“Fanny Hill” (1964) with “The Phantom Gunslinger” (1967)
Director(s): Russ Meyer / Albert Zugsmith
Starring: Letícia Román, Miriam Hopkins & Ulli Lommel / Troy Donahue, Sabrina & Germán Robles
Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Vinegar Syndrome continues their mission of saving and preserving lost film oddities with this latest Blu-ray release of two strange and unlikely executions in exploitation. Director Russ Meyer, (“Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!”) and Producer Albert Zugsmith (“Touch of Evil”, “The Incredible Shrinking Man”) team up for a hilarious interpretation of the erotic literary classic “Fanny Hill”. Beautiful women and black & white photography make for a truly unusual experience in this blending of low-brow laughs pitted against high-brow settings. Next up, Zugsmith takes up directing duties on “The Phantom Gunslinger”, an ever odder film of slapstick comedy set in the Wild West. Restored and presented uncut for the first time, will this unique pairing of films produced by two cult icons earn a spot on your shelf? Let’s dive right in, shall we…
Set in pre-Victorian London, “Fanny Hill” tells the story of a young girl who finds herself taken in by a madame at one of the city’s most popular brothels. Surrounded by a household of buxom beauties, the young girl’s innocence and sheer ignorance blind her from realizing where she actually resides resulting in hilarious hijinks. Italian bombshell Letícia Román stars as “Fanny Hill” with Miriam Hopkins (“Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”) and Ulli Lommel (“Blank Generation”) co-starring. In addition, Albert Zugsmith takes over directing duties on “The Phantom Gunslinger” which stars Troy Donohue (“The Godfather: Part II”) as “Phil P. Phillips”, fresh out of divinity school and living in the city of Yucca Flats. Trouble strikes as a ruthless gang of seven criminals take the town hostage with “Phil” as their only hope.
When the name Russ Meyer is spoken, images of big-breasted women immediately take shape in your mind. Meyer helped catapult the “nudie-cutie” subgenre into a profitable business where females made great use of some of their more “notable” assets. Teaming up with Producer Albert Zugsmith, Meyer headed to Germany to helm a sexy re-telling of the iconic “Fanny Hill” tale. The lavish costume designs and upscale set decoration make the film feel extremely classy and authentic to its time period. Letícia Román shines as the gorgeous albeit ignorant “Fanny Hill”, her inability to understand she has been taken in by a whorehouse gives the film all the hilarity it needs. Román is surrounded by no shortage of beautiful actress’ which should come as no surprise for a Meyer film. The women are all strikingly beautiful and manage to only tease the viewer without revealing any true skin. Apparently, Meyer and Zugsmith butted heads immensely during production as Meyer demanded the film to be more sexy while Zugsmith insisted on more comedy. The friction between the two men could explain for “Fanny Hill” being more tame compared to Meyer’s other film efforts. That said, “Fanny Hill” makes great use of comedic situations that involve a man pretending to sleepwalk in order to seduce “Fanny” while a hilarious chase ensues around the bedroom. In addition, a communication breakdown occurs when a would-be john walks into a female hat shop inquiring with “Fanny” about her “products”. One might assume that “Fanny’s” ignorance might run its course prematurely and sour the remainder of the film but interestingly enough, it does not. Román’s lovely performance makes the film a breeze to view and the comedic situations she finds herself in are quite effective. While some may not find this film as tantalizing as Meyer’s other efforts, I found “Fanny Hill” to be a very tasteful and humorous period-piece. The cinematography as well as the costume designs make the film far more high-class than one would imagine a film bearing Meyer’s or Zugsmith’s name on it would be. The film could have afforded to shave a good 10 minutes or so from its runtime but nonetheless “Fanny Hill” is a fun retelling of a classic story that manages to be just as sexy as it is funny.
