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Creative, Atmospheric Story With a Fine Performance By Lon Chaney
Snow Leopard27 July 2004
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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radiklfred28 March 2005
If anyone has any doubts as to who is the greatest actor of all times, CHECK OUT THIS FLICK!!! No CG here to make legs disappear. Just One mans creativity and iron will. There is nobody in Hollywood (or anywhere else for that matter) who has the kind of mettle this guy had. Those who believe Lon only did Phantom and Hunchback type fare really need to see this. I have been a fan of Lon's work since seeing The Phantom at an early age. His makeup job nearly scarred me for life. My father had to explain to me that it was only makeup, show me a picture of what he really looked like (a picture of a middle aged, jowly, smiling man,) and tell me the tale of "the Man of a Thousand Faces." This hooked me. Lon delivers in this role. His animated face goes through all gears with liquid rapidity. The new "industrial" flavored soundtrack definitely adds something, too. Kudos to Kino for that. If you like Lon Chaney, you will love this movie. If you have never seen any of his work, this is a great place to start.
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Lon Chaney Takes Off
wes-connors9 March 2008
Lon Chaney (as Blizzard) is the underworld lord and master of San Francisco, despite a striking disability - he has no legs. Mr. Chaney's "Blizzard" was, as a boy, a "victim of San Francisco traffic", and had his legs amputated above the knees, after an accident. Moreover, the amputations were unnecessary; they were needlessly preformed by young, inexperienced Charles Clary (as Dr. Ferris); Mr. Clary also leaves a brain contusion untreated. As a boy, Chaney hears an older, experienced doctor scold Mr. Clary on the unnecessary procedure; but, they cover up the crime, and dismiss the young amputee's protests as delusions, caused by ether.

Twenty-seven years later, the powerful crime lord decides to enact his terrifying revenge on the doctor who cut off his legs. Cheney answers a newspaper ad posted by Clary's daughter Claire Adams (as Barbara Ferris); she is a sculptress, looking for someone to model Satan, for her bust:

"WANTED -- Model to pose for statue of 'Satan After the Fall.' If you think you look like Satan, apply at studio of Barbara Ferris, 32 Institute Place. 8284"

The Satanic-looking Chaney is the perfect candidate to sit for the young woman; and, Ms. Adams welcomes him into her art studio, unaware (yet) of his unfortunate association with her father. Meanwhile, Cheney's underworld operation is being infiltrated by a spy; lawman Milton Ross (as Lichtenstein) has sent his best undercover agent, Ethel Grey Terry (as Rose), to gets the goods on Chaney. He is especially interested in why Chaney has his "show girls" making thousands of hats…

"The Penalty" has a noticeable degree of implausibility, as do many films; and, it does become make the film more than a little distracting, at times. Yet, Chaney's performance is so commanding, and so thoroughly enjoyable, it's really pointless to list faults. The film works on the strength of Lon Chaney's performance. Director Wallace Worsley, photographer Donovan D. Short, and art director Gilbert White contribute to the master, by giving the film a great, atmospheric look.

Among the supporting players, James Mason (as Frisco Pete) is easily the standout. Young Edouard Trebaol (as Bubbles) is also well-employed, and natural, alongside the high degree of emoting present amongst the adults. Trebaol memorably re-teamed with Chaney in "Oliver Twist" (they were "Fagin" and "The Artful Dodger"). Interestingly, in the original Gouveneur Morris novel, "Bubbles" had an expanded role, which eventually revealed him to be the son of "Blizzard". That subplot would have added greatly to this film, further contrasting cruelty and humanity; and, of course, recalling the boy "Blizzard", and his earlier loss. It would have also confirmed the adult Chaney's obvious sexual prowess (note how women kneel down to play Chaney's pedals has he tickles the ivories).

Whatever its faults, "The Penalty" set the standard for the expertly performed and extremely successful Lon Chaney role - grotesque, anguished, sympathetic, and/or deformed. It started here. Give yourself a penalty if you pass up this Chaney classic.

********** The Penalty (11/15/20) Wallace Worsley ~ Lon Chaney, Ethel Grey Terry, Claire Adams, Jim Mason
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Lon Chaney Sr. in- what else?- a grotesque tale of the macabre...
Tenkun11 June 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The Man of a Thousand Faces in 1920, before his prime, under the direction of Wallace Worsley who would make him the Hunchback. But instead of being the sympathetic and heart-warming freak, here he is a demoniacal madman out for revenge.

