The Battle of the Century is a 1927 silent short film starring American comedy double act Laurel and Hardy. The team appeared in a total of 107 films between 1921 and 1951.
The film is famous for using over 3,000 cream pies (although an edition of the Guinness Book on film history quotes that as many as 10,000 pies may have been used) in the film’s climactic pie fight; however, for many years, its second reel, containing the fight, only survived in three minutes of fragments used in the documentaries of Robert Youngson. The complete reel was rediscovered in 2015.
Hardy enrolls Laurel at a boxing competition. Laurel, however, (despite knocking out his opponent once) is too weak, and loses. Hardy then seeks advice from an insurer on how to easily earn a lot of money: Laurel has to have an injury, so that Hardy can then pocket the insurance money. Hardy places a banana peel on a sidewalk, bringing Laurel there. But a pastry chef stumbles on the peel, and gets angry with Hardy, throwing a pie in his face. Hardy responds to the provocation, and soon the entire city block is involved in an epic battle of pies.
Lost film status
For many years, footage from the climactic pie fight was known to be the only extant material from The Battle of the Century until the opening reel (featuring a boxing match) was discovered in 1979 by Richard Feiner. However, the sequence involving Eugene Pallette was still missing, as was the final gag where a policeman receives a pie in his face and promptly chases Laurel and Hardy down the street.
What was believed to be the entire film was once broadcast in Spanish television (TVE1) during the 1970s which included the scenes of a customer sitting in a barber’s chair inside a barber’s shop receiving a faceful of pie whilst being shaved and; A drinker inside a saloon or cafe being hit by a pie. He then buys two pies from the owner of the saloon/cafe and leaves with them in order to take part in the pie battle being fought outside.
In June 2015, it was announced at the Mostly Lost film workshop in Culpeper, Virginia that the second reel of the film had been rediscovered by film archivist and accompanist Jon C. Mirsalis as a 16mm print from the original 35mm negative. The second reel was found by Mirsalis in the film collection of the late Gordon Berkow who had acquired the film collection of the late Robert Youngson. Youngson had received the reel as a preview print while working on his 1957 documentary The Golden Age of Comedy. The film was initially restored by Lobster Films, with a subsequent restoration done by Jeff Joseph in partnership with the UCLA Film Archive. The first official screening was at the Telluride Film Festival in September 2015, followed by a screening at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2015.
On 8 April 2017, it was shown at the Toronto Silent Film Festival, with live accompaniment by Ben Model. On 29 May 2017 it was shown at the Southend Film Festival with live accompaniment by Adam Ramet. It was screened at the Mostly Lost film worship in June 2016, on the one year anniversary of the original announcement, with Mirsalis accompanying the film on piano.
Stan Laurel - Canvasback Clump
Oliver Hardy - Manager
Noah Young - Thunderclap Callahan
Eugene Pallette - Insurance agent
Charlie Hall - Pie delivery man
Sam Lufkin - Boxing referee
Gene Morgan - Ring announcer
Steve Murphy - Callahan’s second
George B. French - Dentist
Dick Sutherland - Dental patient
Anita Garvin - Woman who slips on pie
Dick Gilbert - Sewer worker
Wilson Benge - Pie victim with top hat
Jack O’Brien - Shoeshine patron
Ellinor Vanderveer - Lady in car
Lyle Tayo - Woman at window
Dorothy Coburn - Pie victim
Al Hallett - Pie victim
Lou Costello - Ringside spectator (extra)
Jack Hill - Ringside spectator (extra)
Ham Kinsey - Ringside spectator (extra)
Ed Brandenburg - Warring pedestrian
Bob O’Connor - Warring pedestrian