Two petty criminals and best friends, Louis and Emile, are serving time in prison together. They make a jailbreak one night, sawing through the bars of their cell, but Emile cuts his hand in the process. As a result only Louis is successful, scaling the walls with a rope, while Emile is captured by the guards.
Louis makes his way to freedom. He starts selling record players in the market, which turns into him owning his own record store, which turns into Louis being a captain of industry owning a phonograph factory. Meanwhile, Emile is eventually paroled, and then re-imprisoned, and then through some wacky events winds up working at Louis's factory.
Some of the gags in this movie, especially the scene on the assembly line where the workers fall behind, were similar enough to Modern Times for the producers to sue; Charlie Chaplin settled out-of-court.
- Briefcase Full of Money: Louis frantically stuffs a briefcase full of banknotes after his fellow hoodlums show up at the factory. It gets snatched by one of the hoodlums and abandoned on the roof, only to play a role in the climax.
- Happily Failed Suicide: Emile, despairing at his fate after getting chucked back into prison, attempts to hang himself from the bars of his cell. Doing so winds up ripping the bars out of the window, allowing Emile to escape.
- Ironic Echo: The prisoners sing a song with lyrics like La liberté, c'est pour les heureux ("Freedom is for the happy") while making toy horses. Then Emile and Louis sing the song while they're escaping.
- Match Cut: From the logo of Louis's record company to the circular time card device that his workers use to punch in at the factory.
- Not So Different: The assembly line and the working conditions at the phonograph factory are very similar to conditions at the prison.
- Nouveau Riche: Louis becomes this, living in a lavish mansion. His dinner guests hold him in contempt and call him a parvenu.
- Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Louis and Emile, Walking the Earth together as hobos.
- Sexy Secretary: Jeanne, the secretary at the factory. Emile falls in love with her but she has eyes for another worker.
- Time Passes Montage: A montage goes from Louis selling record players from a shabby stand, to Louis selling record players in a shop, to Louis making record players in his own gigantic factory.
- Title Drop: The title is a lyric from the ironic song that the prisoners sing in the opening scene.
- Twisted Echo Cut:
- A security guard at the factory, pushing Emile around for getting out of line, says "Not at work! Don't you know that—", and the scene cuts to some HR drone at a worker brainwashing session, saying "Work means liberty!"
- A flunky is making a speech in tribute to Louis at the opening of the new automated factory. He calls Louis "this philanthropist, this great citizen—", cut to a police detective saying "—this scoundrel, this riffraff. It's him all right!", as he looks at Louis's old mug shot.
- Walking the Earth: The fate of Louis and Emile, left as tramps, but singing a cheerful song about how the world is round and there are women everywhere.