Thursday, March 4, 2021

From here to obscurity: silent film comedian Monty Banks and composer Moritz Moszkowski

A poster for 'Flying Luck' (1927), to be screened with live music on Thursday, March 4 at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center.

Coming up tonight: I'm doing live music for two films starring forgotten 1920s comic star Monty Banks. They're both transportation related (hence the title "Planes and Trains and Monty Banks") and the fun begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center. 

More details in the press release below. But to put the work of silent film comedian Monty Banks into perspective, indulge me in a little exercise in musical comparison.

For better or worse, for a long time now the concert hall has been dominated by the "three B's," meaning Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. Their music gets played all the time, and mostly because it's really good stuff. 

But what about the many composers who wrote music that never gets played? Their numbers are legion, but one comes to mind: Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925), who often shows up on lists of "most neglected composers."(Here's one example.)

I have a soft spot for Moszkowski (left) because I've had a book of his "Spanish Dances" arranged for four hands that's been kicking around my piano bench since high school. At the time, I was trying valiantly to play the lower "No. 2" part while my brilliant classmate Jared Holland sailed through the flashy upper "No. 1" part. 

Back home after our first year in college, Jared gave me the book, inscribing it memorably: "Always remember, never forget!" I also noted that the day (May 25, 1983) marked the release of 'Return of the Jedi,' which is funny because Jared actually went by "Jed." But I digress. 

I still look through the Spanish Dances, and it's really good stuff—at least equal to a lot of better-known 19th century music. And there's so much else, such as his acclaimed Piano Concerto. So why doesn't Moszkowski get more air time?

Which brings us to silent film comedian Monty Banks. 

Whoa! "Abrupt Transition City, all change." But the same dynamic seems to apply here: in silent film, the "Big Three" get screened all the time, while the work of others languishes. 

Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd continue to be shown and known and loved the world over. But Banks? Monty who?

Maybe we should chalk it up to human nature. We love hierarchies, and the "rule of three" seems to be a convenient way of organizing and categorizing things. Maybe this principle is reflected in how the business world shakes out, too: Ford, GM, and Chrysler, anyone? American, Delta, United?

So Monty Banks (at left) didn't become part of silent film comedy's Big Three. But, like Moszkowski, he still did a lot of great stuff worth rediscovering, and that's what we'll be doing tonight (Thursday, March 4) at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse in Plymouth, N.H.

And like all comedians, Monty Banks requires an audience, and that's where you come in. See you tonight at 6:30 p.m. for a rare look at a once-popular but forgotten comedian. Here's the press release.

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Original promotional art for 'Play Safe' (1927) starring Monty Banks.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'Planes and Trains and Monty Banks' at Flying Monkey on Thursday, March 4

Rediscover forgotten silent film comedian Monty Banks; two vintage movies screened with live music

PLYMOUTH, N.H. — His real name was "Mario Bianchi," but on screen he was "Monty Banks."

But both names are now forgotten, as are the films he starred in during the golden age of silent film comedy.

Rediscover the unique comic style of Monty Banks with a screening of two of his surviving films on Thursday, March 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H.

General admission is $10 per person.

On the bill: an excerpt from 'Play Safe' (1927) featuring a hair-raising rescue aboard an out-of-control train; and the feature film 'Flying Luck' (1927), an aviation comedy inspired by Lindbergh's successful solo flight across the Atlantic earlier that year.

Monty Banks and a young Jean Arthur in 'Flying Luck' (1927).

Both films will be screened with live music by Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist.

At the Flying Monkey, accommodations are in place to keep patrons safe in the Covid-19 era.

Face-coverings are required to enter the theater, and should remain on at all times until movie-goers take their seats. Capacity is limited to 50 percent; audience members are asked to observe social distancing in choosing seats.

Monty Banks was a short, stocky but somehow debonair Italian-born comic actor, later also writer and director.

In the U.S. from 1914, he first appeared on stage in musical comedy and cabaret. By 1917 he was working as a dancer in New York's Dominguez Cafe.

After this he turned to films, acting and doing stunt work at Keystone, Universal and other studios.

Banks appeared in many short comedies until the mid-1920s, when he formed his own production company to make feature films.

Although successful, Banks never achieved the popularity of silent comedy superstars Charles Chaplin, Buster Keaton, or Harold Lloyd.

In the late 1920s, he moved to England; after the transition to talkies, he stopped acting in films and instead concentrated on directing.

Later in life, Banks donated money to build several children's hospitals in his native Italy, which are still operational.

Banks has faded into obscurity in part because most of his starring films are lost or unavailable.

The two films being shown at the Flying Monkey are among the best surviving examples of his work.

Monty Banks prepares to go aloft in 'Flying Luck' (1927).

In featured attraction 'Flying Luck,' (1927), hapless aviator Monty is so inspired by Lindbergh's solo Atlantic flight that he joins the U.S. Army Air Corps, where it's one comical disaster after another.

Co-starring with Banks in 'Flying Luck' is young actress Jean Arthur, who would later appear in 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' (1939) and 'Shane' (1953).

The feature will be preceded by an excerpt from 'Play Safe' (1927), which includes a hair-raising chase sequence set aboard an out-of-control freight train barreling through the California countryside.

"Monty Banks was once a popular star, but that was a long time ago," said Rapsis, who will create live improvised musical accompaniment for both pictures.

"So it's a real treat to screen these films and rediscover a gifted performer and visual comedian with a style uniquely his own."

The feature-length 'Flying Luck' (1927) and an excerpt from 'Play Safe' (1927), both starring Monty Banks, will be shown on Thursday, March 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the Flying Monkey Moviehouse and Performance Center, 39 Main St., Plymouth, N.H. General admission is $10 per person. For more info, visit or call (603) 536-2551.

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