So it occurs to me that we’re well into the “teeth” of this year’s holiday season (Christmas being a scant three days away), and yours truly hasn’t reviewed a single, solitary Christmas-themed flick yet. Let’s do something about that right now, shall we?
I therefore direct your attention, my friends, to the 1976 Italian production Love By Appointment, also known, variously, as Holiday Hookers, Christmas At The Brothel, or, in its native land, Natale In Casa D’Appuntamento, a reasonably ribald tale about a woman named Nira (Francoise Fabian) who runs a high-class escort service fronted by an art gallery (“sales” of “paintings” being code language for “rental” of ladies) but dreams of something more — namely, escaping the lucrative life she’s built for herself and retiring to a cozy country cottage with her dashing, worldly lover. Insert on-again/off-again subplot about a couple of well-to-do American businessmen (Robert Alda and a slumming Ernest Borgnine, who by this point was about as far away from Marty and The Wild Bunch as you can imagine), both of whom are on the hunt for hijinks but one of whom is also on the lookout for true (in Borgnine’s case), frame the whole thing around the holiday season given that Nira would like to turn over this new leaf of hers come the new year, and you’ve pretty much got yourself a movie with a plot thin enough to allow for plenty of filler in the form of gratuitous nudity, simulated lesbian make-out sessions, etc.
There’s just one wrinkle to complicate things — Nira can’t quit being a bitch. She becomes increasingly ruthless toward her stable as the light at the end of her proverbial tunnel gets nearer, forcing many of them to cut and run, and in order to prevent her entire operation from going belly-up before she can head for the exits, she turns to her married neighbor, Senine (Corinne Cleary) to handle her bookings because she just can’t seem to resist fucking everything up if left to her own devices.
All systems go, then, for her to get this new life of hers on schedule, right? Wrong. Because our gal Nira can’t even manage a smooth working relationship with Senine in the few measly weeks she has left. And fate, fickle mistress that she is, has one more out-of-the-blue twist in store before this holiday season has run its course that’s sure to complicate matters even further —
Obviously, this isn’t “gather the whole family ’round” Christmas viewing, but it has to be said that, even for what it is, Love By Appointment is no great shakes, and that’s because Nannuzzi manages to pull of what ought to be a cinematic impossibility — making a movie packed with gorgeous, naked Italian women boring. Seriously, this is a massive snooze-fest. There’s just enough story to get in the way of the sex and just enough sex to make you not give much of a shit about the story. It’s sort of amazing to see him take a premise this “can’t-miss” and somehow — well, miss at every possible turn, but he does. And while that sort of incompetence may be an art from in and of itself, the end result isn’t art that’s worth your time.
We’re all used to flicks of this nature having more sizzle than steak, I suppose, but the simple fact of the matter is that Love By Appointment reverses the equation by having just enough steak but no sizzle whatsoever. The “drama” falls flat, the near-softcore sex is shot in a largely clinical and disinterested (not to mention disinteresting) manner, and the whole thing’s enough to to make you wonder why didn’t just watch some milquetoast holiday movie currently playing on cable instead.
If you absolutely must, though, the fine folks at Code Red have at least done a nice job with the recently-issued DVD of this passion-free turkey. The widescreen transfer looks positively stunning for the most part, the remastered mono sound is crisp and clear, and while extras are scant, the one that is included, an on-camera interview with producer Alfredo Leone, is at least interesting. Perhaps moreso than the film itself.
Final verdict, then — good DVD, bad movie. If you put a roomful of gorgeous Italian ladies together and covince them all to take their clothes off in front of the camera, odds are that, even with no previous film-making experience whatsoever, you’d come up with something more watchable than this. Hmmmm, there’s a fine idea —