Thursday, June 18, 2015

"Lost" reel of Laurel & Hardy's "Battle of the Century" Found

Section from a 1927-28 trade ad for Hal Roach's short subjects
(distributed at the time by MGM), featuring Laurel & Hardy.
A missing link to one of the most iconic moments in cinema history has been found, after one of the reels for this classic 1927 slapstick short was considered "lost" for many years.

According to Matthew Dessem's article on Slate, the discovery was recently announced at the Library of Congress' fourth annual Mostly Lost classic film festival.

The festival showcases select restored motion pictures that were once considered to be lost (or surviving fragments from "lost" motion pictures) at the State Theater in Culpeper, Virginia, the same city that is home to the Library of Congress' National Audio-Visual Conservation Center.

Dessem's article mentioned that silent film historian Jon Mirsalis uncovered the "lost" second reel of the classic 1927 Hal Roach comedy, Battle of the Century (featuring Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy).  The second reel of the comic duo's 1927 short was classified as "lost" for nearly 60 years, due to the fact that clips from the film were used for a compilation film on classic moments in motion picture comedy (the "pie fight" sequence was served as the inspiration for Blake Edwards' 1965 farce, The Great Race).

ENTER ROBERT YOUNGSON: In 1957, filmmaker Robert Youngson (1917-1974) decided to make a feature-length motion picture, a compilation celebrating classic silent comedy, utilized from the libraries of Mack Sennett and Hal Roach.  This compilation film was titled The Golden Age of Comedy.

SIDENOTE: Youngson was no stranger to the industry, he originally made retrospective short subjects for Warner Bros., beginning in the late 1940's (compliled not only from the studio's own films, but from Warners' Vitagraph and First National holdings).  Some of Youngson's short subjects for Warners can be seen from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.

Fast forward to 1957, and Youngson was making his feature-length tribute to classic silent comedies. According to further findings from Dessem, Youngson might have been one of the last persons to see Battle of the Century in its complete form at the time.  He chose the legendary "pie fight" sequence in Roach's film, and it is widely speculated that Youngson junked the rest of Battle of the Century.

Shortly after the release of Youngson's compilation film, the original nitrate camera negatives became unusable (either due to mishandling or poor film storage).

It wasn't until last year, when Mirsalis found a can (acquired as part of a private film collection that once belonged to the late Gordon Berkow) with a label identifying the second reel of Battle of the Century. Thought to be lost, the film elements for Hal Roach's Battle of the Century are now being restored by Lobster Films in Paris.

This might be a clear sign that there will be a "complete" version of this classic Laurel & Hardy film sometime in the near future.

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