The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (film)

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The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
Best little whorehouse in texasposter.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Colin Higgins
Produced by
Written by
Music by
Cinematography William A. Fraker
Edited by
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • July 23, 1982 (1982-07-23)
Running time
114 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20.5 million
Box office $69.7 million[2]

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is a 1982 American musical comedy film co-written, produced and directed by Colin Higgins (in his final film as director). It is an adaptation of the 1978 Broadway musical of the same name and features an ensemble cast that includes Dolly Parton, Burt Reynolds, Jim Nabors, Charles Durning, Dom DeLuise, Noah Beery, Jr., Robert Mandan, Lois Nettleton, Theresa Merritt, Barry Corbin, Mary Jo Catlett and Mary Louise Wilson.

Durning was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the Texas governor. Golden Globe nominations went to the film for Best Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical) and Parton for Best Actress in a Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical). It was the highest-grossing live-action musical film of the 1980s.[3]


Ed Earl (Reynolds), the sheriff of Gilbert, Texas, has a relationship of long standing with Miss Mona (Parton), who runs a brothel there called the "Chicken Ranch." Illegal or not, Ed Earl doesn't interfere with her business, which has been a fixture in the town for as long as either can remember.

Lovers on the side, occasionally interrupted by Deputy Fred (Nabors), the sheriff and madam have a pleasant arrangement. Not everyone in town approves of her, but Miss Mona is a public-minded citizen, decent and law-abiding in every respect but her line of work.

A big-city television personality, do-gooder Melvin P. Thorpe (DeLuise), is about to do a segment about the town, so the sheriff travels there to introduce himself to Thorpe, who greets him warmly. He is shocked by Thorpe's live telecast, in which he reveals to a huge audience his discovery that "Texas has a whorehouse in it."

The Chicken Ranch is an institution, where the winning team from the football game between Texas A & M and the University of Texas traditionally is brought to "celebrate" its victory. The negative publicity puts a spotlight on the place, so Ed Earl gets Miss Mona's word that she'll shut its doors until the attention goes away. She shuts it down to regular customers, but elects to let the football players have their party, at which point Thorpe and his TV cameras ambush them all.

Ed Earl compounds the problem by assaulting Thorpe and using profanity against him in a public square, all also caught on TV. A quarrel and bitter breakup between the sheriff and Miss Mona ensues, punctuated by him calling her "a whore."

The Governor of Texas (Durning), who can't or won't make a decision on a single issue until he first sees what voters say in the polls, listens to Ed Earl's appeals to keep the Chicken Ranch open, but the polls say no. The working girls leave the Chicken Ranch for good. Miss Mona is disconsolate, at least until finding out the effort made by the sheriff on her behalf.

In the final scene, as Miss Mona is departing the whorehouse for the last time, Ed Earl stops her and proposes to her. She turns him down, knowing that his dream is to run for state legislature, and that having a wife who'd worked in prostitution would hurt his chances. He again insists that he wants to marry her and that he does not care about what people will think or say. Deputy Fred, in a voiceover, states that Ed Earl and Miss Mona did marry, and that Ed Earl was successful in his bid for legislature; Deputy Fred then adds that he succeeded Ed Earl as Sheriff.



The book of the play was restructured to make it a vehicle for Parton and Reynolds. Higgins prepared for directing it by watching old George Cukor films and Dr. Pepper commercials.[4]


The plot is basically the same as that of the stage production, with one significant difference. In the original, Ed Earl and Miss Mona had a one-night stand fifteen years earlier, but in the film they maintain an ongoing affair.

The relationship in the film brings about not only the accusatory scene, when the sheriff—disappointed that Mona has broken her promise to close the Chicken Ranch down long enough for things to cool off—calls her a whore, but also the happy ending, when he proposes marriage to Mona, even though that might endanger his chances to be elected as a state legislator; the epilogue comments state that he is elected anyway.

The role of Melvin P. Thorpe (DeLuise) is based on Marvin Zindler, an eccentric consumer reporter for Houston's KTRK-TV.


