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.