"The Penalty" follows Blizzard, an underworld mastermind who had his legs unnecessarily amputated as a child (kinda like Reagan in "Kings Row"). And aside from general evil, crime, and mayhem, his main goal is to claim revenge on the doctor who did it. After we see the grisly mangling, we move to modern-day (1920) San Francisco where Frisco Pete, a drugged-out hoodlum, murders showgirl Barbary Nell and then flees to sanctuary at Blizzard's hide-out. The police send Rose, their undercover girl, to disguise herself as one of Blizzard's many molls, and become practically a concubine who presses the pedals as Blizzard plays the piano. Meanwhile, he works to seduce the sculptress daughter of the doctor who deformed him, posing as Satan for a sculpture. And all the while he's planning for the greatest crime spree of them all, when he'll bring thousands of disgruntled foreign laborers in to conquer the city...

God, "The Penalty" is creepy. It might not be the best-made movie of all time; the actors might not all stand out; the ending may be a cop-out. But it's got a lot of good points going for it. First, the title. "The Penalty" is about penalties of all kinds: Dr. Ferris must pay a penalty for his youthful indiscretions; Blizzard must pay a penalty for his life of crime. San Francisco must pay for creating monsters like Blizzard and Frisco Pete. The film is submerged in an idea of guilt, revenge, and comeuppance. Lon Chaney, as always, is an asset, in building a disturbing atmosphere of fear and loathing, as well as messing with the viewer's psyche through his performance. On turns you pity and hate him. Sure, he's evil. But his evil is so hypnotically attractive. And he's not entirely to blame for it. He's got no legs- can he still be fully responsible for his actions? Whatever Blizzard does, he revels in it. Climbing up the wall, with those stumps- can you take it? Like other quasi-horror films of the '20s and '30s, "The Penalty" is rife with hellish, gargoylian imagery. Beyond the buckets on Chaney's stumps and his legless swagger, there's the satanic sculpture and the apocalyptic fantasies (in which we see SF reduced to anarchic rubble) and the secret room full of chorus girls making hats, and the dirty underground corridors hidden behind Blizzard's fireplace, and the fully equipped operating room (in which he sets his bizarre revenge, which is worthy of Tod Browning). Then, looking at "The Penalty" from our postmodern perch, we can also enjoy the tinting (which changes from scene to scene) which gives it an almost psychedelic flavor, especially when combined with the soundtrack, which is a mixed bag. It's got some organ, some indistinguishable wailing, a couple possible leitmotifs, and what could be music from the darker levels of Super Mario Bros. It all comes together to give us, basically, "The Phantom of the Opera" meets "Citizen Kane" in hell, dimmed a few notches.

What can I say? If you like Lon Chaney, you're bound to love his role here. The finale may be a let-down, but those are the breaks. Watch with plenty of suspended disbelief and immerse yourself in the abstractly gritty, mildly Gothic San Francisco gangland of the 1920s.
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A Triumph For Mr. Chaney
Ron Oliver13 May 2004
A master criminal pays THE PENALTY for a life full of evil.

Lon Chaney became a major movie star with his role in this shocker. Already regarded as a fine actor for his performances in lesser films, he now proved he was quite willing to go far beyond mere makeup for the enhancement of his screen persona. His dedication to his craft, coupled with an outsized talent, were to make Chaney one of the foremost film actors of the 1920's.

Here Chaney plays a legless mobster who plots terrible revenge upon the doctor who maimed him (his plan to sack San Francisco of its wealth is almost incidental.) In order to create the illusion of being a paraplegic, Chaney bound his legs back and encased them in stumps. He is able to hop about with great alacrity using crutches, but he suffered intense pain during the filming and could only abide the prosthetics for short periods of time.

As remarkable as what he's able to achieve on his knees might be, it is the face of Chaney which is equally memorable here. The fact that he's able to model for a bust of Satan as part of the plot is no accident. His features take on the visage of pure unadulterated evil. The blood chills to look at him. Chaney the Actor has wordlessly spoken.

The film itself is a pleasantly florid potboiler, with plenty of menace, mayhem and damsels in distress. But it is Chaney who lingers longest in memory's darkest recess...
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One of Chaney's best films
funkyfry28 October 2002
Morbid gothic revenge tale set in modern (1918) San Francisco. Chaney gives one of his best performances ever as Blizzard, a legless criminal mastermind out to get his back from the whole city of SF. He can only pillage the treasury, as he envisions, with legs, so he plots to have a doctor amputate another man's legs and graft them onto his own.