Much of Carol Hall's original Broadway score was performed in the movie version.Omitted were Good Old Girl, The Bus From Amarillo, and Doatsie Mae . Two additional Parton compositions appear in the film: "Sneakin' Around", performed as a duet with Parton and Reynolds, and a two-stanza version of Parton's 1973 composition "I Will Always Love You". The film version of "I Will Always Love You"—the original recording having been a U.S. country chart topper for Parton in the spring of 1974—was released as a single in July 1982, and again reached number one on the U.S. country singles chart. (It also was a mid-level hit on Billboard pop and adult contemporary charts.) An altered version of Hall's "Hard Candy Christmas", in which Parton sings both the chorus and the verses of the song (as opposed to the film version, which is partially sung by some of the other female cast members), was also released as a single, reaching the top-ten on the country singles chart in late 1982.

Parton wrote several additional new songs for the film which were ultimately not used, including "Down At The Chicken Ranch" and "Where Stallions Run" -the latter was filmed (performed by Reynolds), but cut prior to the film's release. It was restored for the network television broadcast of the film, as the film was too short for its time slot after the censors finished their broadcast edits and additional material was needed. Parton recorded two of the deleted songs, "A Gamble Either Way", and "A Cowboy's Ways" (a reworking of "Where Stallions Run"), and included them on her 1983 album Burlap & Satin.



The film presented some difficulties for Universal, particularly with advertising. In 1982, the word "whorehouse" was considered obscene in parts of the United States, resulting in the film being renamed The Best Little Cathouse in Texas in some print ads, while television ads were either banned outright in some areas, or the offending word was censored; on WXYZ-TV in Detroit, the announcer on the station's "Now Showing" segment merely clicked his tongue to eliminate the offending word: "The Best Little [click, click] in Texas!". During interviews, Parton sometimes referred to the film as The Best Little Chicken House in Texas.

Box office[edit]

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas opened in 1,400 theaters on July 23, 1982 and earned $11,874,268 in its opening weekend, ranking number one in the United States box office, dethroning E.T. The Extra Terrestrial‍ '​s six-week run at the top of the box office.[5] The film closed on October 21, having grossed $69,701,637 domestically.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

The film received mixed reviews from critics. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 56% rating based on 9 reviews.[6] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film two out of four stars, stating "If they ever give Dolly her freedom and stop packaging her so antiseptically, she could be terrific. But Dolly and Burt and Whorehouse never get beyond the concept stage in this movie."[7]

Cultural influence[edit]

The film and the original Broadway musical it was based on were spoofed in the 1982 pornographic film Memphis Cathouse Blues,[8] which starred Annette Haven in the Dolly Parton role of the madam and Mike Horner in the Burt Reynolds role as the sheriff. Porn star Kay Parker, who played one of the prostitutes in the film, had an uncredited bit role in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.


The house used in the film is located at Universal Studios in Hollywood and can be viewed as part of the backlot tram tour. (It was also seen in the Ghost Whisperer television series episode "The Lost Boys.") The inspiration for the set came from a real ranch house located outside Austin, Texas, which is featured in scenes from the movie.[9]

The house was also featured in Rob Zombie's 2003 horror film House of 1000 Corpses.


  1. ^ "THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS (AA)". British Board of Film Classification. October 6, 1982. Retrieved June 29, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. October 22, 1982. Retrieved June 29, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Musical, 1974–present". Box Office Mojo. IMDb. Retrieved 28 July 2012. 
  4. ^ HIGGINS: WRITER-DIRECTOR ON HOT STREAK Goldstein, Patrick. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 24 Jan 1981: b15.
  5. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for July 23-25, 1982". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. July 26, 1982. Retrieved June 29, 2015. 
  6. ^ "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved June 29, 2015. 
  7. ^ "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas Movie Review (1982)". Roger Ebert. Chicago Sun-Times. January 1, 1982. Retrieved June 29, 2015. 
  8. ^ "Memphis Cathouse Blues (1982) Connections". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 3 February 2014. 
  9. ^ "The Chicken Ranch". Retrieved 28 July 2012. 
Further reading
  • Hall, Carol. Vocal Selections from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Melville, N.Y.: MCA Music, 1979.
  • King, Larry L. and Masterson, Peter. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Music and lyrics by Carol Hall. French's Musical Library. New York, N.Y.: S. French, 1978. ISBN 0-573-68111-2
  • King, Larry L. The Whorehouse Papers. New York: Viking Press, 1982. ISBN 0-670-15919-0

External links[edit]