Stephen Arnell

10 films featuring Dolly Parton

10 films featuring Dolly Parton
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After the publication of Sarah Smarsh’s She Come By It Natural, the latest biography of the beloved songstress, here's a look at Dolly Parton’s career in the movies.

Admittedly, Parton’s filmography can be described as patchy (at best), but there are enough hits, curiosities, and why-on-earth-did-she-do-it? duds to merit a retrospective.

And who knows – some of those movies previously deemed as clunkers may be worth a second look. Possibly.

Before launching into my film rundown, it’s worth mentioning the frequent use of Dolly’s songs in movies other than hers, often used in a contrapuntal fashion. We’ve had 9 to 5 featured in Deadpool 2 (2018), Islands in the Stream in HBO’s Watchmen (2019), a re-arranged Jolene in Dumplin’ (2018) and most recently, the repeated use (recalling Netflix’s Russian Doll and Harry Nilsson’s Gotta Get Up) of toe-tapper Here You Come Again in HBO Max’s critical hit The Flight Attendant. And of course, I Will Always Love You, first aired in Parton’s own Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982), then covered to huge chart success ten years later by Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard (1992).

Dolly’s songs and the stories behind some of them were used as the basis for the treacly 8-part Netflix anthology series Heartstrings (2019), in which she also appeared. Reviews were mixed, but the general affection for Dolly meant that they weren’t quite as scathing as they might have been.

Here are her seven most noteworthy pictures:

Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square (2020) - Netflix

One for hardcore Parton fans, this musical take on Scrooge (yet again) is aggressively seasonal.

Dolly stars as an angel (for the second time, after the 1996 TV movie Unlikely Angel) in the picture, also writing a whole passle of Christmassy songs, which should appeal to those who like that kind of thing.

The Good Fight’s Christine Baranski plays the Ebenezer-like property developer Regina Fuller. Treat Williams also features in the film, a contrast to some of the actor’s previous roles such as ‘Fecal Freak’ Critical Bill in Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead (1995).

And despite the title, there doesn’t appear to be any connection with Free Masonry in the movie.

Dolly Parton's Coat of Many Colors (2015)

Parton’s maudlin autobiographical tale of life in the impoverished Great Smoky Mountains of 1950s Tennessee won a fair amount of critical praise, despite the overt religious proselytising.

NBC’s TV movie was followed a year late by a sequel, the equally manipulative Dolly Parton's Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love.

The grinding poverty the family face in the two pictures makes The Waltons seem like The Kardashians in comparison.

Straight Talk (1992) – Amazon Rent/Buy

Blessed with a catchy theme song, Straight Talk sees Parton take the role of inadvertent Chicago radio agony aunt ‘Doctor’ Shirlee Jackson.

Playing nosey reporter John "Jack" Russell and Dolly’s love interest is…James Woods. Lucky Dolly.

Presumably, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Tom Sizemore, and Danny Trejo were otherwise engaged when Straight Talk was cast – although Michael Madsen (Reservoir Dogs) puts in an appearance as Parton’s nasty (big surprise) common-law husband.

It’s actually not that bad – I can recall watching it as an inflight movie back in the early 90s and sticking with it to the end.

Steel Magnolias (1989) – Netflix, Amazon Prime Rent/Buy

Herbert Ross’s evergreen weepie could have been used very effectively to vacate a room of chaps down the pub during Autumn 2020’s Tier 2 10pm curfew.

Lives, loves and death feature in this tale of female friendship and bonding in a small Louisiana town, with Parton starring as beauty salon owner Truvy Jones.

The top-notch cast also includes Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, Julia Roberts, Tom Skerritt, Dylan McDermott, and Sam Shepard.

Rhinestone (1984)

Want to see Sylvester Stallone play a would-be country music singer?

No? well not many people did, as Rhinestone proved a notorious flop.

Dolly stars as a down on her luck country chanteuse who takes a bet that she can transform an ordinary Joe (NY cab driver Stallone) into a hillbilly star.

Although Sly said that he enjoyed working with Parton, he was not especially happy with the completed picture:

“The film went in a direction that literally shattered my internal corn meter into smithereens. I would have done many things differently. I certainly would've steered clear of comedy unless it was dark, Belgian chocolate dark. Silly comedy didn't work for me.”

For her part, at least Parton scored two country chart hits from the fiasco –Tennessee Homesick Blues and God Won't Get You.

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) - Amazon Prime Rent/Buy

Always a fun watch if you have kids young enough to ask what a ‘whorehouse’ is, the movie is in truth a fairly innocuous musical – depending on your view on prostitution.

The movie was a big hit, but the production was apparently fraught (a ‘nightmare’, according to Parton) and co-star Burt Reynolds cattily commented, “Dolly is very self-deprecating, at least in public".

Ungallant as ever, Reynolds allegedly complained that he suffered a double hernia from picking Parton up in the film. Stay classy, Burt.

9 to 5 (1980) – Amazon Prime Rent/Buy

Saving the best for last with Dolly’s debut picture, the smash hit workplace comedy.

Office employees Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton team up to get even with their sexist pig of a boss Franklin Hart Jr - very well played by Dabney Coleman.

The movie has since been re-tooled into a TV series and more recently, a successful musical, possibly because the themes are as relevant today as they were back in 1980.

A belated sequel with the three stars was in the works, but (according to Dolly) has since been abandoned.

Of course, Dolly Parton’s not the only country/folk singer to try their hand at acting (to varying degrees of success), notably Kris Kristofferson, Dwight Yoakham, Joan Baez, Burl Ives, Art Garfunkel and even Bob Dylan – who starred with Rupert Everett in 1987’s lamentable Hearts of Fire.