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|Written by Lauren Cheal|
|Friday, 18 November 2011 14:34|
I have always been a fan of Ms. Parton. When I was growing up in a suburb of Dallas, Texas in the 1990s, Dolly Parton was probably at the height of her popularity, and also often reduced to a punch-line about chest size. I think people like to attack Dolly because she has been very successful in very non-traditional ways, and that challenges some people. She is a prolific and talented songwriter (not exactly the norm for female performers in the genre), having penned "at least 3,000 songs," many of which you probably know. Her most famous song is probably "I Will Always Love You," which was made even more famous by the tremendous pipes on Whitney Houston on the soundtrack to the 1992 blockbuster The Bodyguard. If you ever seen a interview with Parton (and I recommend you tune in if you happen to stumble upon one), you will find a delightfully self-effacing, smart woman who knows what people think of her and could pretty much care less. In honour of this great lady, I set out to catalogue her film career, and you can find each of my reviews below. I wasn't able to track down her 1984 film Rhinestone (co-starring Sly Stallone, and a critical and financial flop), but here are four of her classics. It is fair to say that in each of these works, the plucky Tennessee woman lights up the screen.
This is Dolly's first movie, and the title song that she wrote and performed for it is a big part of what made her a pop icon. Of the four offerings here, 9 to 5 is definitely among the weakest, but it is a fun cultural touchstone if you are interested in such things. The movie revolves around 3 women who work for a misogynistic boss, Mr. Hart (Dabney Coleman) at a big corporation. The women are Violet Newstead (Lily Tomlin), Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda), and Doralee Rhodes (Parton). Violet is the woman who has worked at the company for many years (longer than the bosses) and who is continuously passed up for promotions into management. Judy is the new girl Violet has to train, and Doralee is Mr. Hart's buxom (obviously) secretary who everyone believes is sleeping with Hart (because he tells them this is the case). She isn't sleeping with him, but she spends her days defending against slimeball advances from him. The three women eventually bond over their treatment by Hart and the general state of being a working woman in the late 1970s, and then fantasize about killing the boss. The next day, Violet mistakes rat poison for coffee creamer (you know how easy that is to do) and then thinks that she poisoned Mr. Hart. The attempts to cover this up involve dead bodies, kidnappings, and various lady capers while the women deal with the fallout of this mistake. The women take charge of the office in the absence of the boss, and change it for the better. The ladies' hair is really funny (huge), and there are some good bits of comedy from Tomlin and Parton, but the movie is a little bit thin on believable plot. Dolly is fresh-faced and adorable, but this really isn't the movie to watch if you are going to pick just one from the Dollyography.
I turned to this movie because of an article written by my dear co-editor, April, about the upcoming screenings at Ottawa's Mayfair Theatre, and I was not disappointed. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is an adaptation of a stage musical of the same name, which was written about a place in La Grange, Texas called the Chicken Ranch. The Chicken Ranch was a brothel that operated for about 75 years before it was shut down by the Texas government in 1973 (as prostitution is illegal in Texas). The film tells the story of the investigation (led by a television personality played by Dom Deluise) into the Chicken Ranch and its eventual closure. Just a fun fact, for my Houston readers (I know you are out there): Deluise's character is based on real-life reporter Marvin Zindler - he of the blue-lensed glasses and "slime in the ice machines!" reporting that graced the Houston airwaves until his death in 2007. Even if you have never been to Houston, check out that link. That guy is crazy. Um, back to the movie. Dolly Parton plays the owner of the Chicken Ranch, Miss Mona, who is fighting to keep her business alive while in a relationship with the local sheriff, Ed Earl Dodd (Burt Reynolds). The musical numbers are fun and funny, and Burt Reynolds sings, which is worth the price of admission (or DVD rental). This is a role that suits Parton well, as she is a no-nonsense boss and she gets to sing, which is the best. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is definitely a good choice for someone who is already a fan of Parton's songs and personality or if you are looking for a first-exposure to this blonde firecracker.
Another of Dolly's films that is based on a play, Steel Magnolias was written by Robert Harling and is based on the life and death of his sister. The main characters in the movie are Shelby (Julia Roberts) and her mother, M'Lynn (Sally Field). Shelby's health is very fragile, and the movie chalks this up to simply "diabetes." Despite warnings from her doctor and family, Shelby decides to have a baby, which puts stress on her weak kidneys. Her mother, M'Lynn, donates one of her own kidneys to help save her daughter's life, and the two women are supported throughout this time by a community of women. This hilarious group includes Annelle (the new girl in town, played by Daryl Hannah), local politician and benefactress, Clairee (Olympia Dukakis) and her friend/enemy Ouiser (pronounced "Weeza," played quite awesomely by Shirley MacLaine). The women come together at a local beauty salon, run by Truvy (Dolly Parton). The movie is heartbreakingly sad, and it rests on the shoulders of heavyweight acting by Field and Roberts. There is one scene where M'Lynn loses her shit about her daughter's condition - anyone who has seen the film will remember it. Truvy's role in the film is to guide Annelle towards her new life in this town, while supporting the main story with laughter and heart. She pulls it off beautifully, again. Steel Magnolias has earned its reputation as a "chick flick," and for sure, it fits that description. It is also better than that moniker with great performances from the entire cast and a story that shows the strength of women (and particularly southern women, for whom I have a great affection).
Sadly the people at YouTube haven't catalogued Dolly's best work in Steel Magnolias, so below is one clip with a taste of the magic, and please enjoy the following quote.
Truvy: Well, these thighs haven't gone out of the house without Lycra on them since I was 14.
This is the only film in the Dollyography where Parton takes top billing completely alone, and it is arguably the weakest of the group. The plot is fairly lame - a down-on-her-luck woman in a quasi-abusive relationship (with Glen (Michael Madsen) from Free Willy!) moves to the big city of Chicago in the hopes of changing her life. While working as a receptionist at a radio station, she wanders into the break room for a coffee and is pulled on the air as "Dr. Shirlee," a psychologist who was supposed to show up to the station and didn't. With her every day, down-home, folksy wisdom, Dr. Shirlee quickly wins over fans and agrees to stay on and perpetrate the lie that she is a doctor, though she objects to it. Meanwhile, a local reporter (played by James Woods) begins to fall in love with Shirlee while doing a story on her. He finds out that she isn't a doctor at all, and much formulaic drama ensues. Now, I know that this plot description doesn't sound that great, and, true enough, it isn't the strongest story. What makes the movie worthwhile is Ms. Parton, of course. She is a delightful presence on the screen, and the early 90s fashions are also fun to look at. The title song from this film wasn't a huge hit, but it is also pretty good. You might just find yourself humming it. Parton excels playing these types of characters, probably because they are rooted in stories very similar to her own. Dolly makes a great fish out of water, where her charming personality shines, and people can't help but love her.
If this list of movies has left you itching to dive into her discography, I recommend starting with a classic compilation like Ultimate Dolly Parton, or, if you are feeling a like a purist (or just dislike compilations), Jolene is another great album. Whatever your choice, enjoy!
And there you have it, the Dollyography. This is a woman whose talent and personality light up the screen, and each of these movies is worth a look if you have a free weekend afternoon.
Tags: 9 to 5, average, best little whorehouse in texas, burt reynolds, cinema, dolly parton, dollywood, houston, jane fonda, marvin zindler, sneakin around with you, spunky short people, steel magnolias, straight talk, whitney houston is a hack