An appreciation today for the Laurel and Hardy silent comedy short The Battle of the Century , released December 31, 1927. In addition to being very funny in its own right and containing the world’s most epic pie fight, this film is famous for having in the cast a young extra named Lou Costello, who plays one of the people in the audience at a boxing match.
At the start of the picture Laurel is boxing in a bout, with Hardy as his manager and trainer. Somehow Laurel manages to knock his opponent down, but then foolishly squanders the victory by not going to his corner for the count, even going so far as to wrestle with the referee about it. In the meantime, the opponent has more than sufficient time to recover. He K.O.s Laurel. When Laurel wakes up, the crowd is long gone.
In the next scene, with the two broke from the loss of the bout, Hardy buys accident insurance for Stan, with the plan of having him slip on a banana peel. Meantime, a man unloading a pie truck slips on the peel and gets covered in pie. There follows a classic L & H “tit for tat” sequence, culminating in the titular melee. Enraged, the truck driver throws a pie at Ollie. Ollie throws another one back at him , missing the guy and hitting a passing lady. This keeps multiplying until everyone on the entire block is embroiled. It looks like a Tong War. It is the zombie apocalypse of pie fights. This is a legendary scene — one of the very few times I have enjoyed a pie fight. In the end, a cop says to Ollie “Did you start this pie fight?” Ollie replies “What pie fight?” Then the cop gets a pie in the face.
For more on comedy film history, including Laurel and Hardy and “Battle of the Century” please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube