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Cecil B. DeMille
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Blizzard, deranged from a childhood operation in which both his legs were perhaps needlessly amputated after an accident, becomes a vicious criminal, and eventually mob leader of the San Francisco underworld. Out for revenge against the surgeon who performed his operation, he undergoes brain surgery which has a chance of altering his anti-social behavior. Written by
Doug Sederberg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Creative, Atmospheric Story With a Fine Performance By Lon Chaney
Combining a creative, atmospheric story with a fine performance by Lon Chaney makes "The Penalty" an effective and memorable suspense classic. In one of his earliest leading roles, Chaney is a complete success, both in defining an unusual character and in bringing out everything inside the mind of the sinister "Blizzard". You can already see his determination to make his character visually convincing and flawless, even at the cost of great discomfort. Chaney also shows, as he would so many times, his rare skill in using facial expressions and gestures to show just the right amount of emotion and intensity.
The story is quite interesting in itself, and though it slightly stretches plausibility at times, it is by no means predictable. The brief opening scene of the childhood accident efficiently sets up the background for the strange world dominated by Chaney's vengeful character when he becomes an adult. From there, the well-crafted story keeps you interested and keeps you guessing. The settings are well-chosen, creating an interesting and appropriate atmosphere, with Blizzard's strange hideout and the sculptress's cluttered studio both standing in contrast with the respectable-looking Dr. Ferris and the other characters.
A mere account of the events in the story would not convey the success of the movie in creating a distinctive world in which the characters come to life. This is also a case in which a silent film is probably more effective than a sound film would have been. One of the main flaws in many movies of this type is the vapid dialogue that dissipates the tension through unintentional humor. Here, the title cards need only convey some basic ideas - the rest of it is handled without sound by Chaney, by the rest of the cast, and by the production crew who put everything together so well.
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