Posted by vp19 on 2015.10.01 at 11:10
Current mood: happy
Carole Lombard took part in all sorts of gags during her comic apprenticeship for Mack Sennett. Sometimes — though not here in this still from “The Bicycle Flirt” — she was the victim. But there was one gag which Carole apparently never participated in, since by 1927 it was deemed too hoary by most in the movie industry:
The pie-in-the-face routine.
Buster Keaton is shown in this gag, but by the time he was able to exert creative control over his own comedic vehicles, pies in the face were verboten, an overused relic of early Sennett slapstick. But late in 1927, Sennett’s rival Hal Roach was persuaded to revive the routine for his new comic team, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. The result was the stuff of legend.
And perhaps sometime next year, many of us will view this classic sequence, in full, for the first time since audiences did in 1927.
It’s part of the L&H two-reeler “The Battle of the Century,” a sort of parody of that September’s famed “long count” heavyweight title bout where Gene Tunney retained his crown in a controversial decision over Jack Dempsey at Chicago’s Soldier Field. The first reel, which contains many boxing elements, was found in the late 1970s. But where was the second reel, which featured the pie fight? We’ll get to that shortly, but first, let’s explain why this pastry fight is so justifiably famous.
It’s probably the biggest pie fight in history — thousands of pies are thrown — but what makes it special isn’t the sheer volume, but its pacing. As Laurel told Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times a few years later,
“It wasn’t just that we threw hundreds of pies — that wouldn’t have been very funny; it really had passed out with Keystone. We went at it, strange as it may sound, psychologically. We made every one of the pies count.
“A well-dressed man strolling casually down the avenue, struck squarely in the face by a large pastry, would not proceed at once to gnash his teeth, wave his arms in the air and leap up and down. His first reaction, it is reasonable to suppose, would be one of numb disbelief. Then embarrassment, and a quick survey of the damage done to his person. Then indignation and a desire for revenge would possess him; if he saw another pie at hand, still unspoiled, he would grab it up and let it fly.”
The fight wasn’t entirely lost. Robert Youngson used a segment of it in his “Golden Age of Comedy” (the same compilation that has part of Lombard’s “Run, Girl, Run”), but that apparently was all that remained — and Youngson, who died in 1974, was blamed by many film preservationists for not preserving the second reel.
Now he’s been posthumously exonerated. It turns out the entire second reel was part of his collection, and last summer Jon Mirsalis got a hold of many of these reels. Examining when he had, he discovered the second reel for “Battle of the Century” was larger than anticipated, and to his delight he discovered he probably was the first person since Youngson to have seen the entire reel.
That second reel has been sent to a Paris firm for restoration and eventual release in one form of another, united with the first reel. It’s a victory for preservationists and L&H fans alike. Heck, somewhere William Randolph Hearst probably is allowing Marion Davies — who got to throw a pie in a slapstick sequence in 1928’s “Show People” but had to settle for being squirted with seltzer water — take some pastry. (And perhaps some other long-lost films — Lombard’s early silents for Fox; Colleen Moore’s first major hit, “Flaming Youth”; pre-Code Holy Grail “Convention City” — will turn up somewhere.)
For more on this discovery, visit http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2015/06/laurel_and_hardy_s_battle_of_the_century_pie_fight_reel_is_found.single.html.