.
Some people would probably be surprised to find that this movie was nominated for Best Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical in the 1983 Golden Globe awards. Dolly Parton was also nominated for a Golden Globe award in the Best Actress - Comedy/Musical category, while Charles Durning, in his role of the Texas governor, was nominated (quite rightly) for an Academy Award for Best Actor In A Supporting Role.
The best thing about the film is the character of Miss Mona, played by Dolly Parton. I read that Barbara Mandrell or Crystal Gayle were also up for the part, but I can't imagine anyone else playing Miss Mona. You can't help liking Miss Mona - she's not like any prostitute or madam the 1982 movie-going public had ever seen. She's a ray of sunshine, totally forthright, honest, optimistic, generous, open-hearted and sweet. She even contributes heavily to local charities and causes, and one of her lines is "Well, I always just thought if you see somebody without a smile, give 'em yours!" As usual in her films, Parton, who is a singer/songwriter, not a trained actress, holds her own and more. Her entrance, singing "Lil' Ole Bitty Pissant Country Place" as she slowly walks down the stairs in that red dress, is something else. Throughout the movie, Miss Mona's fiery temper and tender heart provide some of the most authentic moments.
Reynolds plays the character his audience loves best - the smart ass. And he plays it very well. This movie shows him in the character of a sheriff, which must have been amusing to moviegoers accustomed to seeing him outrunning sheriffs and state police in his "Smokey & The Bandit" movies. Ed Earl is a typical Reynolds character - getting most of the funniest lines, cussing up a storm, getting philosophical in his semi-ignorant way and defending Miss Mona to the best of his hot-tempered ability.
Dom DeLuise plays the part of Melvin P. Thorpe to perfection, right down to the corset and the stuffed pants. He is a delight. Perfect comic timing. "Watchdog Report/Texas Has a Whorehouse in It" is a production number that is completely right for him.
Jim Nabors is, well, Jim Nabors. I still laugh thinking about the opening line of the movie, delivered in his "GOL-LEE" tone: "It was the nicest little whorehouse you ever saw!" Nabors plays Deputy Fred, who also narrates the movie.
Also of note is Charles Durning as the governor of Texas, who is perfect as he schmoozes and avoids the facts. It is no surprise to me that this actor, who has now made over 100 movies, was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this role. My favorite part of his brief airtime is the business with his cowboy hat (four or five times he puts his hat on sideways and then whirls to the side so that it falls correctly onto his head). His singing and dancing in "The Sidestep" pulls out no stops - you can't stop watching him. I couldn't help wondering how Steve Martin would have played this role, but Durning makes it his own.
The movie is, of course, a musical, and it was a musical before it was made into a movie - so we get lots of musical numbers, including one with the Aggie football team. If you like musicals, you will like this, because the songs were clearly written not to be hits, not to be videos, but to be part of a musical. Mona's Girls and the Aggies are not actors - they're extremely talented dancers, some of whom can sing.
The Aggies, who are supposed to be the Texas A & M football team, push their scenes to the limit. It does stretch dramatic license a bit when the football players have most of their clothes off and are dancing around the locker room - their physiques are clearly not football material - but no matter. Yee-haw!
Mona's girls have been chosen to represent many different physical types of women, and besides their obvious dancing talent, each gets a small solo (one or two lines) in one of the movie's final songs, "Hard Candy Christmas" (a song which sounds as if it was written by Parton but wasn't). This is, to me, the best song in the movie, and it's a shame that a different version was used on the soundtrack (in the movie, each girl sings a line or two, with Parton singing the choruses, but on the soundtrack version, Parton sings it all). Nothing against Parton, but I enjoyed hearing/seeing all the different reactions as expressed by their distinct voices as the girls faced their uncertain futures.
Parton also contributed two of her own original songs to the movie. "I Will Always Love You," which she originally wrote and released in 1974, became this film's love song and went to number one for a second time (of course, it went to number one again when covered by Whitney Houston in 1992. The other song that Dolly contributed is "Sneakin' Around" (a "9 to 5"-like duet between Parton and Reynolds). According to some information on the WWW, she also contributed other songs which were not used, including a song which she later re-wrote for "Rhinestone."
Looking back on this film from 18 years in the future, I'm sure that many people have a low opinion of it, but I think it's a classic. Supposedly based on a true story, this film invites you in and never lets you go, keeping you hooked with sharply written dialogue and fast-paced action. Once you start watching it, it's impossible to stop - some of the comedy is very subtle, and each performer seems perfectly cast and enthusiastically performs her or his role.
There aren't as many serious moments, but they are well-acted. Ed Earl and Miss Mona have a long-term relationship, spiced with something more perhaps? Miss Mona's face after her fight with Ed Earl conveys such weary hurt that you can't help wanting her to get a break. There's much more to this movie than Mona's girls. It's about friendship, tradition, honesty, promises and tolerance as well. Managing to express valid points and make a 1982 audience sympathize with prostitutes, it also manages to poke fun at society.
Dom DeLuise's character, Melvin P. Thorpe was based on the real newsman, Marvin Zindler (born 1921, died July 29, 2007) who brought down the real Chicken Ranch. The incident where the Sheriff snatches the wig off Thorpe's head and holds it high, really happened between the Fayette County Sheriff and Zindler. Zindler also pioneered "rat and roach" reports about restaurant cleanliness ("Slime in the Ice Machine!").
La mejor casita de placer (Argentina; Peru; Venezuela) • Das schönste Freudenhaus in Texas (Austria; West Germany) • Най-хубавият малък публичен дом в Тексас (Bulgaria (Bulgarian title)) • A Melhor Casa Suspeita do Texas (Brazil) • La cage aux poules (Canada (French title); France) • The Best Little Cathouse in Texas (Canada (English title) (bowdlerized title)) • Byens bedste horehus (Denmark) • La casa más divertida de Texas (Spain) • Texasin paras pikku porttola (Finland) • To kalytero porneio tou Texas (Greece (transliterated ISO-LATIN-1 title))
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