• Fanny Hill/The Phantom Gunslinger



    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: December 10th, 2013.
    Director: Russ Meyer, Albert Zugsmith
    Cast: Troy Donahue, Ulli Lomell, Miriam Hopkins, Sabrina, Laticia Roman
    Year: 1964/1967
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    The Movie:

    Vinegar Syndrome continues to dive deep into the vaults and release genuine cinematic oddities across different genres. This latest release pairs up two Albert Zugsmith productions, the first directed by none other than Russ Meyer and the second by Zugsmith himself. Here’s a look…

    FANNY HILL:

    One of the few films Meyer directed not controlled by his estate (hence why it’s actually been released in great shape on Blu-ray), 1964’s Fanny Hill tells the story of a beautiful, curvy orphan named, maybe not so surprisingly, Fanny Hill (Leticia Roman). Left on her own in the London of the 1700s, she loses what little money she has to a con artist and needs to find a way to support herself. When by chance she’s spotted by Mrs. Maude Brown (Miriam Hopkins) she’s hired for a menial job delivering hats, completely unaware that Brown hopes to soon turn her into a prostitute at the brothel she runs in town.

    With Brown satisfied as to Fanny’s abilities to bring in some business, she sets about arranging appointments for her customers to visit but Fanny, far from the sharpest knife in the drawer, has a strange knack for slipping up and subsequently getting out of whatever precarious situations her gentleman callers had hoped to get her into. Eventually Fanny falls in love with a young man named Charles (Ulli Lommel) and they quickly make plans to wed, a plan that Maude quickly decides she shall stop in hopes of making some sort of return on her investment but Charles is persistent. Will love triumph over commerce? Will Fanny eventually figure out that all of these ‘cousins’ of Maude’s are actually customers or whores? What’s up with the midget?

    Based on the infamous novel written in 1748 by John Cleland, Fanny Hill shows us the directorial efforts of a Russ Meyer still trying to find his voice. There are the seeds of what would come sewn throughout the movie, plenty of beautiful women with large breasts in revealing clothing being the most obvious example, but those expecting anything near what Sharon Kelly described as ‘Russ’ misogynistic tit floggers’ will be taken aback. This is basically a bawdy comedy with plenty of sexual wink-wink-nudge-nudge style shenanigans but very little in the type of exploitative insanity that became a hallmark of Meyer’s self-produced features. It’s interesting to get the chance to check out one of his earlier features, however, especially on this Blu-ray which is probably the closest we’re ever going to get to a theatrical presentation unless some revival screenings take place.

    As to the merits of the movie itself, in typical Meyer fashion it’s nicely shot and puts a lot of emphasis on the various assets of the actresses cast as the different prostitutes featured in the movie. Ms. Roman is quite an eyeful, a beautiful woman with plenty of sex appeal who plays her ridiculously naïve character quite well. Uli Lomell is also fun as the male lead and Miriam Hopkins as the increasingly frustrated madam who takes Fanny into her fold is also pretty enjoyable.

    It’s interesting to wonder what could have been with this one. Zugsmith’s influence is all over the picture, and as such, the emphasis is on comedy over sexuality, whereas Meyer notoriously wanted to take this picture in a much more explicit direction. That didn’t happen and so here we see Meyer at his most restrained, confined to the whims of his producer and churning out a movie that never quite hits the heights of excess that it seems like it’s heading towards. While Meyer proved with Faster, Pussycat… Kill! Kill! that he could turn out a masterpiece without having to cram his film with nudity, here the picture almost calls for it and yet, because of Zugsmith’s insistence that the film stay a comedy, we get nary a second of bare flesh – a rarity in Meyer’s output to be sure. As it stands, however, Fanny Hill is an amusing enough comedy. Meyer’s involvement mandates that the picture has quite a bit of cult appeal but beyond that there’s some funny dialogue, an interesting cast, decent production values and costuming and some great camerawork. Not the picture Meyer went down in history for, not even close really, but amusing enough in its own right.

    THE PHANTOM GUNSLINGER:

    Next up is a film directed by Zugsmith himself, 1967’s The Phantom Gunslinger. It too is an odd comedy, one that takes place in the town of Yucca Flats where a gang of bandits dubbed The Terrible Seven (they’re kinda like The Magnificent Seven, except more terrible) ride into town with mischief on their minds. Lead by Big Sam (Carlos Rivas), they do what good bandits do when they ride into town – the make things bad for the townsfolk by robbing and stealing and just more or less making everything a hassle.

