The Boob Tube: Fanny Hill (1964) + The Phantom Gunslinger (1970)

Fanny Hill

Young Fanny Hill (Italian beauty Leticia Roman) is now an orphan and must try to survive on her own in 18th century London.  Innocent, naive, blonde, fair of skin and full of figure, Fanny quickly finds herself taken advantage of when she loses her money to a con artist.  Broke and out of options she tries to find employ at an agency when Mrs. Maude Brown (Miriam Hopkins) strolls in looking for a new footman.  She is taken by Fanny’s beauty and hires her on, or takes her in, as Fanny sees it and does not know why but chalks it up to good luck.  She doesn’t realize that she has been taken in by a high class madam for grooming to be one of her girls.  As a matter of fact she doesn’t realize it for the duration of the picture as Fanny plays the part of a busty buffoon.  Her innocence leads to her slapsticking her way out of every potential rendezvous as Mrs. Brown tries to figure out how to get the most out of her investment.  The out-call part of her operation is a flimsy front of a hat shop with only as many hats as there are girls.  Fanny sits at the cash desk and is amazed by the number of men who buy hats for their wives and the frequency with which they do so… Fanny falls in love with a young ensign named Charles (Ulli Lommel) and the two quickly plan to marry.  This adds more to the never ending problems she has with young Fanny and she tries to stop the marriage through deceit.  Likewise she tries to get Fanny with one of her “cousins,” as all the johns are cousins and all the girls are cousins.  Fanny just assumes Mrs. Brown has a huge family.  Eventually Charles attempts to win Fanny back in a high energy climax full of prat falls, sailors, and little people.

This film is the product of two minds at odds and as a result it seems at times to be more Benny Hill than FANNY HILL.  Director Russ Meyer (yes…that one) wanted to make his interpretation of the novel as a Russ Meyer movie ie. a classy period sex piece with all kinds of costumes and sets.  Producer Albert Zugsmith wanted to make a raucous comedy.  So we get busty beauties with heaving breasts in corsets and dresses showing as little skin as possible on some fantastic sets.  I would have preferred seeing some of the lovely ladies’ sets as well but that is not meant to be.  The film was filmed in Germany and the set design is on par with the best of that time.  The acting isn’t that bad with Roman and Hopkins showing the most depth of character.  The girls’ performances are mixed but in reality they are supposed to be merely set decoration for Fanny and Maude to play off.  It’s an amusing flick though underwhelming if you are expecting a Russ Meyers original.  It is the first of his works to bust it’s way onto blu-ray, pun intended.  Hopefully the rest of the Meyers catalog will find its way into more agreeable hands and we will get some nice releases in the future.

The Phantom Gunslinger

It is hard to even begin to describe THE PHANTOM GUNSLINGER.  From the slobbering and lisping voice over introduction to the immediate over use of props and heavy handed visual comedy (Indians are funny…right?) it seemed like it would be a long slog.  The bad guys known as the Terrible Seven ride into Yucca Flats and begin to raise hell after taking over the city.  Worry not though for there are no people here just facsimiles thereof.  As the townsfolk and the gang are introduced it becomes apparent that the film is populated by caricatures rather than characters.  One of the more egregious being a German banker with a small mustache armed with a Ruger (because Hitler’s funny…right?).  Seminary student Philip P. Phillips (Troy Donahue) finds himself suddenly made sheriff of Yucca Flats and lacking any skills whatsoever finds himself dead in about forty minutes time.  He argues with St. Peter (who has a powerful Irish brogue) and is sent back down to wake up in his coffin to get killed again.  Repeat.  The movie tries to be funny.  It tries real hard.  It is directed by Albert Zugsmith after all.

The gags go on entirely too long and some of the running jokes run the duration of the film.  Take for example ten minutes of Big Sam (Carlos Rivas) as eats and drinks sloppily and voraciously.  Still not enough?  Don’t worry, he lugs around a turkey leg and points it like a gun for much of the movie.  If you love madcap and could sit through an hour and forty minutes of Keystone Kops capers then this may be the flick for you. The lack of subtlety in the ham handed antics and the lack of any kind of message of real value make THE PHANTOM GUNSLINGER a hollow affair. 

The Vinegar Syndrome release of FANNY HILL and THE PHANTOM GUNSLINGER looks fantastic with the usual quality that has come to be expected of the company.  High quality unprocessed restorations with good sound.  The set has some special features including a featurette with Ulli Lomell from FANNY HILL, an interview with film historian Eric Schaefer, and it includes a reversible cover for THE PHANTOM GUNSLINGER.  The blu-ray is an all region disc with both films, a DVD with Fanny Hill and a DVD with THE PHANTOM GUNSLINGER and the special features.  The DVDs are also all region discs.  Street date is 12/10. Check out the trailer below: