Written by: George Pacheco on December 5th, 2013
Theatrical Release Dates: USA, 1964 (Fanny Hill), USA, 1967 (The Phantom Gunslinger)
Directors: Russ Meyer (Fanny Hill), Albert Zugsmith (The Phantom Gunslinger)
Writers: Robert Hill (Fanny Hill), Blair Robertson, Albert Zugsmith (The Phantom Gunslinger)
Cast: Letícia Román, Miriam Hopkins, Ulli Lommel, Chris Howland, Helmut Weiss, Alexander D’Arcy, Karin Evans, Christiane Schmidtmer, Hilde Sessak, Walter Giller (Fanny Hill), Troy Donahue, Sabrina, Elizabeth Campbell, Emilio Fernández, Carlos Rivas, Germán Robles, Pedro Armendáriz Jr.
DVD Release Date: December 10th, 2013
Approximate running times: 104 minutes (Fanny Hill), 99 minutes (The Phantom Gunslinger)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (Both Films)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono (Both Films)
DVD Release: Vinegar Syndrome
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $28.98
This pairing of films from post-Beat Generation film producer, writer and director Albert Zugsmith is a strange one, indeed, combining an early period piece from legendary filmmaker Russ Meyer with one of Zugsmith’s own, late period directorial efforts, a slapstick play on traditional western styles.
Meyer’s take on the John Cleland novel of the same name sees the titular character of Fanny Hill as she makes her way through 18th Century London town, eventually ending up as a chambermaid within the brothel of a Mrs. Brown, played by Miriam Hopkins.
Italian actress Leticia Roman brings with her all of the beauty and grace she carried on the set of director Mario Bava’s proto-giallo The Girl Who Knew Too Much just a year prior, yet even Roman’s screen stealing presence isn’t enough to lift up Fanny Hill from its position as a transitional Meyer film, one not far enough removed from the director’s vapid “nudie cutie” pictures to set itself up as a comparison piece to Meyer’s definitive work in the mid-to-late sixties.
The dialogue and delivery here doesn’t possess enough of the schizophrenic charm which would define the auteur’s traditional approach to filmmaking in years to come-despite the film having been released the same year as Meyer’s early hit Lorna- perhaps serving as a sign that Meyer should’ve been more involved with the script. Still, the black and white photography is stellar, particularly on Vinegar Syndrome’s DVD and Blu-Ray, making Fanny Hill an interesting curiosity piece for Russ Meyer fans, but offering little in the way of repeat viewings.
Albert Zugsmith’s The Phantom Gunslinger fares a little better at first, yet quickly runs out of creative steam, thanks to an exhausting reliance upon well-worn slapstick cliches to set across the film’s satirical nature. At first, the idea of Zugsmith’s knowing nod to classic western film cliches is humorous as the script introduces a town full of caricatures who fall victim to a gang of seven villainous gunslingers. Stereotypes of the cowardly sheriff, Indian chief and fancy ladies of the evening abound, even as the audience is introduced to Philip K. Phillips, a seminary school graduate who is placed in the de facto position as sheriff/hero.
Troy Donahue plays this role with an identifiable warmth which resonates from the screen, yet the lame jokes and sight gags quickly grow tired, hampered by a soundtrack which sounds ripped straight from a Loony Tunes short. The surrealistic elements-namely when Donahue is repeatedly killed and sent to heaven-are interesting and unique when they do appear later in the film, but they simply aren’t enough from keeping The Phantom Gunslinger from being a challenging film to sit down and finish from first frame to last.
As usual, the restoration job here from Vinegar Syndrome is beyond reproach, with The Phantom Gunslinger looking the best out of the bunch. Fanny Hill starts off with a little damage on the title screen, yet quickly redeems itself with a stunning black and white transfer. Meanwhile, the colors for Gunslinger pop surprisingly well in high definition, especially when considering the age and rarity of the print.
Extras include a featurette with Fanny Hill star and Boogeyman director Ulli Lommel and a video interview with film historian Eric Schaefer, as well as reversible cover art for this three disc set. Vinegar Syndrome once again impresses with their dedication to film preservation here, saving a startling amount of pictures which, under any other circumstances, would have most certainly been lost. Vinegar Syndrome’s work here for the actual release here is worthy of praise, regardless of the fact that the films themselves, quite frankly…aren’t very good.
NOTE: screen caps here are taken from the DVD discs of the set.