Wednesday, August 05, 2015

cinema obscura: The Director's Cut of Colin Higgins' "Best Little Whorehouse..." (1982)

Back in the day, I interviewed Burt Reynolds on the Charlotte, N.C. set of what would become (arguably) one of his lesser films, "Stroker Ace."

It was 1982 and Burt's "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" had just opened. He was very high on it and, after the interview in his trailer, he put on a cassette of "Whorehouse" outtakes - all musical stuff, including a different song written for the opening credits by Dolly Parton- "Chick-Chick-Chicken Ranch" - in lieu of  the song that subsequently opened the movie, "20 Fans" (by Carol Hall who wrote all the songs for the original Broadway production) - and a soulful solo by Burt called "(Where) Stallions Run" which never made it into the truncated theatrical release. I've never quite grasped why studios "tweak" their musicals by editing out ... music.

You know, the reason musicals are made - the song and dance numbers.

Anyway, way back in 2002, when Universal released Colin Higgins' film on DVD, advertising "outtakes" among the bonus features, I fully expected those outtakes to be the amazing stuff that filled Burt's VHS tape. Wrong. The outtakes were the kind of blooper reels that Burt regularly screened for Johnny Carson's and Mike Douglas' TV audiences during the 1970s and '80s - you know, stuff of Charles Durning flubbing his lines, Dolly coming on like Mae West and Burt breaking up over some Dom DeLuise gaff. Strictly mundane. What the heck happened to all the missing musical goodies?

Surprisingly, not even "(Where) Stallions Run" made the disc - surprising because the song was reinstated for the film's TV broadcasts, presumably to fill it out after the more randy material was excised by the TV censors.

In his comments on the film on, Greg M. Pasqua reports that "over 30 minutes of film was cut from the Director's print" prior to its release in '82. (The release print of the film clocks in at 115 minutes.)

Among the missing numbers noted by Pasqua are two written for the film by Parton - "A Gamble Either Way" and "Stallions' Ways," both of which appear on Parton's "Burlap and Satin" album. Actually, the title of the song on Parton's album isn't
"Stallions' Ways," but "A Cowboy's Ways,"
which, it turns out, is an alternative title for the aforementioned "(Where) Stallions Run," which was reworked for Reynolds by Parton. (Got that?)

Pasqua reports that an entire subplot from the play, involving the hiring of a shy girl (Andrea Pike) who grows into a woman during the course of the storyline, was elminated, along with one of the better-known songs from the stage production, "Girl, You're a Woman," inspired by that subplot.  

Other songs from Carol Hall's stage score that were eliminated from the film include "Watch Dog," "Doatsy Mae," "No Lies," "Good Old Girl," "Twenty Four Hours of Lovin'" and "The Bus From Amarillo."


"Also," writes Pasqua, "smaller roles from the Broadway show were cut, including the abbreviated role of Angel (played by Valerie Leigh Bilxer), the (prostitute) who wants to see her little boy for Christmas, and other scenes involving Dolly and the (ranch) girls. Longer cuts of the big musical numbers also exist ('The Aggie Song,' '20 Fans' and 'Little Bitty Pissant Country Place'). All of these would make for a pretty good Special Edition."

Agreed.  And, for the record, I like the film, always did - even at the time of its release when it was unfashionable for any critic to admit so.

And now that the 2002 DVD is out-of-print, it would be great if Universal finally releases the director's cut on Blu-ray - or at least include the deleted and unused musical numbers as outtakes.

My advice: Just call Burt.  He has them. Or once did.
Note in Passing:  Becoming a film was not easy for “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”  Universal was reportedly so enthusiastic about the property that it rather hastily agreed that the movie version would be co-directed by two men who oversaw the Broadway production, actor Peter Masterson and song-and dance wiz, Tommy Tune (who also choreographed the stage show).  Burt Reynolds, the first star to be cast, was apparently fine with the idea, but matters seemed to change when Dolly Parton signed on as its leading lady and I guess Burt backed her up.

“Whorehouse” was Parton’s second film, following her debut in “Nine to Five” (1980), which was Colin Higgins's second film as a director (after having written the screenplay for Hal Ashby’s “Harold and Maude” of 1971 and directed Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase in “Foul Play” in 1978.)

My hunch is that Parton felt connected to Higgins and preferred him to guide her in her second film, given that she did such memorable work for him in “Nine to Five.”  So, Higgins came on board as director. He would direct only three films, "Best Little Whorehouse" being his third and last.

Colin Higgins died in 1988 of AIDS.


Gregg said...

It is unfortunate that, unlike MGM or Disney, Universal apparently didn't save any of its elements. Very shortsighted, as even unused stuff can become not only useful but also valuable.

mike said...

I had no idea of this!

This still is a favorite of mine. I have the DVD and regularly watch different musical numbers.

I for one would love to see the full version.

Charlotte said...