Chaney is appropriately diabolical as he moves about on stumps and crutches faster than his bipedal friends. Phoney "redemption" through surgery climax does much to spoil the sadistic fun of the preceding seven reels.
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Lon Chaney - one of his best performances...great plot.
rmartyna13 October 2003
I saw this film on the big screen. From the beginning, one may get the impression that this could be one of the "been there...seen this" plots. Not true. The storyline is full of twists and turns throughout. Even the title has a twist at the end of the movie. While watching the plot unfold, I thought that it referred to the penalty the doctor and his family had to pay for the operation performed on Blizzard as a boy (Lon Chaney's character), making him handicaped...not so! Another twist is the female detective's turning from her investigation to admiration of Blizzard; the twist in the operation procedure performed on Blizzard to restore his legs; and then, the final twist at the end of the movie. Not what you would have expected...however, the final "penalty" is paid.

To sum it up...great actor and great story. Worth a repeat viewing. Rating: 9/10
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Tender-Flesh10 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I do love silent films and while this isn't a horror film, though I believe Lon Chaney is probably known best today(if at all) by younger viewers for his horror film work, it still a creeper. Lon plays Mr. Blizzard, a crime kingpin who had his legs amputated at the knee when he was a child. They were mistakenly amputated by a young doctor who later made a great name for himself in the field of medicine and all the while, Blizzard, in his crippled, broken body planned a very great revenge against not only the doctor who disfigured him, but against the entire town of San Francisco. His view was that cripples like him were shunned by society, so the best place for him to be was in the criminal underworld. He rose to a place of distinction(though one wonders how since even though he is intimidating, most street hoods wouldn't have been scared of him) and his villainous tendrils stretched out into many pockets and back alley shenanigans. I enjoyed the dialogue and Chaney's facial expressions are a true marvel. No one can look like him anymore. And, more to the point, he truly suffered for this role. To be realistic, and without the aid of the all too taken-for-granted CGI, Lon rigged up a special harness to bind his legs so he could walk on his knees with his lower legs tucked up behind him, under his coat. Not only does it look like a painful device, Chaney himself commented on its torturous design. There was a single dreamlike sequence towards the end of the film where you see him with his "new" legs, but that scene was eventually cut, and I feel rightly so. As a side, I loved the second doorknob that was placed at kid-level just for him. My only complaint about the film was the occasional use of an inappropriate score, though at times spot-on, other times it was very ineffective and even distracting. Obviously, this is a modern score and not the original music.

Highly recommended for Chaney fans or just silent film buffs in general.
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The Penalty (1920) ***
JoeKarlosi22 February 2006
This was the first starring role for Lon Chaney, and he's terrific playing a double amputee whose legs were both needlessly cut off as a boy by a young doctor who felt it was required to save the child's life after a serious accident. The boy eventually grows up to be an embittered underworld leader, looking to settle the score. Chaney gives a great performance and he is still amazing to watch today, even 86 years later, while painfully contorting his body to produce the needed effect, utilizing only his talent and ingenuity in place of today's CGI effects. Sure, Hollywood would have used CG back then if they had the luxury, but I still find it more mesmerizing this way. Lon had to pull his legs up behind his back and have them strapped tightly underneath a long overcoat, hobbling about on his knees. The direction is solid and the story is consistently interesting and multi-layered. It's very easy to sympathize with Chaney's character through his strong performance, but I felt that the way his criminal behavior was explained for the conclusion was a tad of a letdown. Still, quite a worthwhile film. *** out of ****
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Highly imaginative and highly uneven
MartinHafer17 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Wow,...there is so much that is wonderful about THE PENALTY, but there's so much of the ending that undoes all the wonderful stuff in the first 90% of the film. Let's first talk about the good stuff. Lon Chaney plays an absolutely amazing role as a double-amputee. He actually bound his legs behind him and learned to walk on stumps for the role and he really looks like he's missing legs! Unlike 'Lt. Dan' from FORREST GUMP, this was not a computer trick--instead, Chaney underwent this very painful ordeal to get the part right.

His character is an evil mastermind and he looks so incredibly tough and nasty. Some of this is natural (he was a far from handsome man) but part of his appearing so menacing was due to makeup and wonderful acting. The plot also was pretty creepy and exciting in a very, very dark way. As the evil criminal mastermind, Chaney did some very scary and edgy things--such as using a trap-door to make his enemies fall into a pit where they were then quickly dispatched!! As a result, the film was very exciting and weird--in a good way.

