I have always wanted to be in a pie fight. I think that it would be hysterical fun, albeit quite messy. Very messy. But worth it. So I made a pie, a boozy coconut cream pie to go along with this post where I give a brief history of the pie in the face gag and pie fights in cinema and film, including some of my favorite pie fight movie scenes.
I have been a huge fan of slapstick comedy since I was a kid. The Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Charlie Chaplin, The Marx Brothers, Benny Hill, Jerry Lewis, Jack Lemmon, Lucille Ball, Peter Sellers, Gene Wilder, Jim Carrey, Rowan Atkinson. To name a few. They have made me laugh hysterically since I was a child. And still do as an adult. When I was on Twitter the other night I saw one of my friends tweeting about one of my all time favorite movies, The Marx Brother’s “A Night at The Opera” with the tag #SlapstickFall. I was intrigued. Turns out it is a free online college course, Presented by TCM ( Turner Classic Movies) “Painfully Funny:Exploring Slapstick in the Movies in partnership with Ball State University. This course is dedicated to 56 slapstick films spanning 90 years. We have discussions, watch videos analyzing gags from many of the films over the years and even have quizzes! Its only week three and I have already learned a tremendous amount about slapstick and watched movies I had never seen before. The course is free, you can still register for it and TCM ( Turner Classic Movies) has all the movies playing live (East coast and West coast times) in their OUCH! A Salute To Slapstick Film festival every Tuesday and Wednesday Evenings starting at 8pm Eastern time. They also have all the movies in their on demand archives online to watch free for a month after they air. Plenty of time to catch up on the ones you missed, and join in on the next ones shown live.
Movies such as Hips, Hips Hooray starring Dorothy Lee, Thelma Todd, Bert Wheeler and Robert Woosley. The Pip from Pittsburg starring Charley Chase and Thelma Todd, Mon Oncle starring Jaques Tati have all been first time viewings for me during this course. All so hysterical, some of these are shorts, The Pip from Pittsburg being one, which even though it is only 20 minutes long it is clever and funny and full of fun gags. Many of the films we are watching and discussing are ones I have seen many times and can recite lines. Marx Brother’s “Night at The Opera”, W.C Fields ” The Bank Dick”, “The Great Race”, ” It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World”, “Young Frankenstein”, “Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein”, Peter Sellers ” A Shot In the Dark” and more.
“Slapstick, a type of physical comedy characterized by broad humor absurd situations, and vigorous, usually violent action. The slapstick comic, more than a mere funnyman or buffoon, must often be an acrobat, a stunt performer, and something of a magician—a master of uninhibited action and perfect timing.” Source -Wikipedia. Slapstick consists of five conditions that are as follows: it involves exaggeration, its physical, its ritualistic, it’s make believe and its violent. Not all gags consist of all five conditions at once, but most do. One such gag that meets these conditions is the pie fight. And there have been many famous pie fights in cinema and television. The pie fight or pie in the face gag is at the top of my list of all time funny slapstick gags. Slapstick movies started in the silent era of films. No sound meant the gags had to be over the top physically and visually. The pie in the face was the perfect gag for it. Once films moved into being verbal, the extra added element of sound added sound effects and silly dialogue to go with the pie fights. A great gag for both silent and verbal slapstick films.
The first known cinematic pie in the face moment comes from the film, “Mr. Flip” from 1909. A silent film, in which a store owner ends up with a pie in the face after harassing every woman he comes across first. The pie in the face was well deserved.
My favorite pie fight scene of all time is hands down the one from Blake Edward’s “The Great Race”. So many conditions of slapstick with the physical and violent act of throwing the pies, new people coming into the bakery and immediately getting a pie in the face, the bakers joining in on it all while The Great Leslie ( Tony Curtis) walks around not getting a drop on his all white ensemble until Miss DuBois ( Natalie Wood) slaps a pie right in his face at the very end. The fight took 3 days to film, some 2500 pies, real pies too not just whipped cream in tins, and it lasts for 5 minutes on the screen. Pretty sure there were plenty of coconut cream pies thrown along with brandy pies too. It all begins with Jack Lemmon disguised as Prince Hapnik trying to hide and he runs into the bakery which starts off the gag. Lets watch:
The music matches the scene perfectly, the sound effects of the pies as the slap into faces is also perfect. Also the dialogue from Prince Hapnik throughout the scene makes me giggle. He is the only one truly enjoying the fight, especially tasting the ones he gets a facefull of. Brandy is his favorite libation, “More brandy!! I said, bring me more brandy” is one of his famous lines and after he gets a pie in the face he tastes it and proclaims ” Brandy!! Throw more brandy!!” Then he gets another pie in the face, tastes it and yells ” Rum! I never mix my pies” and laughs hysterically. This gave me the idea for this post and my boozy coconut cream pie. Before I get to the pie I made for this post, let’s talk about more pie fights in cinema and television.
This clip from The Three Stooges, “Pie The Pie” is another classic cinematic pie fight. I love this clip since the three original stooges are in it. Sorry fans of Shemp and Curly Joe, Curly has my heart of being my favorite stooge –
I love the man telling his tale of a lion hunt while getting a constant barrage of pies in the face. Also Curly trying to throw a pie, with his famous “Nyuk Nuks” and getting pies in the face before he gets a chance to throw one. What makes me laugh is how violently the pies are thrown. My neck hurts watching this not to mention I cringe at the thought of all those potential broken noses and teeth knocked out. The sound effects of the SLAP as the pie hits faces is fantastic too. A fun fact I learned while starting this course, is that Moe Howard was such the expert pie throwing marksman that he was often the one doing most of the pie throwing. In scenes in the Stooges or other films or television shows when the pies were thrown into a scene, he was just off camera. He was often hired as a pie thrower. He would be the one throwing the pies for many shows and movies. Now that is something I would be proud of to have on a resume: ” Expert Pie Thrower”. The other thing that makes me laugh so hard about this scene is that there aren’t that many guests at the party, but there sure are a ton of pies. When I was a kid, I remember kids staying home sick from school and being able to watch “The Price is Right” since it was aired during school hours. When I was home from school due to being sick, I watched The Three Stooges instead. Laughter really is the best medicine.
