Liberty

Film Review by Dean Duncan Sep 10, 2015

The film starts with a kind of patriotic montage, dedicated to the idea of liberty and its benevolent and leavening presence throughout the course of American history. This inspiring semi-nonsense is immediately punctured by a really amazing moving/satirical shot. (A big man, Oliver Hardy. But boy, can he ever move!) Really, Eisenstein himself has nothing on this.

From there we essentially move on to two distinct movies. First one: you know the hat trick that these guys liked doing, over and over? Two head sizes, and Stan keeps picking and putting on the wrong lid. Zaniness would always ensue. Liberty¬†ups the ante, as it were: this time, having just escaped from prison and needing to don a set of civilian duds, they’re working with two pairs of pants. So the first half of the film is essentially dedicated to placing the boys in a series of essentially innocent/extremely compromising looking situations. People keep getting the wrong idea. What’s great/unexpected, is that rather than being embarrassed, or leering at all, they just keep getting madder and madder. Stan especially. His character was so often put upon, pushed around, underestimated. Every once in a while, just often enough as this long series of films proceeded, he would assert his will (dignity, humanity…). So wonderfully distributed!

Also, Finlayson’s phonograph records.

The second half of Liberty¬†consists of a for-the-ages extended/compounded sequence of comic jeopardy, set in the skeleton of an under-construction high rise. People have pointed out that this is kind of Harold Lloyd territory (High and Dizzy,¬†Never Weaken, Safety Last, Feet First), which is somewhat true. Different sensibilities are operating though, and so the results are different. It’s beautiful, somehow, inexplicably, almost like Popeye and Bluto and Olive in A Dream Walking. Lloyd’s feats of derring-do make us fear for him, and feel for him. Here, though Ollie puffs and Stan makes lots of frightened faces, there’s something wonderfully elegant happening, something inspiringly confident. They’re artists of anxiety, but like maybe Jacques Tati, that anxiety is often undercut by the graceful way in which they represent it.