Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The Restored Laurel and Hardy Short "Battle of the Century" (1927)


I knew who Laurel and Hardy were when I was a little kid because they were on TV, Monday through Friday afternoons. I was allowed to watch them, but not The Three Stooges, who were violent. Laurel and Hardy made 106 shorts and features for thirty years, beginning in 1921. By the 1960s, both of them had passed away, and their output had been cut and packaged to television.
I still remember going to the then-new public library in Lawrence, Kansas (The older one had been in a disastrous flood in the early 1970s, shutting it down for quite a long time), and borrowing a book about their films. The library had things you could borrow that I had never heard of. I remember Dad checking out a framed painting! And there were also movies. Super 8mm movies of the silent film stars from Blackhawk films. (Located just the next state over, in Davenport, IA.)

Anyway, one thing I learned from that book was that despite how popular L&H were, a number of their films had been lost. UCLA has a Laurel and Hardy Film Preservation Fund. Here's a for instance: there was, for many decades, a missing reel for their Battle of the Century short (1927), which featured THE pie fight to end all pie fights. Even by 1927, pie fights were considered passe, but Stan Laurel (He wrote most of the gags.) conceived of an epic escalating pie battle, involving some 3,000 pies. Now who wouldn't want to see that?

Fast forward to the 21st century. Jon Mirsalis, a silent film accompanist, collector, and preservationist, found it. Here's an interview with him from 2016 where he describes how he came across it. The missing reel can be watched here, but if you want to see the whole restored short, here you go:


DBenson said...

I would bet that book was "The Films of Laurel and Hardy" by William K. Everson. In the mid-60s I spent my birthday money on a paperback edition I still have. Our library in Morgan Hill, CA also had a bunch of Blackhawk 8mm films, and I eventually saved up allowance to buy my very own copies of "Double Whoopee" and "Two Tars".

Somehow the boys vanished from our local television before I hit adolescence, but I do remember that many of the shorts were clippings from their features. Hugely frustrating, since it was obvious that somewhere there were longer films we weren't seeing. What were they doing in operetta costumes? Why are they breaking into an old west saloon? Where did their twin brothers come from? The Everson book cleared up which features they must have come from, but it was many years before I actually saw them all. "March of the Wooden Soldiers" (aka "Babes in Toyland") was the only Laurel and Hardy feature that got regular exposure in our area, being a holiday staple.

Now their uncut sound shorts and features -- pretty much all of which survive -- can be readily had on nice discs. Even the poorly regarded Fox features, redeemed by pristine prints and worthwhile commentaries. The silents are a bit harder to lay hands on, because of rights. Besides viewing online you can buy one of the European releases, but you'll need an all-regions disc player.

Chances are you saw some of the Robert Youngson compilation features on local TV. Produced in the 50s-60s, they triggered a revival in public interest and were the gateway drug for a generation of fans, scholars, and preservationists. Today you can find beautiful restored versions of nearly all the films Youngson excerpted, but the compilations have become nostalgic in their own right, insistent narration and all. There's a restored version of "When Comedy Was King" with commentary; also releases of "The Golden Age of Comedy", "Thirty Years of Fun", and "Days of Thrills and Laughter".

Orang Basikal said...

The other classic book is Mr Laurel and Mr Hardy, by John McCabe, which is the first book I read about them, in 1965. Mr McCabe wrote several other books about them, founded the fan club The Sons of the Desert, and married Rosina Marchisio, who had played the ingenue in the L&H feature film Way Out West.

Orang Basikal said...

It is always a pleasure to see a lost film has been found.