Written September, 1928; filmed October, 1928. Released by MGM, January, 1929. Produced by Hal Roach. Directed by Leo McCarey. Two Reels.
Cast: Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, James Finlayson, Jack Hill, Jean Harlow   

STORY: Stan and Ollie are prison escapees. In their haste to change into street clothes, they wind up wearing each other's pants. Every attempt to switch pants winds up with The Boys caught...well, with their pants down. A cop chases them to a construction site, where they escape by riding an elevator to the top floor of a unfinished building. Atop the girders, 20 stories in the air, they finally switch trousers, contend with a crab that has found its way into Ollie's pants, and manage to nearly fall to their death only a few dozen times.

JL: A film inevitably compared to the thrill work of Harold Lloyd, and one that once again proves that Laurel and Hardy could master a form of comedy unique to them.  But even though the context has changed, the characters remain the same.  It is both a great thrill comedy and a great Laurel and Hardy comedy.  Other performers could have made the skyscraper business thrilling and scary and dramatically satisfying; the fact that The Boys are in this situation makes it doubly satisfying.  Each precarious predicament in which they find themselves is entirely of their own doing, stemming from the terror of their predicament and the bumbling, childlike ways in which they deal with it. 

      It's an amazing little string of circumstances, this film.  Each of those circumstances is of The Boys' doing, and each takes its turn being the central conflict of the film.  It's a film about being on the lam from prison, it's about getting those dang pants switched, it's about that crab in Ollie's pants (my favorite inspired touch of many), it's about eluding that cop, and, ultimately, it's about risking life and limb atop those girders. And yet it flows from one frantic incident to the next as smoothly as a beer river through your grandmother's paisley shawl.  Masterfully constructed and executed, Liberty is one of the team's very best shorts.

JB: It's tempting to say "Yeah, what you said," here.

       Since the skyscraper business was already discussed, I will mention a few of my other favorite moments, not the least of which is the quick pantomime the Boys do as "used car salesman and potential customer" to fool the cops, who go speeding by.  Stan's wrecking of James Finlayson's record player and 78's is another highlight.  And one can only imagine how tastelessly a modern day film comedian would handle the pants switching business which dominates most of this film.  With Stan and Ollie, it is pants down, get caught, pants up, walk away sheepishly. Funny every time.

       The "thrill comedy" is handled nearly as expertly as similar scenes in Harold Lloyd's work. Lloyd had made several of these thrill pictures for Hal Roach, including the short Never Weaken and the classic feature SAFETY LAST for Roach just a few years before the Boys made Liberty.  The camera placement is not always quite as precise as Lloyd's in SAFETY LAST, but it is convincing just the same.  But Lloyd climbed that building in SAFETY LAST because he had no other choice - the entire story of SAFETY LAST has built to this grand climax - while Laurel and Hardy wind up on their skyscraper simply through their own inept clumsiness and exquisite talent, displayed magnificently throughout Liberty, at being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  And the crab that makes things so difficult for Ollie is up there with them only because neither Laurel nor Hardy has sufficient brainpower to recognize that a large crustacean has made a home in their pants. They are the makers of their own troubles, as opposed to Lloyd, who deals with random obstacles placed in his way.  In the end, Lloyd makes it to the top and wins the girl, while the Boys scramble down an elevator and away to their next misadventure, not even stopping to notice the cop they have accidentally squished down to Munchkin size. 

Thanks to Dave Heath, of Another Nice Mess: The Films of Laurel and Hardy ( for the use of the above picture.

Copyright © 2012 John Larrabee, John V. Brennan

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