However, the most grisly aspect of the plot--where Chaney had an enemy's legs chopped off and grafted onto his own stumps--was NOT done but only threatened. In what I see as a 'cop out' to make the movie less disgusting and provide a happier ending, when the surgeon is forced to do this awful procedure, he instead finds a tumor on the base of Chaney's brain that apparently made him evil! And, 'VOILA'--when the tumor was removed, Chaney was apparently another Albert Schweitzer--with a new-found love of mankind! What a disappointing turn of events--especially for what comes next in the film.

So in conclusion, the film is creepy, edgy and a marvelous performance by Chaney that is ultimately severely impaired by a poor ending. Too bad, but at least Chaney's later films would capitalize on the successful aspects of this early film and also produce better, more grisly and realistic endings--such as in THE UNKNOWN or PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.
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Fate chained me to evil, for that I must pay the Penalty
DarthVoorhees2 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Lon Chaney stars in one of the best performances ever caught on screen. Dedication is a trait we sometimes don't see in actors but when you saw the name Lon Chaney attached to a picture you knew he was going to give 110% to his role. The Penalty is at times very silly but it only becomes that way if you look hard enough through Lon Chaney's mastery.

Lon Chaney stars as Blizzard, a deranged amputee who is the head of San Francisco's crime underworld. He is a mad man and the author-ties are determined to bring him down, an inspector named Licthenstein sends his loyal assistant Rose to go undercover in Blizzard's world. Blizard is planning a crime that will leave San Francisco in ruin but he doesn't focus in on it. He has another part of his plan, he will play with the mind of Barbara an aspiring artist who is creating a sculpture of Satan. Through this he vents all his criminal energy toward capturing Barbara's fiancé, the future son in law of the doctor who mistakenly amputated his legs and force him to graft them on to him.

Meanwhile Blizzard exacts his control over the two women in his life, Rose and Barbabra the doctor's daughter. They are both morbidly fascinated by him and both begin to fall in love with him.

This story is overly melodramatic even for the silent era but I have to strongly recommend for Chaney. His performance is absolutely breathtaking. The fact that he so convincingly plays an amputee through great physical pain leaves you in awe. It puts you in so much awe that we forget the silly communist commentary and the fact that if this film did not have Chaney it probably would be another forgotten lost film.

I think this film is an important part of motion picture history simply because it shows what separates a great actor from a legend
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The movie: a 10! The background music: a ZERO
chris-glo9 May 2004
Lon Chaney was probably one of the greatest actors of the Silver Screen and I have never been disappointed in any of his movies. The Man of a 1000 Faces truly was more deserving of a musical score better than the one given to "The Penalty". It was so irritating, I had to turn off the sound in order to enjoy yet another of his great performances. His supporting cast was also very good and the story/plot is fantastic. It is because of Lon Chaney that I (and others!) have taken such an interest in the silents. Over the years I have enjoyed Valentino ("The Eagle" is VERY impressive), Gloria Swanson, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford and others, but Chaney leads the pack. A big BOO-HISS to whomever was responsible for the score, but again, a giant "10" to Chaney's performance!
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When Satan fell from Heaven he looked for power in Hell
Jamie Ward25 July 2016
If not the very first to reach a wide audience, Wallace Worsley's The Penalty survives to this day certainly at least as one of the more memorable and enjoyable proto-noir gangster thrillers from the mid-to- late silent era. Featuring engrossingly dark imagery throughout, a wonderfully gritty plot line filled with characters blooming from a pre-code era and a sense of pace in editing and direction so brisk you might have to look twice at its production date; The Penalty has plenty going for it but by far its best feature lies in the magnetic and grotesquely alluring performance of its lead star Lon "the man of one-thousand faces" Chaney.

Committing fully to his role as a man wrongly crippled at a young age by inept Dr. Ferris in the late 1890s, Chaney is so convincing in his role that viewers unfamiliar with his more famous works could be forgiven for Googling his name to find out if he really did have legs or not. Apparently the apparatus he wore to achieve the effect (which he had to insist on wearing against the studio's reported resistance) left him with lasting back problems for the remainder of his life. Whether true or not, the result is nevertheless a marvel to watch as his character of Blizzard—a brilliantly creative, megalomaniac-kingpin of sorts—hobbles his way in and out of people's lives, playing their strings all the while grinning sardonically with facial contortions likely to strip paint off walls.