    Enter a seminary student named Philip P. Phillips (Troy Donahue). He’s appointed impromptu town sheriff and, without any idea of how to deal with this problem, sets out to see that justice is served and is promptly killed by the bad guys. The movie doesn’t end there, obviously, as Phillips winds up getting into it with Saint Peter, who sends him back down to Earth to finish the job. So Phillips, now resurrected, once again sets out to take down the bad guys and is once again, promptly killed by them. Phil isn’t about to take this lying down though, and before you know it he’s back again, more determined than ever to win the day.

    The Phantom Gunslinger is a really strange movie. It’s not particularly funny, but it is frequently surreal. It’s obviously made fast and cheap but it’s got some creative costumes and decent location shooting. The movie deals in ridiculous racial stereotypes and loads of western movie clichés, and at the same time there’s no other movie like it. This is Zugsmith at his most absurd, though the picture is, to its credit, pretty entertaining stuff. Everyone in the cast overdoes it, be it Donahue trying to take down the bad guys with Bible quotes or Rivas running around trying to kill him over and over again, there’s no such thing as subtlety as far as this movie goes. The script goes in all manner of different directions, occasionally conjuring up some interesting atmosphere and showing off some impressive art direction but more often than that resorting to terrible slapstick antics – the best example being a scene in which a character is chased around town by a flying frying pan. This is goofy stuff, it overstays its welcome by quite a margin and at ninety minutes if feels about an hour longer than it should be but at the same time, it’s hard to turn away. I guess that’s sort of a recommendation.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Both films in this set are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Fanny Hill is a black and white picture and it looks excellent on Blu-ray. Contrast is dead on and the image is clean and detailed without looking processed or artificially tinkered with. There is some minor print damage but black levels look good, whites are bright without blooming or looking too hot, while detail and texture impress throughout. The color transfer for The Phantom Gunslinger is also very impressive, showing a few specks here and there and some scratches now and then but otherwise looking very clean and showing nice color reproduction. The movie uses a lot of garish color combinations and that comes through nicely in this transfer. Again, detail and texture are very good and skin tones look lifelike and natural. Both films have been transferred from their original 35mm negatives in 2K and they really look fantastic here.

    The English language DTS-HD Mono tracks that accompany each feature are also treated well. Range is a little limited, which isn’t surprising given the age and budgets of these films, but there’s more depth to the single channel mixes than you might expect. Levels are properly balanced throughout each movie and although there are a few spots where you might hear some crackle now and then, overall they sound just fine.

    The first extra for this release is a twelve minute featurette entitled The Zugsmith Connection which is an interview with the star of Fanny Hill, actor Ulli Lomell. With plenty of enthusiasm Lomell relates what it was like working on the picture, with Meyer wanting to take the movie into a more ‘adult’ direction than the comedy that producer Zugsmith had in mind for the film. He also talks about what it was like on set, some of the tension that existed during the shoot, what it was like shooting the sex scenes and more. He also shares some other amusing stories and anecdotes from other aspects of his career. He makes for a pretty great interview subject, be sure to take the time to watch this as it’s a kick.

    This release also includes a twenty-minute interview with Film Historian Eric Schaefer in which he talks about the tempestuous working relationship that existed between Meyer and Zugsmith when they worked on Fanny Hill together and how after their split Zugsmith’s comedy films went in different directions. It’s a pretty factual and informative history lesson from Schaefer, who teaches film studies at Emerson College, and a good addition to the disc.

    As this is a combo pack release, a DVD version of each movie is also included. All of the extras discussed above are included on DVD version of The Phantom Gunslinger. Static menus and chapter selection are included for all three discs. Reversible cover art is also included, the first side showcasing Fanny Hill and the second putting The Phantom Gunslinger up front.

    The Final Word:

    Vinegar Syndrome’s double feature Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack release of Fanny Hill and The Phantom Gunslinger pairs together two obscure goofball comedies for the first time and presents them in excellent condition and with a couple of decent extra features as well. Fanny Hill isn’t on par with the films that Meyer is best remembered for but it’s an amusing enough sex laced period piece while The Phantom Gunslinger is completely bizarre and somehow strangely compelling.
    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!