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 perhaps 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 somewhat tired even before Stan Laurel got to it. As Atlas Obscura recounts, filmmakers had very specific criteria for the pastry projectiles they’d use onscreen:
Filmmakers preferred custard pies for flinging. They were appropriately messy and, without a top crust, likely less painful than a lattice-edged cherry pie would be to the face. In one biography of the silent film comedy star Buster Keaton, author Marion Mead recorded his pratfall-ready custard pie recipe. In it, two baked pie crusts were welded together with a solid foundation of flour and water. Then, they were filled with an inch of thick flour-and-water paste. If the pie was to be thrown at a blonde or a man in a light suit, a chocolate or strawberry garnish was added. For a man in a dark suit, the pie would be garnished with lots of whipped cream for the wreckage to show up well on camera. He also gave advice on how to throw it: like a Roman discus, for instance.
But Laurel 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 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 cataloging 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, one of the most important pie fights 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 on YouTube, which gives some context for the pie fight. And for a cut that gets right to the
crust crux of it, watch the video above.