Classic Movies

Money in the Bank(s)

perfect-gentleman-lobby

You may recall in April of this past year that Thrilling Days of Yesteryear beat the drums for a Kickstarter project instigated by the good people at Grapevine Video.  The mom-and-pop label responsible for bringing so many outstanding silent and sound features—with some serials and classic TV thrown into the mix for variety—to Blu-ray/DVD passed around a hat to raise money to restore A Perfect Gentleman (1928), a feature comedy starring Monty Banks.  The campaign to fund Gentleman was so successful that Grapevine was able to add three additional Banks comedy shorts to the production as bonuses: The Belles of Liberty (1918), Taxi Please (1923), and Chasing Choo Choos (1927). 

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Monty Banks in a screen grab from Chasing Choo Choos (1927)

I’ve talked about Choo Choos on the blog before; it was one of five shorts featured in a May 2017 review of an Alpha Video release, Monty Banks: Hollywood’s Forgotten Comic Genius.  Choo Choos was a two-reel version of the exciting runaway train climax that was the highlight of Monty’s 1927 feature Play Safe!Safe did not do well at the box office, and I’m guessing Banks’ studio re-issued the train sequence to see if they could salvage a few more nickels from theatregoers.  For many years this footage was familiar to silent comedy fans from its prominent appearance in the Robert Youngson compilation feature Days of Thrills and Laughter (1961); Grapevine mentioned in their fundraiser that the complete Safe is believed to be lost but the information on the Library of Congress site says it survives.  Apart from the five shorts on the Alpha DVD (Paging Love [1923], The Covered Schooner [1923], Wedding Bells [1924], Pay or Move [1924), and Choo Choos) and the Undercrank Productions release of Flying Luck (1927), my exposure to Banks has been kind of limited. He may not be well-remembered outside of die-hard silent movie buffs today, but when he had good gags and a solid story Monty could hold his own with the best of cinematic funsters from that era. 
 
gentlemanA Perfect Gentleman would be an ideal introduction to Banks if you’ve not yet seen any of his films.  He’s Monty Brooks in this one, a teller who’s betrothed to a bank president’s (Henry A. Barrows) daughter (Ruth Dwyer)…and truth be told, Brooks must be doing well in his job because he’s got a valet (Syd Crossley) in his employ.  Unfortunately, the valet gets Monty spiffed (how this happens is a little hard to explain—you kind of have to see it to understand) on the day of the wedding, putting his plans to marry into the family bidness on hold. 
 
The next morning, Monty has no memory of what happened…which makes him a perfect patsy for fellow employee George Cooper (Ernest Wood).  Cooper has embezzled $250,000 from the bank and plans to take it on the lam under a new name and identity; instead, he’ll set Monty up to take the fall.  Complications ensue when Monty makes off with Coop’s luggage (which contains the stolen money) and, once aboard ship, he must outwit the gang who’s after the missing cash…and stay clear of a jealous ship’s officer (Arthur Thalasso) who thinks our hero is fooling around with his missus (Hazel Howell). 

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Whoops! Wrong girl! Banks and Hazel Howell in a screen grab from A Perfect Gentleman (1928).

Written by Charles Horan (who also scripted Play SafeFlying Luck, and the Banks features Atta Boy [1926] and Horse Shoes [1927]), A Perfect Gentleman was directed by the legendary Clyde Bruckman—who worked with and wrote for such film legends as Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, W.C. Fields, and on and on and on.  Someone once posited that it was often difficult to appraise just what Clyde brought to the table when it came to movie direction…since many of the comics he directed had such strong film personas anyone could have sat in the chair and got similar results.   
 
dvdAs Monty Banks would never be accused of having a “strong film persona” I can honestly say Bruckman is most effective working behind the camera; he’s got a fine sense of pacing and stages a gag extremely well.  The strengths of Gentleman lie in some really funny bits of business; one of my favorites has the tipsy Monty attempting to give a wedding guest (Mary Foy as Dwyer’s aunt) a swift kick in the derriere as she bends over at the top of a flight of stairs.  When he misses, he winds up sliding down the stairs’ bannister and landing on his feet at the bottom, grabbing a waiter’s tray and serving hors d’oeuvres to passing guests in the process.  Monty’s character is a likable sort, possessing a kind of Keatonian intelligence where he’s able to think quickly once he finds himself in a jam (the bit that broke me up was his pretending to be a sleepwalker after Thalasso catches him with his wife). 

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Monty is billed as “Frenchie Bianchi” in the opening credits of The Belles of Liberty (1918)

A Perfect Gentleman runs only 49 minutes—Grapevine used two different prints for the project (including one from the USC School of Cinematic Arts) and in doing so was able to add six additional minutes to the entire presentation—so the inclusion of the extra shorts is most welcome.  The Belles of Liberty is a one-reel effort starring “The Famous L-KO Beauty Girls,” Eva Novak and Carolyne Wright; its brevity makes the proceedings a little incoherent (something to do with raising money for Liberty Bonds) but it’s never short on energy and slapstick (people run around, fall into swimming pools, and drive like maniacs to avoid a streetcar).  (The one that made me chortle is a scene where Banks attempts to crank up his flivver…underwater.)  Taxi Please finds Monty toiling as a cab driver…but most of the plot involves his efforts to raise enough money to save his girlfriend’s (Catherine Bennett) aunt’s general store.  This one has a rather oddball denouement; Monty’s tossed into the clink and two years later he’s sprung to find that his taxi—though covered with a great deal of vegetation—still runs as he and Bennett drive off to Happy Ever After. 
 
films-of-monty-banks“The Jealous Husband” is a three-minute cutdown of the Banks comedy Where is My Wife (1921) while the other three minute clip featured on the DVD/Blu-ray—”The Horseshoe”—is culled from Monty’s 1927 feature Horse Shoes.  I don’t regret joining with the other 161 backers (we raised a total of $4.082) to fund this project because if you’re as big a fan of silent comedy as I am, I really think you’ll enjoy A Perfect Gentleman (I gave high marks to the other Banks feature on DVD, Flying Luck, too).  If for some reason you missed out on the Kickstarter (you know the old story—too much month at the end of the money), Grapevine has made Gentleman available for purchase here.  (You should check out their collection of Banks’ short comedies, too.)

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