The Chicken Ranch is a brothel that has stood for around a hundred years in this Texan county, and is either the best or worst kept secret in the place, with regular patrons and interested visitors keeping it a going concern. It was so called because during the Depression the patrons, often rural types, didn't have the money to pay for the services so would bring poultry in exchange for sex, and the name stuck even though the current madam, Mona Stangley (Dolly Parton), now insists on cash payment. She has an arrangement with the Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (Burt Reynolds) that sustains her business, and the fact that they are intimate with one another doesn't hurt, but what if the media got involved?
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas was a surprise hit on the Broadway of the late nineteen-seventies, much to the bemusement of those who preferred a more traditional entertainment in musicals, i.e. those who didn't like the introduction of the sexual element. When it came to adapting the material to the inevitable movie version, there were quite a few involved with its creation who had the same misgivings, and preferred to render it more of a political satire with a romantic theme between the two megastars Burt and Dolly, and gloss over the actual goings-on at the brothel apart from those sequences where they simply could not ignore it and seemingly grudgingly had to depict the carnal interest.
Oddly, though the reviews were dreadful and it did merely middling business at the box office, it was the biggest musical in cinema of the eighties, which says more about the genre's fate during that decade than the quality of the movie. By this point musical sequences were more likely to be scored and presented like pop or rock videos, so the interest was there but you were not going to see Tom Cruise miming to Danger Zone or Jennifer Beals acting out What a Feeling, and in the West at least it took until the nineties until audiences began to see their interest in the form rekindled. But while this example looked and sounded like a musical designed by a committee rather than something everyone was happy with, it was not as bad as its reputation.
Certainly if the main incentive for getting Dolly to show up was to have her write her own songs, then it seems her heart wasn't really in it if she was going to reprise I Will Always Love You for the umpteenth time (and this was eight years before The Bodyguard made it ubiquitous in the Whitney Houston rendition), but then you found out that most of what she penned for the film was left on the cutting room floor, and come to think of it for a musical it didn't come across as entirely invested in those big production numbers which were far from numerous. What there were wound up being lustily staged by director Colin Higgins (whose last film this was - of only three he directed - before his untimely death of AIDS five years later), most notoriously the football players' locker room antics which featured probably the movies' first all-nude chorus in the shower.
That said, the real scene stealer was unexpected and probably secured him his Oscar nomination: Charles Durning proving very light on his feet during his Sidestep number, one of the tunes that the production was most comfortable with as it was a send-up of politicians' doublespeak, a subject that never goes out of fashion. Dom DeLuise was dancing in there too, playing the TV campaigner who sets out to get the brothel shut down in his inimitably over the top manner (and a Moe Howard wig); as this was based on a true story, the actual person he was playing was put out that the film made it appear as if he were a crazed, anti-sex moralist rather than his actual objection which was that the whorehouse was funding organised crime. But that was one message here, that the titular establishment was beneficial since it was a safe environment for the prostitutes, and if you're against that then you're a hypocrite for denying that everyone has sexual impulses, and many will act upon them even if you don't. So there was that, and Burt and Dolly had a particularly nice heart to heart under the stars, but the air of compromise was never far away.