Coke or Pepsi?
Boxers or briefs?
A difficult choice that usually boils down to personal taste…
In the case of the two silent screen greats, they evinced different personalities, but both were possessed of physical grace, a tremendous work ethic, and the ability to make audiences root for the little guy.
Their enduring influence on physical comedy is evident in the boxing scene mash up above, which pulls from Keaton’s star turn in 1926’s Battling Butler and Chaplin’s widely celebrated City Lights from 1931.
Even cut up and spliced back together in alternating shots, it’s a master class on building anticipation, defying expectations, and the humor of repetition.
Both films’ plots hinge on a mild fellow going to extraordinary lengths to prove himself worthy of the girl he loves.
Chaplin, besotted with a blind flower-seller, is drawn into the ring by the prospect of prize money, which he would use to cover her unpaid rent.
The pas de trois between the ref and the two boxers represents the pinnacle of Chaplin’s long affinity for the sport, following 1914’s Keystone short, The Knockout and 1915’s The Champion.
Battling Butler is built on a case of deliberately mistaken identity, after Keaton’s milquetoast rich boy impresses his working class sweetheart’s family by allowing them to think he is a famous boxer whose name he incidentally shares.
The fight scenes were filmed in LA’s brand new Olympic Auditorium, aka the Punch Palace, which went on to serve as a location for the more recent boxing classics Rocky (1976) and Million Dollar Baby (2004).
The editor who thought to score this mashup to Mariachi Internacional’s cover of Zorba El Griego is certainly a contender in their own right, but readers, what we really want to know is in this championship round between Chaplin and Keaton, who would you declare the winner?