Joe, of course you’re right. Studios always seem to feel comfortable molding film musicals into something that they aren't supposed to be because they don't truly understand the form anymore. Film itself is only a little over a century old. And for musicals, there are fewer traditions that have sunk in, not the way they have in drama, action, comedy and even animation. All this rampant "popularization" of the movie musical has led to numerous annoyances and abberatons, e.g., "Nine." But as long as the cinema remains in flux, culturally, there is some hope for the musical again.

Of course it’s an art form, as anyone who loves it knows. I don’t need a Harvey Weinstein to tell me that.

I'd like to see "Whorehouse" as Higgins made it. Hopefully, there's an advocate for the film at Universal who will see to it.

My main concern, however, are future movie musicals. Everything is always changing…

Rick Garrick said...

Enjoyed this article very much.

Was startled to hear how "Whorehouse" was butchered before it got to the screen. Don't remember hearing anything about that at the time.

My feeling is that all musicals can use more msuic, not less. Cut the in-between stuff if anything at all.

Sheila said...

A truly underrated film musical. Lots of fun.

mtngeyser said...

In the "20 Fans" number, the climax , so to speak, of the song was "I'm coming, I'm cumming, thank you, thank you Jesus" This lyric was in the play. Burt was offended and wanted those lines removed. If you look at the ending of the scene, you can see characters is saying those words, but dubbed with something else.
I have also seen the uncut "Aggie Song"'s a doozey, and much better.

joe baltake said...

I may be wrong but I believe those lines from the "20 Fans" number were indeed in the theatrical release of the film, which I saw several times - at an advance critics' screening and during its initial run in theaters. However, they were replaced by Universal when the film was made available for network TV and syndication. Reynolds had nothing to do with that; it was the in-house censors of MCA, which owns both Universal and NBC, which gave the film its first network viewing. However, you have me intrigued about the uncut "Aggie Song."

mtngeyser said...

With the exception of the soundtrack, that line is nowhere in any VHS, Laser or DVD. I was there at Universal to see a rough cut showing of the film before release,....the last time that line was in the film.

joe baltake said...

True, that line was erased from both the TV prints (as I mentioned) and the subsequent VHS, Laser and DVD versions, but it was very much present in the film when it was first released to theaters. The critics screening that I attended was in L.A. (both Burt and Colin Higgins were in attendance) and that line of dialogue was in the film. Perhaps after the film had played a few weeks, it was cut (possibly because of complaints from theater managers or patrons). But my hunch is that it was cut for TV and all home entertainment formats. That said, I'd be interested in knowing what other extras were in the rough cut. Do you recall, roughly, how long the film ran? Share!

Joanie said...

I remember the song Stallion's Way and I missed it in the original version. Burt Reynolds did a great job on tbe song!

Vinnie Rattolle said...

I would KILL to get my hands on those outtakes. Unfortunately, it's doubtful that there's anything new on the blu-ray that comes out this week. Another unmentioned subplot that clearly got whittled down to virtually nothing is the relationship between Ed Earl and Dulcie Mae. It's mentioned a few times in passing, but Lois Nettleton barely has any screen time in the final cut and there are a number of photos floating around of her and Burt from scenes that aren't in the film.

And a couple slight corrections to your "Note in passing." Dolly was attached to movie before Burt was and, according to author Larry L. King, nobody else was seriously considered for the role - which thoroughly irked him ("Too obvious," he stated in his book The Whorehouse Papers. "She LOOKS like she might run a whorehouse or work in one."). Worried that the film might tarnish her image (which is rather ironic considering she literally patterned her look after the town whore from her childhood), Dolly briefly backed out of the project but once Burt was on-board, she was coaxed back into it. I have absolutely no idea why Peter Masterson and Tommy Tune were dumped, but I'm of the impression that it was a studio decision, and with them out, she brought Colin Higgins in. Neither of them had much film experience and knowing Dolly's personality (which would probably meld well with Tune's), I find it very hard to believe that she used her clout to get them fired.

joe baltake said...

Vinnie! Thanks for the heads-up and the invaluable information. -J

Vinnie Rattolle said...

Sorry to double-post, but there's a copy of the final draft of the script on eBay with a TON of pics, including the entire opening sequence - and it's "20 Fans." Although a few minor alterations were made, it's basically the same as the final cut of the movie. I'm guessing Dolly wrote "Down at the Chicken Ranch" after the fact and the powers that be at Universal opted not to use it (except in the trailer).

The scene with the mule on the car was a much more elaborate (and jokey) sequence, which also established Dulcie Mae, who indeed had a larger role. And as for Andrea Pike's "Shy" character, there's a single page where she introduces herself by her real name, Anna Merle Seltzer (I seem to vaguely recall that plot from the play, but I only saw it once). There were also a few brief revelations about the other girls which got the axe. I can't afford the $325 eBay script but one of these days I'm gonna order a $20 copy from scriptfly.

a.n. said...

Here is the aggie dance with cut footage

Sheila said...

Love this! Thanks for sharing, A.N.