Don’t let the ghastly title—or the equally terrible American-release poster—give you the wrong impression about this Italian sex comedy, which features American star Ernest Borgnine in a supporting role. The original title translates to Christmas Time in a Brothel, an improvement, and the alternate US moniker, best of all, is Love By Appointment. To muddy the waters even more, it’s a stretch to call this movie, by any name, a comedy. It’s more of a sad character study executed with a light touch—and, naturally, a fair amount of sex. After all, French beauty Corinne Cléry, who costars, rarely managed to stay dressed in her ’70s movies, and Holiday Hookers is no exception. Summarizing, Holiday Hookers isn’t the sleazy enterprise one might expect, and yet it’s also not entirely respectable. Confused? Welcome to the club.
The picture revolves around Nira (Françoise Fabian), an aging madam who runs a high-class brothel out of her luxury apartment. After years of serving a selective and wealthy clientele, Nira plans to leave the business because her lover is about to be released from prison, and she hopes to begin a quiet new life with him. But bills must be paid in the meantime, so Nira manages a few girls and sets her eyes on a neighbor, beautiful young mother Senine (Cléry), as a possible new recruit. Then things get complicated. Longtime client Max (Borgnine) has a coronary while he’s with one of Nira’s girls and develops a fixation on the uninterested prostitute after he recovers. Another client gets hooked on Roxy (Norma Jordan), who works for kicks instead of pay—on the condition she never sees the same client twice. And then there’s the Senine problem. After wooing her neighbor into the sex trade, Nira grows frustrated when Senine becomes addicted to big money and sexual power.
Directed by Armando Nannuzzi, an award-winning cinematographer who only helmed two films, Holiday Hookers reflects conflicting impulses. The lurid subject matter and plentiful nude scenes nearly quality Holiday Hookers as an exploitation flick, but few exploitation flicks are this careful and sensitive about characterization. We get to know the people in this movie fairly well, and we even grow to care about some of them. For example, Borgnine poignantly sketches a lonely businessman, and Fabian effectively illustrates the way Nira’s life is built on self-delusion. Plus there’s the downbeat ending, which lands thematically instead of merely delivering a shock. This is far from the deepest story ever told about the oldest profession, but the picture has just enough soul (and sauciness) to reward a casual viewing.
Holiday Hookers: FUNKY