Next up, Albert Zugsmith takes over directing duties on “The Phantom Gunslinger”, an odd blend of slapstick comedy and self-aware parody of westerns. Troy Donohue stars as a would be preacher fresh out of divinity school who arrives in the frontier town of Yucca Flats. It doesn’t take long before a gang of seven criminals arrive and take the town hostage with the bumbling Donohue as the residents’ only hope. When viewing the film, one can only assume that Zugsmith wished he could have been directing Charlie Chaplin or The Three Stooges. Over the top slapstick gags are found at every turn and while initially the humor is fun, it runs its course far too quickly. Gags and dialogue are recycled in hopes that what worked earlier in the film will pack another punch. Unfortunately, a rolling of the eyes and a look at your watch is all that will come of this. On a positive note, the colorful costumes are quite a sight to see as well as the usage of the small but effective sets the film was shot on. Donohue does what’s expected of him but after his character is shot in the head (for the first but far from the last time) and whisked away to heaven, the film really starts to grow tiresome. It’s hard to understand exactly what Zugsmith was trying to achieve with “The Phantom Gunslinger” but it was pleasing to see a director so tickled by slapstick humor. The characters are far from interesting but all manage to get in on the physical hijinks which involve pies to the face and even broom fights. If the film was a little more polished and focused, “The Phantom Gunslinger” could have achieved to be a little better than decent. Unfortunately, only so many pies to the face and turkey legs used as handguns can go so far, “The Phantom Gunslinger” is not a terrible film but not necessarily a great one either. At best, the film is a curious novelty from a director who was still trying to get his rocks off with slapstick so late in the 1960s.
Vinegar Syndrome has restored “Fanny Hill” in 2K from original 35mm camera negatives and presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio with the results looking gorgeous! The black and white photography shines with detail looking nice especially in the many close-ups found in the film. A modest, practically insignificant, amount of scratches are found early on in the film before dropping off, never to appear again. Exterior shots appear slightly softer, while natural looking, they seem to be attributed to a lack of controlled lighting than anything else. A healthy layer of grain is intact the entire runtime and looks just marvelous. This has to be one of Vinegar Syndrome’s cleanest and most well presented films to date! Bravo!
“The Phantom Gunslinger” has also been restored in 2K from original 35mm camera negatives and presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio with results shining as well. The opening title sequence sees a light case of scratches and flakes but once the actual film begins, the print stabilizes to a wonderful clean appearance. Colors pop beautifully especially in the costume designs with skin tones looking natural and clean. Donohue’s blonde hair and blue eyes practically jump off the screen. For a nearly lost film, the original elements were kept in terrific shape and Vinegar Syndrome’s restoration is top quality.
“Fanny Hill” comes equipped with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix that is clean as can be. One noticeable drop in audio was caught in the film’s final act but only lasted for a second. The rest of the film’s dialogue comes across clearly with no hissing or pops heard on the track. A terrific audio mix that goes along nicely with a superb video presentation.
“The Phantom Gunslinger” is also presented with a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mix that presents its dialogue clearly with no distortion and a score that is loud and robust that makes great use of a round bass sound. No distracting pops were caught on the film’s track which makes for an even better listening experience.
Vinegar Syndrome presents this combo pack with a Blu-ray that holds both films as well as two DVDs. The first DVD presents “Fanny Hill” while the second holds “The Phantom Gunslinger” and all the bonus feature content.
- “The Zugsmith Connection with Ulli Lomell”: This 10-minute featurette interviews “Fanny Hill” co-star Ulli Lomell discussing his work with Russ Meyer and Albert Zugsmith as well as how he landed the role in the film. The interview comes equipped with hilarious inserts of Lomell exercising in a park.
- Interview with Film Historian Eric Schaefer: This impressive 20-minute interview with Film Historian Eric Schaefer is incredibly informative as Schaefer discusses the evolution of the “nudie-cutie” genre, Russ Meyer’s career, Meyer and Zugsmith’s headbutts on the set of “Fanny Hill” and more. Pixelation plagues Schaefer’s face throughout the entire interview but regardless, this is a fantastic featurette that contributes a very scholarly approach to the subject material.
- Reversible cover
Vinegar Syndrome’s latest release of “Fanny Hill” with “The Phantom Gunslinger” is a strange pairing of two films that were close to being virtually lost. “Fanny Hill” is a fun experiment in taking a risque literary classic and making it a sexy and hilarious cinematic effort. While, Meyer and Zugsmith both practically disowned the film in later years, it’s still interesting to see what brought two acclaimed talents like them together for such an unusual project. “The Phantom Gunslinger” played to the slapstick crowd in an obvious parody of the Wild West with minimal results. The recycling of gags and physical humor wore out their welcome and the less than focused direction made this one a struggle to get through by its finale. Fortunately, Vinegar Syndrome has presented both these films in quite possibly the best presentation they are sure to see matched with terrific audio mixes and a small but incredibly rewarding selection of special features in the form of Film Historian Eric Schafer’s interview. For those that can’t get enough of discovering lost cinema, look no further than Vinegar Syndrome’s release of “Fanny Hill” with “The Phantom Gunslinger”.