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
the characters remain the same. It is both a great thrill
and a great Laurel and Hardy comedy. Other performers could
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
themselves is entirely of their own doing, stemming from the terror of
their predicament and the bumbling, childlike ways in which they deal
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 (http://lordheath.com) for the use of the above picture.Copyright © 2012 John Larrabee, John V. Brennan