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Friday, July 9, 2010

Laurel & Hardy - The Dance

A lot of folks probably assume that Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, being slapstick comedians, threw a lot of pies in their movies. Not so. Whatever urges they had in that direction were pretty much satisfied in The Battle of the Century, one of their earliest two-reel silent comedies. This is the last four minutes...the biggest pie fight staged in movies for many years. I think the one in the 1965 movie The Great Race may have been the one that usurped the title. The only other strong contender is the meringue massacre in Half-Wits Holiday, a 1947 short with The Three Stooges. Footage from that pie fight was reused in several other Stooges films.

There's kind of an interesting story as to how the Laurel and Hardy brawl even manages to exist. In 1957, a man named Robert Youngson was assembling a compilation feature called The Golden Age of Comedy using clips of great silent movies. He got access to the negative of The Battle of the Century, duped the big fight at the end and used it in his film. What he didn't know was that in so doing, he was preserving that footage for all eternity. The negative was in bad shape and within a few years, it had completely decomposed. There was no other known copy of the film anywhere.

So for a few decades, The Battle of the Century was a "lost" movie. Only the last few minutes still existed in any form, thanks to Mr. Youngson. Finally in the seventies, a copy of the first reel turned up. It's an extended boxing match in which Mr. Hardy shoves Mr. Laurel into the ring, and it's most interesting because among the extras who played spectators, one can spot a very young Lou Costello.

No full copy of the second reel has ever been located so all we have of it are these four minutes. They're four pretty memorable minutes...!

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