as something of a classic of silent comedy, thanks in no small part to
its use of over 4000 real pies in the climactic battle of the custards
and creme-filled. Its status is no small feat for a film for which over
half the footage has been missing for years.
When producer Robert Youngson culled the pie-fight sequence for use in his 1965 documentary Laurel and Hardy's Laughing 20's, he was unaware that he was using the only existing -- and rapidly decomposing -- negative to do so. Thankfully, his efforts managed to preserve a classic five-minute sequence, and it is on this sequence that the film's reputation was built. It was not until the early 1980's that a print of the first reel was discovered. Most currently available prints and videos of The Battle of the Century run approximately 13 minutes, with stills and title cards inserted to cover the still-missing footage from reel two.
fight, schmie fight, it's the boxing stuff that steals the show. Stan
locks into his character with this film, and makes the entire boxing
sequence as funny a ten minutes as you'll see in an L&H
To be fair, the pie fight may suffer a bit from the existing edit. Youngson's excerpts were designed for inclusion in a documentary, in which context they play just fine. But the original title cards are now missing, while the editing is so frantic and furious, it suggests that a good deal of exposition and gag set-ups were snipped and left to turn to nitrate jelly on the cutting room floor. After the beautifully-timed first reel, the pie business and its jackhammer pace come from out of nowhere, where it's just too much, too fast. If the complete film is ever discovered, I have every confidence that I will change my opinion.
JB: The boxing section is better than the similar one in Any Old Port and the pie fight is well-staged, but I was never a big fan of pie in the face comedy. But I will take this opportunity to say I have always been in love with Anita Garvin. The Boys had many talented and beautiful female co-stars, such as Mae Busch and Thelma Todd, but Anita Garvin was simply out of this world. Funny, endearing and very visual, with a face the camera adored. When I think of Laurel and Hardy silents, I think of Anita Garvin. I lift my glass in praise of her and say "Another one down here, bartender."
JL: Anita was indeed the goods. Only 20 when this film was made, she was semi-retired by the time she was 25 (though she made a welcome return in 1940's A CHUMP AT OXFORD). She never had the career to match her talent (mostly her own choice), but at least we have her performances with The Boys, who always gave her lots to do in their films. Not that I don't love what she does in the talkies, but I think of her mostly as a great silent performer, mostly for the reason you mention: that face. She didn't need title cards. Her expressive face spoke more volumes than an encyclopedia.
And here we are raving about Anita Garvin in a film where she's onscreen maybe thirty seconds! Well, that's all she needs to walk off (delicately) with the biggest laugh in the picture.
Thanks to Dave Heath, of Another Nice Mess: The Films of Laurel and Hardy (http://lordheath.com) for the use of the above picture.Copyright © 2012 John Larrabee, John V. Brennan