(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)
According to Laurel & Hardy biographer Randy Skretvedt, Liberty was conceived when an ongoing joke from L&H’s previous film had to be cut. The joke involved Stan and Ollie pulling on each other’s trousers by mistake, and then having continual embarrassment when they are caught trying to exchange their pants.
Well, heaven knows, the joke is played out here for all it’s worth. The gimmick which brings them to this joke is that Stan and Ollie are prison escapees who were provided their old clothes by some civilian pals. They have to get the clothes on a hurry, and of course you know what happens. The amazing thing is how much some innocent bystanders don’t know. For a comedy duo that rarely dealt in double-entendres, it’s rather startling to see the stares that the pair received (in a 1929 movie) from passersby who obviously think they’ve caught Stan and Ollie in the love that dares not speak its name.
After all of that, the Harold Lloyd-like skyscraper routine — which was supposed to be the real draw of the movie — is almost an (pardon me) anti-climax. When Stan and Ollie finally find a place to exchange their clothes in private, it’s in a makeshift elevator for a skyscraper in progress. By the time they (in their usual slowness) realize what they’ve done and where they are, the elevator has already gone back to the ground, and they’re left to fend for themselves more than a few stories above Los Angeles.
Although Skretvedt confirms that filming was fairly safe (except for a minor scrape when Babe fell through a platform that wasn’t as secure as he thought), the skyscraper footage remains quite convincing. However, as with the best of L&H movies, the comedy comes not just from the thrills but from the characterizations: Stan skittering from spot to spot like an errant bowling pin, Ollie trying to help Stan while making sure he’s quite secure himself.
After latent homosexuality and cliff-hanging chills, the patented freak ending — in which the elevator smashes a cop down to midget size — is almost as welcome a relief as the pedantic psychiatrist droning on at the end of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.