When Blizzard begins to enact on a long-dreamt-of plan of retribution against the now-successful Ferris however, it's the inclusion of the doctor's daughter Barbara that allows the audience to see briefly the sadness and morose qualities underneath the surface of the crime- lord's chagrined demeanour. Chaney nails both sides of the coin equally well, despite the film's best and most enjoyable moments resulting from Blizzard's more-often-than-not irritable and ill- tempered outbursts. Then there are the moments where the character switches back and forth like a light switch. During an early scene, Blizzard, while playing a wonderfully sombre and melancholic classical piano piece, begins: "I shall be the master of a city! And for my mangled years the city shall pay me—with the pleasures of a Nero and the power of a Caesar!" The contrast here is palpable, and were it in the hands of a lesser talent, may have come off stilted or jarring for the wrong reasons.

On the other hand, the picture is by no means without its flaws. It's sometimes a little too melodramatic for its own good, specifically during the last 10 or so minutes. Furthermore, some plot lines go nowhere interesting, and the overall wrap-up is misguided and rushed to the point where it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, even though it does boast the best line in the film. As a package however, I would recommend at least one viewing. Much like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde released a few months prior, the performance of its lead star is worth the time invested alone. Unlike said film however, The Penalty still has plenty else going for it outside of Chaney whether it's from the performances of the supporting cast or the brisk direction by Worsley cut with incisive, well-written and paced intertitles.

If you do seek out the film, again I would recommend the newly restored blu-ray which has been respectfully scanned and cleaned up by the George Eastman House Motion Picture Department and released by Kino. The disc also features a score composed by Rodney Sauer performed by the Mont Alto Orchestra which bounces off and compliments the film beautifully to the point where they actually bring piano melodies played by Blizzard alive as he muses over his plans to conquer San Francisco by force. It's a nice touch and much like Chaney strapping his legs behind his thighs, brings a level of commitment and dedication that gives an extra spark to already bright and highly enjoyable film.
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Lon Chaney is brilliant as Blizzard!!!!
kidboots10 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
This was Lon Chaney's first starring film after wowing everyone in "The Miracle Man".

I watched "The Penalty" at night and it really scared me. Even though people are dismissive of the ending - that it is too "comfortable" - I needed that ending - I would have found it difficult to get to sleep otherwise.

Lon Chaney plays Blizzard, the insane crime lord of the San Francisco underworld. As a child he was the victim of a botched operation which left him a double amputee. He overhears the doctors talking about how the operation was unnecessary and grows up bitter and twisted in his mind.

Chaney's performance is outstanding - he endured great pain by strap- ping his legs up at the knees in a specially made harness. Not only that but he perfected the walk until he actually walked like he had always been an amputee. Jumping onto tables, climbing up ladders, sliding down poles - all landing on his knees!!!

He runs a millinery where he terrorizes the factory girls by jumping on the table and grabbing their hair. If one happens to catch his fancy - she becomes his personal slave - and is forced to use her hands as pedals when he plays the piano as he has no legs!!!

He is surrounded by an evil henchman - Frisco Pete - who will stop at nothing to keep in Blizzard's good books - even to killing one of the girls, Barbary Nell who has left the factory to make out on her own.

Litchenstein head of the secret police wants one of his agents, Rose (Ethel Grey Terry) to go undercover to get evidence to destroy Blizzard. Blizzard has a plan to take over the city and seek revenge on the doctor that operated on him as a boy.

The doctor, now a famous surgeon, has a daughter who is a sculptor but wants to do a worthwhile piece of art before she marries. She places an advertisement in the paper for models that look like Satan. Blizzard is hired!!!!

Meanwhile Rose has been working undercover and found nothing. When Blizzard is out she finds an underground passage - complete with an operating theatre. He plans to form an army of disgruntled foreigners who will loot the city. Blizzard, by this time will have had an operation on his legs to make him able bodied and the legs he is looking at belong to Wilmot, the doctor's assistant. There is an operation but not the one he demands!!!

Lon Chaney's facial expressions are really remarkable - in a lot of scenes he really looks satanic.

There are no known names in the cast - Kenneth Harlan, who had a reasonable career and at one time was married to Marie Prevost, plays Wilmot. Cesare Gravina, who had a part in "Greed" as the junkman, has a small part in this film playing a sculpting instructor.

This is a fantastic film - I will give it 10 out of 10.
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About the soundtrack...
rekshop15 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I am increasingly becoming disappointed in the "modern" soundtracks that are being applied to the "reconstituted" silents. While watching the film, it quickly becomes obvious that the sound track technology is way ahead of the technology of the times (1920).

