food in the arts

Released December 31, 1927 (Silent - two reels).


Throwing things at other film-goers has not been confined to unruly children's matinees. No doubt it owes much to the popular tradition of cinema-going, and perhaps also to the peculiar kinaesthetics of watching vigorous, suggestive action from a fixed seat. But could it also be influenced by one of the earliest distinctive tropes of screen drama - the food fight, with its weapon of choice, the custard-pie? Like much else in film comedy, the mechanics of the custard-pie fight were apparently first worked out at Mack Sennett's Keystone studio around 1915. They were then taken up and developed by many screen comedians, with Lauren and Hardy's titled BATTLE OF THE CENTURY widely regarded by connoisseurs as the apotheosis of the genre.

Ollie is the manager of Stan...the world's worst prize fighter. After Stan looses the fight, Ollie buys an insurance policy on Stan and then tries to create an accident so they can collect.

For years it was believed that the four minute pie fight sequence from the end of the second reel was all that remained of THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY. Robert Youngson had preserved parts of that segment by including it in his 1957 film, "The Golden Age of Comedy." In the monumental filmography, "Laurel and Hardy," by Messieurs McCabe, Kilgore and Barr, the authors report that "Only the pie-fight sequence of THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY is extant."

Then, in 1979, Leonard Maltin found an intact print of reel one while doing film research at the Museum of Modern Art. With this new material, some still photographs from the missing segments, and the 1927 shooting schedule, Richard W. Barr reconstructed the middle section for Blackhawk Films to create a representative version of THE BATTLE OF THE CENTURY.

In the fight sequence of the first reel Stan, the world's worse boxer, must contend with Thunder-clap Callahan (Noah Young). Quite by accident, Stan knocks out Callahan. But, the referee (Sam Lufkin) manages to delay the count until the bell. In 1927 this was an obvious allusion to the famous "long count" of the Demsey-Tunney fight of the same year. But, in the next round, Callahan recovers and wreaks havoc with Stan. Ringside in this sequence you may spot a young Lou Costello.

In the missing part at the beginning of the second reel, Ollie has concluded that Stan's ineptitude could yield a profit. An insurance agent (Eugene Pallette) sells Ollie an insurance policy on Stan for the grand sum of $5. He gets the money from Stan's pocket, then borrows Stan's pen to sign the policy. The faulty pen showers Ollie with ink. They finally succeed in signing the policy by dipping the pen into the ink on Ollie's nose.

Ollie then deliberately tries to inflict injury upon Stan to collect insurance money. He plants a booby-trap banana peel in Stan's way, but it is a pie vendor (Charlie Hall) who falls victim. Spotting Ollie as the obvious culprit, Hall throws one of his pies at Ollie, but misses and hits an innocent bystander (Dorothy Coburn).

This initiates the most spectacular pie fight in film history. Hal Roach authorized the purchase of the entire day's output of the Los Angeles Pie Company, over 3,000 pies. The whole neighbourhood eventually fell victim to pie-throwing hysteria; a dignified matron (Ellinor Van Der Veer), a postman, a dentist's patient (Dick Sutherland), a sewer worker (Dick Gilbert), a shoe-shine customer, and others.

Stan and Ollie finally decide it may be expedient to beat a hasty retreat. Stan drops his last pie. A passing pedestrian (Anita Garvin), who is apparently unaware of the carnage around the corner, slips and sits on Stan's pie, causing extreme embarrassment.

There are still several missing pieces. The entire middle section in which Ollie buys the insurance policy can only be seen in a few still pictures, the negatives of which have also decomposed. Robert Youngson did not retain all the shots from the original print, and thus some of the pie-throwing sequences are also missing. It is doubtful if a complete print of the entire movie exists, but we can hope.

by Don Morgan and Ian Christie


art and food

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Laurel & Hardy - Die Sittenstrolche (vhs) -

Les Conscrits (vhs) -

Laurel & Hardy - The Collection (dvd)(21-disc box set) -

Downton Abbey Tours
  • When bringing home bags of groceries in a film, it's required that you spill at least one bagful on the kitchen floor.

  • Bags of groceries are never heavy.

  • Whenever anyone in a movie goes shopping, they always come back with stuff sticking out of the top of the shopping bag, usually carrot tops and French bread.

  • Corollary: every shopping bag contains at least one baguette (loaf of french bread).

  • Pastries are always in plain pink boxes. When we see a plain pink box, we are expected to know that the box contains donuts or cake or some related item.

  • All movie mothers will prepare a breakfast, usually consisting of scrambled eggs, bacon, etc. Dad and the kids will invariably arrive at the table 30 seconds before Dad has to leave for the office and the kids have to catch the school bus. Each will have time only for a sip of coffee/juice and/or one bite of toast. There must be enough food left over in these homes to feed an emerging nation!

  • Excerpt from Chaplin's 'Gold Rush'