"The Penalty" is really about the character played by Gene Reynolds. It's a role similar to the one he had in "The Get-Away," another excellent film. He was a fascinating, intense young actor. He was sort of a teen-aged John Garfield. (I understand that the actor went on to win numerous Emmys producing for television. That's fine. Who knows how he would have matured and what sort of roles, if any, he would have got had he remained with acting.) The movie begins with the fine Edward Arnold in his usual genial manner. He is hiring men for a job, assuring them in a fatherly manner that they'll be paid well. But quickly we see that they are being hired as his stooges for a bank robbery. And that he yes, is fatherly: He is the father of the Reynolds character, who worships him.
Arnold plays one bitter, nasty guy. And he's teaching his son to be as cold and cynical as he is. His girl friend, played by the entertaining Veda Ann Borg, may not worship him. But she worships the furs and other finery his ill-gotten money buys her.
The bulk of "The Penalty" takes place on a farm where Reynolds is sent while dad is on the lam. No more about the plot other than to mention the people in this new home: Robert Sterling is excellent as the farmer. Marsha Hunt is appealing as his lady friend, the local schoolteacher. Lionel Barrymore is her father. As he often did, he plays variations on his standard persona: When he's talking about young Reynolds or young Sterling, he could as easily be speaking of young Dr. Kildaire.
The movie has a little of everything: It's exciting and suspenseful. It's funny at times. And it's sad. I recommend it very highly.
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