Laurel and Hardy’s “Battle of the Century” the pie fight that has the claim to fame of the greatest cinematic pie fight of all time. Even though pies in the face had been used in earlier films such as Charlie Chaplin’s “Behind the Screen,” this was really the first big pie fight involving many people and many pies. This footage was actually lost until 2015. Over 3000 pies were thrown in this fight, which the pie fight from The Great Race, got its inspiration from :
It begins with Ollie planting a banana peel for Stan to step on, but instead a baker steps on it and the baker and his pies go flying. The baker sees Ollie with the banana in his hand and firmly plants a pie in his face, starting the fight. This film is a silent film, no audible dialogue, so the visuals and sound effects of the pie fight work just as well as ones in a speaking film. I love how far some of the pies fly in this fight. And the woman at the end of clip is hysterical.
In doing my research on all of these pie fights I came across this site talking about the history of pie fights in cinema and television. Pie fights have been in cinema as a fantastic slapstick gag for over 100 years, a perfect gag for silent slapstick films but also works so well for films that have audible dialogue and even on into color films. Hopes & Fears with A Messy History of the Pie Fight – from Vaudeville to Nickelodeon is a fantastic read about pie fights in cinema and television. Another fun site is Today I Found Out with their post on origin of the pie in the face comedy gag.
Now that we have talked about pie fights, let’s talk about this pie. Boozy Coconut Cream Pie. Like I said earlier this pie is inspired by The Great Race and Prince Hapnik’s love of brandy. I went with a classic cream pie, that was often the type thrown in movies, and one that was popular in the 1960’s when the film came out. I also added in a good amount of brandy to the pie and the whipped cream. Coconut is more commonly paired with rum, but coconut and brandy together is a fantastic combination too. Especially in pie form.
The pie crust for this pie comes from Stella Parks of Serious Eats. It is an all butter pie crust that comes together fast and no chilling required before rolling out. I found it super easy to work with considering I have only ever made two pies before in my life! Stella is a baking genius, a highly trained and skilled pastry chef and is the baking guru of Serious Eats. She is incredibly approachable and helped me with all my pie crust questions. So thank you Stella for helping me conquer my pie crust fears! Her blog is The Brave Tart if you want to check out her amazing recipes as well as on Serious Eats. Her pie crust is buttery and flaky and perfect for a coconut cream pie or any pie really. It’s a perfect crust.
- 1 Pre-baked pie crust ( I used Stella Park’s recipe from Serious Eats)
- 1 C half and half
- 2 C full fat coconut milk
- ⅔ C plus 2 Tbsp sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- ⅓ C cornstarch
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 Tbsp Brandy
- 2 Tbsp Butter
- 1 C coconut flakes ( sweetened or unsweetened)
- For the topping:
- 2 C Heavy Cream, very cold
- 3-5 Tbsp powdered sugar ( depending on how sweet you want it)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 Tbsp brandy
- ½-3/4 C toasted coconut chips ( I used Dang coconut chips)
- Bake your pie crust and let cool completely if making your own.
- To make the custard in a medium sauce pan combine the half and half, 1½ cups of the coconut milk, the sugar and salt. Stir over medium low heat until steaming and hot
- In a medium bowl ( 3-4 c size bowl) whisk together the egg yolks, cornstarch, flour and remaining ½ c of coconut milk until well combined.
- While whisking the yolk mixture slowly add in ⅓ of a cup of the headed coconut milk mixture to temper the eggs. Once about a cup or so is whisked in pour it into the sauce pan. Stir the entire mixture slowly with a spatula until it thickens. It will be like a thick custard or pudding. Strain into another bowl, to get rid of any cooked egg pieces, then add in the coconut flakes. Stir and let cool for 30 min. Add in the vanilla extract and brandy then place plastic wrap over the bowl and press gently so it touches the top of the custard. Chill completely, 3-4 hours up to overnight before filling the pie crust.
- Fill the pie crust with the chilled custard and keep chilled while preparing the topping
- In a cold bowl, I like to use a cold stainless bowl, whip the heavy cream to soft peaks. Add in the powdered sugar, the vanilla and brandy. Start with three tablespoons of the powdered sugar then add more if a sweeter whipped cream is desired
- Spread about 1 cup of the cream over the pie, then fill a pastry bag fitted with a giant open star tip with the rest and pipe a swirled design around the edges of the pie. Sprinkle the center of the pie with the toasted coconut and serve. You can always wrap in plastic wrap and keep chilled before serving. Don’t add on the toasted coconut chips until ready to serve as they will soften in the refrigerator.
Thanks for reading my long post about pie in the face gags and pie fights in cinema and film. I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks to TCM for presenting this fun month of slapstick films for all of our enjoyment. I will be watching The Great Race tonight while sipping on “More Brandy!!” and eating a slice of this boozy coconut cream pie. This pie isn’t going to be thrown in anyone’s faces anytime soon, but I still want to have that pie fight. One day!