MPI // 1976 // 150 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Pope (Retired) // February 9th, 2007
A song-filled delight with Dolly and her superstar guests!
Decked out in the most God-awful gowns and her trademark blonde wigs, country queen Dolly Parton descends from the rafters on a red velvet swing to the folksy strains of her "Love is Like a Butterfly." That's how her 1976 half-hour variety show, Dolly, opened each week, and while Parton was barely on the cusp of superstardom when it debuted, she was already well on her way to becoming a regular on the drag circuit. Country queen, indeed.
Dolly Parton & Friends, a collection of episodes from the short-lived show -- which should not be confused with her 1987 short-lived variety show, also called Dolly -- is worth watching if for no other reason than it confirms what we've suspected all along. Parton is the same person today that she was back then: exuberant, generous and genuine. She is one of the greatest entertainers to emerge in the last 40 years and, without question, a national treasure. She also has that one-of-a-kind giggle.
Parton's giggle gets a good workout on Dolly, but not her wit and intelligence. The show is a ridiculously cheesy endeavor that depends almost entirely on Parton's special, homespun magic, and it's no small testament to her talent and professionalism that she grins and bears each episode despite rumors that she was unhappy with certain aspects of the production.
I'm willing to forgive Dolly for being a product of its time, full of soft-focus lighting, Vaseline effects, superimposed images and that kitschiest of '70s throwbacks, "Feelings." Less forgivable is the show's insistence on sticking Parton in half-baked skits (she plays Lucy to poet/songwriter Rod McKuen's Charlie Brown) and song setups that are either woefully misguided (performing "Me and Little Andy" as a bedtime story for a group of preschoolers) or downright embarrassing (singing "My Funny Valentine" to a dog). Attempts at humor also fall flat, from Anne Murray showing off her disappearing act to Kenny Rogers knocking on the inside of a wooden crate while Parton sings "Knock Three Times."
If only director Bill Turner had trusted Dolly enough to let her do what she does best, and that's be herself. The show works like gangbusters when she's sitting on a step strumming her guitar with old pals (and future Trio collaborators) Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. Neither Ronstadt nor Harris looks particularly at ease in front of the camera, but Parton steers them around the curves. Besides, they're wonderful when they sing. So are Ronnie Milsap, Murray and Rogers (who shines with a fantastic gospel medley). And Parton is more than generous when it comes to sharing the spotlight.
The show was filmed in Nashville, giving Parton the opportunity to take viewers on a tour of the venues she used to play. One segment shows her in a club singing the hit "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind," first at regular tempo, then again at high-speed. Pointless? Of course. But it's fun.
For the record, the program contains exactly one joke regarding Parton's ample bosom. It's made by her younger brother, Randy. Eww.
The two-disc Dolly Parton & Friends contains six 22-minute episodes of Dolly and two bonus songs from appearances Parton made on The Porter Wagoner Show in 1969 and 1971. The full-frame presentation is surprisingly strong, given the show's age, and the Dolby 2.0 mono soundtrack is sufficient, if unspectacular. English subtitles are included.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 150 Minutes
Release Year: 1976
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus songs