While I DO think that the soundtrack to this particular film DOES relay all the proper emotion, tension, sadness, etc..and seems to be well synchronized to each scene, I do take issue to the fact that some of this soundtrack (particulary the scenes where the music implies "scheming" or clumsy movement, e.g. the mocking tuba over the sound of synthesized metal or "mechanical metallic sounds" when the amputee is featured, is COMPLETELY out of character for a film of the time (1920). No such sounds or music could be made in that way 86 years ago. It is just WAY too SYNTHETIC. And "synthetic" wasn't even a WORD back in 1920!

The recreated soundtrack should stick to, as close as possible, to whatever technology was available at the time. (Piano, orchestra, etc.)

I know what a tremendous effort it takes to bring these films "out of the grave" and to preserve what precious ones are left(less than 10% of all Silent's ever made???? gees!!. People need to get an idea of what early cinematography was like. Let's just take a few more moments to try and preserve, as much as possible the "authenticity" of the audio technology that was available at the time at which it was made. Other than that..... kudos's to all the people involved in restoring this film to make it available for those of us who treasure this rare but very historically relevant art form. Highest regards..... REKSHOP.
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"I Can Murder Anything But Music"
BaronBl00d27 November 2001
Lon Chaney gives yet another outstanding performance as a man living with his legs amputated at a young age by mistake. He overhears the doctors first saying it was a mistake and then forging a pact to lie and say the surgery was essential. Chaney grows up to be a bitter, malevolent leader of underground activities in San Francisco. The role gives Chaney several opportunities to show his undeniable skill as an actor and human contortionist. Doubling his legs up and walking on his knees, Chaney mesmerized me with his ability to change reality into fantasy. He looks like a crippled man. Chaney also again showed me his range as an actor that could create pathos through his facial expressions. Never playing a one-dimensional part, Chaney is often brutal and cruel throughout much of the film, yet he enjoys music and art and always possesses a certain charm and affability. A wonderful performance all around! The other actors are very good and the direction is nice and tight. The story is very strong with some melodramatic overtones to be sure. There are some great scenes in this film like Chaney carrying on like a madman demanding the legs of a young doctor and, in particular, the scenes where he poses as Satan after the fall. The film has a nice pace for a silent picture, and the title cards are extremely powerful and literate.
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normv15 August 2001
The Immortal Lon Chaney (Sr) does it again! He plays a man who vows revenge against the doctor who "mistakenly" amputed his legs when he was a child.

This is a story of cold hatred and revenge -- much like Chaney's "West of Zanzibar".

I feel that the person who wrote the synopsis of this film gave too much's better to watch it not knowing what happens.....

Chaney underwent excruciating pain, having his legs doubled up under his coat, and walking on his KNEES! (He could only do it for short periods of time).

ANYONE who dislikes silent films should watch THIS film; it's riveting right to the very end!
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"It's always Blizzard - that cripple from Hell!"
classicsoncall13 April 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Imagine what self confidence (or maybe lack thereof) that one must have to answer an ad that states 'If you think you look like Satan, apply at studio of ...'. It wouldn't have been a problem for the 'Man of a Thousand Faces', the elder Lon Chaney who made the transition from vaudeville to silent films, and eventually into talkies. Chaney's films may be a little hard to come by, but they're worth catching if only to see the amount of dedication the actor put into his craft. That's demonstrated here by the painful looking exercise the man had to go through to appear amputated at the knee of both legs. You know, I kept marveling at how real the effect looked and wondering how the film makers did it, because it does look like the actor really has no legs. Other reviewers on this board describe the process, so one could check those out.

The story itself is a rather ghastly one, as it follows the tragic amputation of a young boy's legs due to an accident, but which probably didn't have to be performed as suggested by a senior doctor examining the work of Dr. Ferris (Charles Clary). The operation affects the young man not only the physically, but mentally, as he resorts to a life of crime that transforms into a madness for corruption and power. Taking the name of Blizzard (Chaney), the evil madman concocts a bizarre plan of revenge on the doctor who operated on him, the doctor's daughter, and even the entire city of San Francisco.

I have to admit, there were any number of disconnects in the story for me which one might attribute to the writing of the era. One of the major ones involved Blizzard's management of a workshop in which dance hall girls assembled thousands of hats! Later it was revealed that the plot to loot San Francisco involved ten thousand disgruntled foreign laborers, but even so, why the business with the hats? It all seemed rather bizarre, but no more so than the twist at the end of the story that restored Blizzard's brain to normalcy, even as he wound up paying the penalty for his formerly wicked life.

