Every year on March 14, math fiends and baked-good aficionados alike recognize the unofficial holiday of Pi Day. It’s technically a celebration of the mathematical constant pi, which represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter — but since the first large-scale event held in observance of Pi Day in 1988, it’s become a catalyst for electronics discounts, deals at bakeries and pizzerias, and Pizza Hut–sponsored math competitions.
For film buffs, it’s also a chance to revisit the greatest pie fight ever committed to film: the second reel of Laurel and Hardy’s 1927 Battle of the Century. The clip above shows how the fight — which starts, naturally, with someone slipping on a banana peel — spirals outward from the initial pie-ing into total chaos.
The pie-in-the-face joke has been around since the 1910s and was seen as tired even before Stan Laurel got to it. But he envisioned something far bigger than the typical gag: not just one or two pies but thousands of them — 3,000, to be exact, an entire day’s stock from the Los Angeles Pie Company. The gambit paid off, as the stunt garnered acclaim, but after Battle of the Century’s original theatrical run finished, the footage was nearly lost to history.
As Matthew Dessem recounted in a piece for Slate (which is definitely worth reading in full), after Battle of the Century left theaters in 1928, filmmaker Robert Youngson was probably the last person to see the full version. He reprinted a few scenes from the pie fight to use in his 1957 feature The Golden Age of Comedy. Shortly afterward, the original negatives were found to be decomposing so badly that they were scrapped completely.
It wasn’t until nearly 60 years later, in June 2015, that a full version of Battle of the Century’s second reel resurfaced, in the private collection of amateur film preservationist Gordon Berkow, who died in 2004. Jon Mirsalis, who had been cataloguing Berkow’s collection, assumed the reel was a print of Youngson’s work — but when he opened the canister, he found twice as much film as he was expecting, and soon realized he’d found perhaps the only remaining full copy of the second reel.
Thus, the most important pie fight in the history of cinema was preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. To see the full second reel you’ll probably have to wait for a film festival, but you can find a longer edited version, which gives some context for the pie fight, here. And for a cut that gets right to the crust crux of it, watch the video above.
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