getting it on
by Douglas Messerli
Leo McCarey (screenwriter and director) Liberty / 1929
Although Stan Laurel and Ollie Hardy have been far more involved in domestic relationships in other films such as That’s My Wife (1929) and Their First Mistake (1932), playing husband and wife in the former and fathers to a newborn child in the latter, and they share the same bed in numerous of their comedies, they have perhaps never been as physically intimate as they are in the film Liberty of 1929, written and directed by Leo McCarey.
They finally elude the chasing guard by
standing outside an automobile in their street clothes as the police car speeds
past. But just as suddenly they discover that they are wearing one another’s
pants, Stan barely able to hold up Ollie’s britches, while it’s a wonder that
Ollie has even been able to fit into Stan’s breeches. For the next 8 ½ minutes
they attempt to change pants in alleyways, behind a basement storage lift, in
the back seat of a waiting taxi, at the back door of a fish shop—when a
Their acrobatics are astounding, matching almost anything that Harold Lloyd did in his many high-wire building ascents and descents.
But the important thing here that what saves them is simply one another’s bodies, who push, pull, lean-to and away from each other as if performing a highly abstract sexual act. Eddie Cantor briefly performs just such an intimate investigation of another man’s body a year later in his film, Whoopee!, but his and the other gentleman’s activities are performed mostly as bravado, an attempt to show off the various scars of their hospital operations; but here—given that they literally attempt to get into one another’s pants and save one another from falling to their deaths—their bodily maneuvers come as close to male on male sex as possible while pretending it is nothing more than silly physical slapstick. The liberties here taken are definitely just as seriously as those who fought for the cause—as the story suggests with its beginning narrative, Washington, Lincoln, and...even “Black Jack” Pershing (whose military actions led to the death of over 11,000 American soldiers in World War I). Liberty represents physical comedy at its very best.
Los Angeles, August 29, 2021
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (August 2021).