I caught this film on the Turner Classic Movie channel, with a soundtrack that eerily fit the activity that appeared on screen. I doubt if it was the original score for the film if indeed there was any. The music offered was at times strange, mysterious, and other-worldly, expertly complementing the character of Blizzard and his garish life. One might even consider the version of the soundtrack I experienced to be somewhat devilish.
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Terrific Chaney Performance in Top Notch Silent Film
dglink9 March 2017
"Blizzard," a double amputee intent on revenge, ranks among the "Man of a Thousand Faces's" finest performances. Lon Chaney dominates "The Penalty," a 1920 silent film directed by Wallace Worsley. Although nearly a century old, the film is no museum curiosity, but rather a remarkably contemporary movie and an engrossing drama. The print is in good condition, projected at the correct speed, beautifully tinted, and well scored.

While laying in his hospital bed, a young boy overhears his doctors admit that the amputation of his legs had been a mistake. Rather than admit their error, the doctors conceal their guilt, and, when the boy tells his parents what he heard, the doctors claim he is hallucinating from the effects of ether. The boy matures into Lon Chaney as "Blizzard," an underworld crime lord, who seeks to take revenge on the doctor, the doctor's daughter, and on the city of San Francisco. As part of his plan, Chaney manipulates his way into being the model for a statue of Satan, sculpted by the doctor's daughter. Meanwhile, the authorities have planted a mole among Blizzard's confidantes to uncover his plot. Although other members of the cast, such as Charles Clary, Doris Pawn, Claire Adams, and Kenneth Harlan are largely forgotten, their acting is naturalistic for the most part, and only a few overplayed flourishes of the "grand style" mar the film. Made well before the Production Code, the film has a flash of nudity and an implied sado-masochistic relationship between "Blizzard" and the woman who manually pushes the piano pedals, while he plays the keyboard.

Fine sharp cinematography, an engrossing story, good performances, and a legendary star in a memorable role, "The Penalty" is a must see for silent film aficionados and Lon Chaney fans. For those unfamiliar with either silents or Chaney, the film is an excellent work in which to discover both.
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The Beast is loose
timbeach-0388921 December 2015
Seven years before Von Sternberg made what seems to be the most acclaimed silent crime film, and sometimes referred to as the first gangster picture - 'Underworld' - Wallace Worsley made 'The Penalty', a much better film about the secret service attempting to put a halt to the mysterious evil workings of an underworld head figure in San Francisco.

Lon Chaney plays the head figure - who is one of the most superbly acted, and utterly despicable characters put to screen. Having both legs amputated above the knee at a young age, Chaney, who gets around on crutches, seeks to slyfully use evil to obtain as much power as possible. He does so by controlling an organized safety net around him, so that despite his physical liabilities, he has a commanding, all powerful presence, which he is not afraid to use for theft, murder and the abuse of women, amongst other things. Considering I first saw Chaney as the sad, compassionate neglected clown of 'He Who Gets Slapped' the transformation here is incredible. For modern audiences, he is perhaps most comparable to Jack Nicholson's more manic roles.

Religious themes run throughout the film as Chaney takes pride in considering himself Satan personified. When a female sculptor posts an advertisement for a Satan model, Chaney ensures he is the only applicant, and we get the apt title card comparing his character to the mangled Satan who once thrown from Heaven, seeks to gain all the power of Hell. After a start that is a little slow, the hate filled tension slowly builds nicely as various players get caught up in his web. You never know what his intention is, but you know it won't end well.

The plot twists at the end were a bit too predictable - and for a man whose evil resided primarily in his crafty intelligence, an awful lot seemed to be left to chance - unbelievably so - so that for mine this quality film falls just short of masterpiece. It is well worth watching however and must be considered one of the most important films in the crime genre. It also makes good use of cross cutting between different scenes to progress overlapping plot points.
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evening15 April 2015
Warning: Spoilers
A doctor rashly decides to amputate a young accident victim's legs. Too late, he learns the surgery was unnecessary -- but doesn't own up to his mistake.

This hideous scenario puts the crippled Blizzard onto a path to become a San Francisco crime boss who steals, exploits, and kills. Some might say he had a right to "act out"; we don't learn until the end of this dark film that an even more powerful trigger was at work.

Lon Chaney, painfully ambulating on stumps, turns in his customary stellar performance, conjuring a complex persona that can be cruel and calculating but also vulnerable and merciful. ("Laughter burns a cripple like acid!") Along the way, a sophisticated woman working undercover for the prosecutor falls devastatingly in love with him ("Master!"), and Blizzard develops an affection for the surgeon's artistic daughter.

This film builds inexorably in tension and suspense until a deeply nihilistic denouement.

