Monty Banks in Play Safe - Planes Trains and Automobiles Blogathon


This post is directed to the "trains" portion of the blogathon.

Monty Banks name might be generally unfamiliar to many, I first "met him" by way of Robert Youngson's 1961 compilation film entitled Days of Thrills and Laughter that was a staple on television when I was growing up.  In this film, features like Douglas Fairbanks' Wild and Woolly were trimmed down to essentials and narration was provided to explain the action.  I guess you might say these films by Youngson were my introduction to silent films.  As much as I loved Fairbanks (and I still do), I was really struck by the Monty Banks film, originally entitled Play Safe, later shortened and rerelased as  Chasing Choo Choos.  In fact, I've never forgotten him.

Two-page spread from Film Daily

Monty Banks was, in reality born, Mario Bianchi in Cesena, Italy. He emigrated to the United States. in 1914 and, like his fellow Italian compatriot Rudolph Valentino, started out as a taxi dancer in New York.   He made his way to Hollywood about 1918 and worked with comedians like Roscoe Arbuckle and Lloyd Hamilton before starting to make short films in which he was the leading player.  Reportedly he was also a stunt man.  To be totally honest, the Silent Comedy Mafia would probably take me for a ride, I know so little about Banks and here I am attempting writing about him.

Trade-Advert for Play Safe

Play Safe falls on the later end of Banks' career, released in 1927.  It was, in short, something of a flop.  Photoplay Magazine was pretty succinct, if not more than a little cruel, "If you want to Play Safe, stay away from this one.  A Monty Banks comedy that has a few funny moments.  Pretty poor."  Reportedly, some modern viewers who have seen the entire original film claim it's just fine.  Back to 1927-28, Pathe decided to trim the film and reissue it under the title in which it is more commonly known, Chasing Choo Choos.  I've not found any subsequent reviews of the shortened version of the film. 

Monty Banks and Virginia Lee Corbin give
you the idea of the action in the film.

In the film Monty plays a factory worker in love with the boss lady who runs the show (Virginia Lee Corbin).  There is a plot to kidnap her, they make their escape on a train, along with the villains in hot pursuit.  The train car they are in is uncoupled and that's where the real incredible action begins. Directed by journeyman Joseph Henabery, the cut-down version moves swiftly from almost the first frame.  Precious little is on youtube from the Play Safe, which is a shame. 

The film is one of those of a genre that came to be known and made famous by Harold Lloyd as "thrill comedies."   You have to give it up for the stars of these films, and the stuntmen and women who supported them.  They did the craziest things!  Play Safe is no exception!  This is one of the most thrilling of all thrill comedies.  That final reel is something else!

You can see for yourself, in a spoiler because you really miss all the setup for the action in this timestamped footage starting about 1:10 in on this clip.  This gives you a good idea of the beating both Monty Banks (and legendary stuntman Harvey Parry took during filming).  Parry was an unsung hero of many a silent thrill comedy, especially in which car crashes were needed.  Parry was an expert at those and is in the car running parallel with the runaway train.  For the record, Parry had a long career in Hollywood and you can catch him once in a while on TCM in a Warner Brothers short Spills for Thrills about stunting in Hollywood.    There is a clip here, too

Banks' contract with Pathe was cancelled shortly after this and his screen career petered out.  He went on to direct many short films and appear in character parts up through the late 1940s.   Never quite the star of magnitude of the big three (Chaplin, Lloyd, and Keaton), this little film still brings pleasure and thrills.  Photoplay was very grouchy the day they watched this film.

You can see the cut down version Chasing Choo Choos on the DVD Slapstick Masters and I understand complete elements in 35 mm exist at the Library of Congress.  I still find the Days of Thrills and Laughter entertaining, and nostalgic.  You can also find Days of Thrills and Laughter released on DVD.

This post is part of the Classic Movie Blog Association's Planes Trains and Automobiles Fall blogathon.  Please DO visit here for the lineup of fantastic blog posts!


Caftan Woman said…
I'm with you in the back of that limo driven by the Silent Film Mafia. I knew Monty Banks name primarily as Gracie Field's hubby, and when I stopped to think about it - the clip from "Days of Thrills and Laughter". Shame on me! I'll make him my next (or next after that) project.
Can't believe this is the first I've heard of Monty Banks! I love the film you posted – he is a gem.

Thanks for expanding my film horizons. :)
FlickChick said…
Thank you so much for posting this! I agree with Ruth - you are expanding my horizons!
Rick29 said…
I remember watching several of Robert Youngson's compilations on TV as a kid. He introduced a new generation to many of the clown princes of film comedy. I don't remember this Monty Banks film, but it must have been funny for Youngson to include it in DAYS. A great choice for this blogathon!
Anonymous said…
Great review! I agree--the actors and stuntmen and women did the craziest stuff!
Bob Birchard said…
Those interested in Monty Banks may want to check out my book on Monty's starring shorts:
Tom_E_Reynolds said…
Please! Can someone please help me locate the original uncut version of "Spills for Thrills"?

The original 1940 movie had a small clip from a silent movie made in Parlin, NJ in 1912, including a train wreck of the Raritan River Railroad hitting a car at the intersection near DuPont.

There is a cut version (about 3 mins) on youtube, the original film is 18 minutes long.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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