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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Pie in my eye


And so it begins... the greatest pie fight in history.

Sure, Soupy Sales, history's greatest "pie-ologist," took 20,000 pies in his face, but not all at one time. (If you don't know Soupy, do yourself a favor and click the link. you won't be sorry, I promise.) But it is Laurel and Hardy who hosted the greatest pie fight in recorded history.

"It's been a holy grail of comedy," film historian Leonard Maltin said of the lost second reel of Laurel and Hardy's 'The Battle of the Century'... "and that's not overstating the case."

Here's the set-up as reported in the New York Times: "In 1927,  Hal Roach Studios paired comedians Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy... who would become the most beloved comic duo in cinema history. Among their  first films that year was a parody of a recent boxing match in which Gene Tunney defeated Jack Dempsey after a referee's controversial long count.

The gag writers came up with a story line that called for Laurel to lose a "long count" fight after which his manager, Hardy, would try to collect on an insurance policy by having laurel slip on a banana peel. One writer halfheartedly suggested the inclusion of a pie fight, eliciting groans.

But Laurel saw possibility: "Let's give them so many pies that there will never be room for any more pie pictures in the whole history of the movies. (And there weren't.)

So Hardy drops a banana peel intended for Laurel in front of Ye Olde Pie Shoppe. A pie deliveryman slips on the peel and reciprocates with a pie to Hardy's face. Hardy throws a pie in return, only to connect with a young woman's derriere. She turns, receives another in the face, takes her time wiping the goo from her eyes, and stomps over to escalate matters.

Soon pies are hitting everyone; a man in a top hat; a patient in a dentist's chair; a sewer worker peering from a manhole; a lunch-counter patron; a man preening after his shave and haircut; a woman tending flowers. At one point, Laurels is inside the pie deliveryman's truck filling orders for cream-coated people seeking sweet revenge.

"The greatest comic film ever made--because it brought the pie-throwing to apotheosis," the novelist Henry Miller once wrote. "There was nothing but pie-throwing in it, nothing but pies, thousands of and thousands of pies and everybody throwing them right and left."

OK, so maybe you had to be there.

But when the missing film turned up recently and was shown at a film conference, the audience gasped with surprise and delight as they watched the legendary event begin with a simple cream pie in the kisser of Oliver Hardy. Over the next 20 minutes, more than 3,000 pies were thrown, each one triggering the next in a one shot sequence that involved hundreds of extras.

The first pie thrown dates to 1913 in silent film and it was a sure laugh staple all the way up to 1965 in "The Great Race" starring Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.

In the days of silent movies, punch lines were visual and it wasn't the pie in the face that made the laugh but the set-up and flow by those early movie pioneers. Many of the gags became more sophisticated (as only a pie in the face can be sophisticated) in the early talkies but The first talkie, The Jazz Singer  in 1927, signaled the beginning of the end of a pie in the face, thousands of years before Disney, Pixar and others took movie making to space and beyond.

Earlier this year I posted Moviola a short fictional story I wrote about old time film making. I liked the story and if you are a curious, click the link.


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