"Don't grieve, dear," Blizzard tells Nell. "Death interests me."

When an actor of Chaney's stature says such words, we don't question them. Performer, character, role -- here, they're perfect together!
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Blizzard, King of the Underworld...
simeon_flake6 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
A car accident leaves a small boy in the care of a doctor who decides to amputate both of the boy's legs. The boy also has a contusion at the base of his skull--a plot point that will become very important towards the end of the movie.

Much to the doctor's shock and dismay, one of his colleagues reveals that amputation wasn't necessary and the boy overhears how the doctor butchered him. Years later, the boy would grow up to become Blizzard, the King of the San Francisco underworld.

Blizzard has plans--not only to rob the city blind, but to exact revenge on the doctor who robbed him of his legs.

This was without doubt, the best Lon Chaney Sr. movie I have seen. No elaborate facial makeups, just the acting skills of a master silent screen star--and the no doubt arduous pains Chaney must have gone through to affect the double amputee look.

This might also be one of the very few Chaney Sr. films I've seen where he gets a girl. Not the one he had his eyes on throughout the film, but a girl nonetheless and after an operation, it appears Chaney may get a very happy ending--that is until he must pay the Penalty.

This might also be the best restoration I have seen of all of Chaney's surviving silents. There's still one or two I have not purchased yet, but there was not a whole lot in the way of grain or dirt, static, whatever else may effect old movies such as these.

Overall, if you're a fan of Lon Chaney, then "The Penalty" is required viewing. 10 stars
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Seminal Lon Chaney Role
gavin694210 October 2013
A deformed criminal mastermind (Lon Chaney) plans to loot the city of San Francisco as well as revenge himself on the doctor who mistakenly amputated his legs.

"The Penalty" was one of Chaney's breakout roles, showcasing his taste for the macabre and talent for contortion and disguise. He had previously demonstrated similar qualities in the previous year's "The Miracle Man", but "The Penalty" and "Treasure Island" secured Chaney's place as one of the greatest character actors, before moving on to his more famous roles in "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" and "The Phantom of the Opera".

This story is great, the acting is fine and the directing is good, too. But really, the draw of this film is Chaney -- a man who was willing to undergo extreme and permanent bodily pain in order to make his role as believable as possible. I am not entirely sure why an amputee was not hired, but if it launched Chaney to the big time, I am glad it worked out the way it did.
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The Penalty
Scarecrow-8822 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The wrongful amputation of a child's legs due to a doctor's misdiagnosis leads to the embittered rage of the patient as an adult. The coping with not having legs, often repulsing others and pretty much ruining the relationship with his father, Blizzard(Lon Chaney in a mesmerizing performance)has risen to the ranks of Master of the Underworld in San Francisco. He's a cruel, sadistic tyrant who rules his district(The Barbary Coast)with such an iron fist that even police rather fear him. He has dreamed for years of having new legs grafted, following the success in the surgical field of Dr. Ferris(Charles Clary)with a demented goal of revenge if his desires aren't met. He's also planning to take over San Francisco as a Caesar(..he's really quite mad)with his dance-hall girls making hats so that he can start a revolt using supposed foreigners as his bait to draw out the authorities. Anyway, secret agent Rose(Ethel Grey Terry)is moved in to snuff out Blizzard's operation, but soon finds herself in love with him. Blizzard also has plotted a scheme to get back at Ferris by moving in on his daughter..Blizzard sits in as a model for daughter Barbara(Doris Pawn)whose creating a sculpture of Satan, while her fiancé is enraged with jealousy and fear. For a good hour and fifteen minutes, Chaney etches the portrait of a man consumed with evil and displays this cunning shark playing a game with others as his face twists in snarls and sneaky grins. I don't buy the idea, though, that a contusion at the base of the skull, placing pressure on the brain, causes Blizzard to become the purely maniacal ringleader of crime he so becomes, but the film's roots is in tragedy and "paying the piper" so the filmmakers seemed determined to have him go out facing the music as a wholesome human being.
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The Music
aspenentertains27 January 2013
Myself being a listener of TV and not a devoted watcher, find Sunday nights with TCM an unpleasant distraction with most scores for the Silent Movies catching up a bit late to my consciousness with welcome relief by my latent push of a button. These scores no matter the orchestrations, generate memories of organ music in vintage Soap Operas. The Penalty was different and had me listening till the end with delight. I am sorry if in fact as some others say, it does not match the film. My hope is their conclusion is based on their own barriers. I will settle back one day and watch it for my own conclusion.
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