Friday, July 16, 2021

A thrilling start at the Rex Theatre; bringing Monty Banks to Vermont on Saturday, 7/17

Pre-show remarks at the inaugural silent film program at the Rex Theatre. I look like I'm hosting a beauty pageant. Photo by Tom Murphy.

Last night's inaugural silent film program at the newly renovated Rex Theatre in downtown Manchester was quite the thing. 

The restored theater prove to be a marvelous venue for silent film with live music. And our first outing attracted an audience of well over a hundred people!

Our double bill of Buster Keaton's 'Sherlock Jr.' (1924) and 'Our Hospitality' (1923) met with laughter right at the start, and it never let up. 

 I've done 'Sherlock' dozens of times, and I've never heard such a vocal response to the film's first 10 minutes. And that was nothing compared to the reaction when Buster attempts to "follow his man closely."

For this, I undercut my "Buster detective theme" with a descending bass, played as lightly but as crisply as possible. The result: serious-sounding music that I think worked really well with Buster's comedy.

Most gratifying moment: when Buster casually catches the cigarette that Ward Crane tosses over his shoulder, taking a puff and discarding it, all while never breaking stride, people actually shrieked with delight. 

Oh my god, this is why I do this!

Thanks to everyone at the Rex Theatre for finding a place for silent film with live music on the venue's calendar. We have three more shows scheduled through next year, and if the success of our initial outing is any indication, we're in for a heckuva ride!

Next up: we journey up to Brandon, Vt., where Saturday night brings a "Planes and Trains and Monty Banks" program. Looking forward to the opportunity to uncork some rarely screened vintage comedy in one of my favorite silent film venues.

More details in the press release below. If you're in the area, please join us. And if you're not in the area, there's still time to take the train or the plane, in keeping with the spirit of the program.

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Promotional art for 'Flying Luck' (1927) starring Monty Banks.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

'Planes and Trains and Monty Banks' at Brandon Town Hall on Saturday, July 17

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

BRANDON, Vt. — His real name was "Mario Bianchi," but on screen he was "Monty Banks."

But both names are now forgotten, and so are most of 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 Saturday, July 17 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall, 1 Conant Square, Route 7, Brandon, Vt.

Admission is free; donations are encouraged, with all proceeds supporting ongoing restoration of the Town Hall.

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.

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

The screening is sponsored by Peter and Louise Kelley, Heritage Family Credit Union, John and Lynn Wilson.

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

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

The two films being shown at Brandon Town Hall are among the best surviving examples of his work.

A lobby card for 'Flying Luck' starring Monty Banks.

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."

Emigrating from Italy to the U.S. in 1914, Banks 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 Charlie 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.

Upcoming programs in the Brandon Town Hall silent film series include:

• Saturday, Aug. 7, 7 p.m.: 'Wild Orchids' (1928) starring Greta Garbo. Steamy romantic thriller just in time for the humid doldrums of summer; sponsored by Tracy Holden and Kirk Thomas.

• Saturday, Sept. 18, 7 p.m.: 'Tramp, Tramp, Tramp' (1926) starring Harry Langdon. Rediscover forgotten comedian Harry Langdon in riotous visual comedy about a cross-country foot race; sponsored by Bill and Kathy Mathis in memory of Maxine Thurston.

• Saturday, Oct. 23, 7 p.m.: 'Hunchback of Notre Dame' (1923) starring Lon Chaney. Victor Hugo's classic novel about a deformed bellringer in medieval Paris, filled with classic scenes and capped with a thrilling climax; sponsored by Harold and Jean Somerset, Kathy and Wayne Rausenberger, Pat Hanson, and Brian and Stephanie Jerome.

• Saturday, Nov. 13, 7 p.m.: 'College' (1927) starring Buster Keaton. Head back to school with Buster, a bumbling freshman who discovers sports is the only sure-fire route to popularity; sponsored by Lucy and Dick Rouse, Edward Loedding and Dorothy Leysath, Sam and Sharon Glaser, Peter and Louise Kelley, Bar Harbor Bank and Trust.

The feature-length 'Flying Luck' (1927) and an excerpt from 'Play Safe' (1927), both starring Monty Banks, will be shown on Saturday, July 17 at 7 p.m. at Brandon Town Hall, 1 Conant Square, Route 7, Brandon, Vt.

Admission is free; donations are encouraged, with all proceeds supporting ongoing restoration of the Town Hall.

For more information and the latest updates on Covid-19 safety protocols at the Town Hall, visit

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