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
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 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
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