You know the famous quote from John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962): “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” The legend goes that up-and-coming movie mirthmaker Mario Bianchi was inspired to adopt the nom de screen of “Monty Banks” (also spelled “Monte Banks”) when the legendary Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, his employer, told him in 1917: “You can't play another 'montebank' [mountebank] with a difficult name like Bianchi!” It makes for an amusing story…except that in a 1918 two-reeler, The Geezer of Berlin, “Banks” was still billed as “Bianchi.” What we can be certain of is that despite his popularity in the 1920s as a comedy star in various shorts and features, Monte’s mostly remembered today (if at all) as the husband of British entertainer Gracie Fields (he directed her in four feature films during the 1930s).
Days of Thrills and Laughter (1961): the laugh-a-minute, thrill-a-second, runaway train climax from his 1927 feature Play Safe. This sequence was later recycled for a two-reeler released that same year entitled Chasing Choo Choos (Play Safe didn’t do well at the box office)—and this engaging short is one of five comedies featured on a new DVD release from Alpha Video, Monty Banks: Hollywood’s Forgotten Comic Genius. Choo Choos is an entertaining cutdown (the eye-popping stunt work is courtesy of Harvey Parry), though to be honest I think you’re better off watching this material in Thrills and Laughter…only because that movie concentrates on nothing but the chase, whereas Choo Choos contains a little bit of the backstory that might be confusing if you’re not familiar with the plot of the full feature.
|Monty Banks in Wedding Bells|
|Banks in The Covered Schooner|
|John Carpenter, Movie Man|
As I was browsing the Internets looking for photos to illustrate this essay, I laughed out loud at some of the search results because a small group of people seem to have confused Monty Banks with Harold Peary, radio’s The Great Gildersleeve—and because I knew you’d be saying right now “Oh, come now, Ian” I grabbed this screen shot for proof:
Yes, that is misidentified at Getty Images. I would expect something like that at eBay or even the (always reliable) IMDb…but Getty?