Escaping from prison,
Laurel & Hardy are picked
up by confederates and put on civilian clothes in the cramped quarters of a
car. Out on the street, they find that each is wearing the other's
pants, and attempts to change clothes with each other finally lead to their
being stranded on the high girders of a sky-scraper. Ultimately they
do manage to change pants, avoid a suspicious cop, and escape to presumably
An unusual and skilful excursion into the building-climbing comedy-thrill
domain of Harold Lloyd, Liberty (for years known as Criminals at
Large, because of bootlegged prints bearing that title) has some of
Laurel & Hardy's funniest material. Pursued by cops at the beginning,
they slip out of their escape car as it rounds a bend, and instantly strike
a pose of nonchalant and approving inspection of a stationary auto, as the
law races by. The pants-changing routine affords them some of their choicest
and most risqué comedy of embarrassment, for they are forever being
discovered behind walls or packing crates, furtively lowering their pants.
A woman looks out of her apartment window at the scene below and screams.
A cop sees and pursues, only to lose them. He stands bemused in front
of a pile of packing cases—which then descend below street level on an
elevator, to reveal the boys behind it, fussily trying to expedite the
exchange of the too-tight and too-loose pants. Discovered, Stan beams
broadly, innocently unaware of any dubious interpretations that could be
placed on their actions. Hardy, all too aware of the obvious reactions,
twiddles his tie, shifts his feet sheepishly, offers a coy smile and hopes
that no questions will be asked.
At one point the pants gag seems to have been dropped in favor of a new
story tangent. A cab stands waiting at a corner, and a young man and
his girlfriend (Jean Harlow) step into it. But before they are fully
inside, the girl recoils in horror and steps back. Out steps Oliver, hastily
buttoning his pants, followed by Stan. Inspecting the inside of the
cab carefully this time, Miss Harlow and her escort deem it reasonably safe,
and get in. The pants gag is developed still further when, during one of the
thwarted exchanges, a lively lobster drops himself into Laurel's trousers.
He nips Laurel at such regular intervals that Laurel retraces his steps to
see what there is about that particular stretch of sidewalk that so affects
him! James Finlayson, store proprietor, comes on to the street with a
large pile of phonograph records, pop-eyed and scowling at the audience in
general, defying anyone to risk defiling such an obvious slapstick prop.
His immediate encounter with Laurel not only demolishes his entire stock
within seconds, but convinces him that he is threatened by a maniac!
Another attempt to change the troublesome pants—this time on a construction
unit—where again they are discovered, by rugged he-man laborers who glare at
them in contempt!
Liberty's last half, enacted high up on the skeleton of the skyscraper, sees
the pants finally changed despite the opposition of loose girders, falling
sandbags and a still-rampaging lobster. It is flawlessly done,
technically quite up to the Harold Lloyd standards, though rather alien to
Laurel & Hardy's usual style. However, the confrontation by a
situation of real danger permits the exploitation of Laurel-Hardy character
traits often untouched. Hardy, nervous, nevertheless steels himself to
go to the aid of Laurel, hanging from a girder. But as he hauls him to
safety, his own position duplicates Laurel's; hastily he shoves his friend
back into jeopardy, re-establishes his own security and, then on his knees,
offers up a brief prayer in lieu of risking his life again!
In their few prison films, Laurel & Hardy more
than paid for their (usually unspecified) crimes, and escapes were transient
things at best. Here, however, they go scot-free, after first crushing
their cop-pursuer in an elevator and transforming him from a vigorous
six-footer to a pint-sized midget.