Thursday, December 19, 2013

Fanny Hill / The Phantom Gunslinger (Blu-ray Review) - Vinegar Syndrome

USA/1964, 1967
Directed By: Russ Meyer, Albert Zugsmith
Written By: John Cleland, Robert Hill, Blair Robertson, Albert Zugsmith
Starring: Leticia Roman, Ulli Lommel, Miriam Hopkins, Troy Donahue, Sabrina
B&W, Color/203 Minutes/Not Rated

The Films
Russ Meyer is best known for his love of women, more specifically, beautiful, big breasted women. He wasn't shy about it. He put them front and center of his films making them the stars. Whether it was a comedy, or a piece of exploitation he is known for his love of women and their boobies, without being a misogynist. FANNY HILL features some beautiful women, but this period comedy is a bit different than the likes of Supervixens and Faster Pussycat Kill Kill.

FANNY HILL is the story of a cute, shy girl named Fanny who has moved to the city from her country upbringing looking for employment. It doesn't take long for us to realize how naive this girl is. She seeks work and lodging at the local brothel where the den mother gets the idea that she can make a fortune off this fresh, untouched beauty. What ensues is a series of pretty damn funny slapstick, innuendo filled fun, while Fanny grows up and finds her true love. If nothing else FANNY HILL shows how good of a director Russ Meyer truly was. The sleepwalking chase scene is fantastic, as is Fanny's back and forth with an equally shy man who is looking for a women to sleep with that understands him. Beyond Meyer's direction, the performances are damn good, never crossing the line to being hammy or over the top which is incredibly easy when dealing with content and style such as this. This is a great little film that I'm amazed found its way to Blu-ray considering the strangle hold the Russ Meyer estate has over his films since his death. It is a crime, and while I can't say whether this film was part of the estate or not it is great to have some Russ Meyer material in HD.

If there is one thing in the world of film that I absolutely cannot stand it is hokey comedy westerns. I was never a fan of the western genre until I discovered the Italian productions that made the movies dirty, gritty and violent. There were no singing cowboys (which is the only thing this film is missing), there was no "injins" and there was no John Wayne. Oh how I hate John Wayne. THE PHANTOM GUNSLINGER is pretty much everything I hate about the old American western wrapped up into a single package. There are the slow talking natives, the slapstick comedy routines (over and over and over) the jail with rubber bars, nonsensical and outlandish fight scenes, and an overall feeling of "try-hard" (if you don't know what that means, look it up). There were 2 things I got a laugh at, the banker character who is a caricature of Hitler (I'm a sucker for making fun of Hitler with random characters in films) and in that same scene a flask the size of a grown man's torso. I can handle a small dose of comedy in my westerns, the Euro westerns of the 70s did this and kept the movies quality. I cannot take heavy doses of ham fisted cornball writing. It is entirely possible if you're open to totally off the wall slapstick comedies that you'll enjoy this, I certainly see how one would. For me however, it is an attempt at a comedic western and that is something I just do not enjoy.

The Audio & Video
FANNY HILL's black and white photography shines on this Blu-ray presentation from Vinegar Syndrome. The 1.85:1 widescreen transfer looks great with excellent levels of detail in skin and textures along with deep, stable black levels. The audio is free of any background noise or popping, crackling or otherwise intrusive annoyances. 

For as much as I didn't care for the film, THE PHANTOM GUNSLINGER looks fucking fantastic. The transfer keeps the integrity of the movie's shot on film look with a natural grain structure. It has been cleaned up a bit it seems but the image is far from waxy or overdone. This is a colorful film and the colors really pop. Whites never burn too hot and black levels are deep. If all westerns on Blu-ray looked this good we'd be in good shape. The DTS HD mono track sounds great. It comes across loud and clear without a trace of background noise. All of the bonks and bops of the fight scenes are pleasing on the ears.

The Extras
Bonus features on this 3 disc set include:
-"The Zugsmith Connection": featurette with FANNY HILL star Ulli Lommel
-Video interview with film historian Eric Schaefer
-Reversible cover art for THE PHANTOM GUNSLINGER
-DVD copies of each film

The Bottom Line
Vinegar Syndrome has brought this pair of Albert Zugsmith productions together in a near pristine Blu-ray release. Perhaps more importantly is the fact that we get to see some of Russ Meyer's work in HD, something I wasn't expecting anytime soon. Despite my personal distaste for the 2nd film on the double feature, the very high overall quality of this release, and the quirky charm of FANNY HILL make this disc highly recommended. 


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