Bull Montana: Heavy to the Greats

Bull Montana (Luigi Montagna, 1887-1950) was a funny professional wrestler who became a heavy in silent and early sound comedies. Because he made such a scary impression, there was something of a visual sight gag whenever he lumbered onto the screen, cracking his knuckles and scowling.

Over the course of 20 years (1917-1937) Montagna supported some of the top comic personalities of the day. Douglas Fairbanks was his first cinematic benefactor, casting him in the films In Again Out Again (1917), Wild and Woolly (1917), Down to Earth (1917), Reaching for the Moon (1917), His Majesty the American (1919), When the Clouds Roll By (1919) and The Mollycoddle (1920). With Buster Keaton, he appeared in Hard Luck (1921) and Palooka from Paducah (1935). He was in The Three Must-Get-Theirs (1922) with Max Linder, and Stop Look and Listen (1926) with Larry Semon. With Charley Chase, he’s in The Uneasy Three (1925), Many Scrappy Returns (1927), The Sting of Stings (1927), The Fight Pest (1928), and Loud Soup (1929). Other top comedians he worked with included Reginald Denny, Al St. John, Poodles Hanneford, and Glenn Tryon. His penultimate film (and his last comedy) was When’s Your Birthday (1937) with Joe E. Brown. Montana also starred in his own series of comedies for Hunt Stromberg in 1922 and 1923.

Montana also acted in some classics that weren’t comedies, often in villain roles. Such-like included Victory (1920) with Lon Chaney; Treasure Island (1920) with Chaney, Charles Ogle and Shirley Mason; The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (1921) and The Son of the Sheik (1926) with Rudolph Valentino; and The Lost World (1925) with Wallace Beery and Bessie Love. With his friend boxer Jack Dempsey, he was in Daredevil Jack (1920) and Manhattan Madness (1925). Montana’s notable talkies included Show of Shows (1929), Glorifying the American Girl (1929), Flash Gordon (1936) and The Amazing Exploits of the Clutching Hand (1936).

Born in Voghera, Italy is credited with nearly 100 film roles. He died of a heart attack at age 63. He is not to be confused with a later professional wrestler named Bull Montana of the 1950s and ’60s, who apparently took his name in homage to the original.

To learn more on classic silent film comedy, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube