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Purchase The Penalty (1920) Movie Online and Download - Wallace Worsley 🎥
Crime, Drama, Thriller, Horror
IMDB rating:
Wallace Worsley
Kenneth Harlan as Dr. Wilmot Allen
Milton Ross as Lichtenstein
Claire Adams as Barbara Ferris
Doris Pawn as Barbary Nell
Lon Chaney as Blizzard
Jim Mason as Frisco Pete (as James Mason)
Charles Clary as Dr. Ferris
Storyline: 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.
Type Resolution File Size Codec Bitrate Format
DVD-rip 544x400 px 703 Mb mpeg4 1095 Kbps avi Purchase
Terrible Score for a Great Film
This review only applies to the Kino Video VHS release. However, as far as I know, it's the only release currently available in the U.S.

Okay, it's a silent movie, I know. However, it's clearly designed to be shown with musical accompaniment. Kino Video didn't have, couldn't find, or didn't like the original score, so they cobbled up their own. The Kino accompaniment is horrible, an aimless composition thrown together without inspiration. It fails to follow the pace or drama of the movie, repeats like a synth loop (with little gaps/dropouts), and is pointlessly frenetic. There are times when frenetic is good in a silent film score, BUT NOT THE WHOLE MOVIE! The net result is that the score seriously detracts from the movie. Turning off the sound is a good option, but it only makes you more aware of how much this movie needs, and deserves, accompaniment.
Highly imaginative and highly uneven
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.
"I Can Murder Anything But Music"
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.
Fate chained me to evil, for that I must pay the Penalty
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
The movie: a 10! The background music: a ZERO
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!
Chaney Shines
This was as good as it gets for Lon Chaney, Sr. While the tale itself suspect, his performance rises above. We have all heard the stories of how this man could put himself through agony for a role. This is a prime example. A boy has his legs unnecessarily amputated by an inexperienced doctor. As he grows, he goes over to the dark side and becomes pure evil. Chaney somehow tucked those legs into some prosthetics. It must have been extremely painful. His primary victims are women whom he subverts through his gangland like power. It's hard to be totally appalled at his actions because he certainly is a victim. But he has choices. As time goes along, there are those who are willing to befriend him and actually express love toward him. He had one of the most emotionally expressive faces to ever grace the screen. Unfortunately, the conclusion sort of dies on the vine.
Leave from Satan's Book
A traffic accident. Young doctor Ferris (Charles Clary) operates on the young boy : both his legs need to be amputated. But it is a misdiagnosis. A youth misdiagnosis which can have fatal consequences...

Twenty-seven years later, in San Francisco, maybe the richest city in the States. Even the mobsters are rich. Blizzard (Lon Chaney) is their chief. Blizzard is a cripple: no feet, no knees... He walks thanks to clutches. But Blizzard is not only a mobster: he is a music lover. He is also a great piano player whose girlfriends play (voluntarily?) the pedals for him. His last pedal player: Rose (Ethel Grey Terry). But Rose is an undercover federal agent: she must discover his dark schemes. Because Blizzard cannot forget what happened to him as a child. He wants to take revenge, and get his legs back. And Rose falls really in love with him.

Her is a film which helped (unintentionally) the creation of the Motion Picture Production Code: - In the five first minutes of the film, we can see a violent death; - the killer (James "Jim" Mason) is a drug addict and a bit neurotic; - the main character is really a very bad man; - he uses violence against women; - policemen are killed; - there is a naked woman! So, everything is here to create a wonderful gangster movie, with - last but not least - Lon Chaney, "the Man with a thousand faces". But this time, Lon Chaney does not use any visible make up. He only uses - with great talent - his face. He can laugh and suddenly wear a sad or threatening face or vice versa. He has never had and will never have again such a threatening face. He really looks evil. He is evil. Chaney's other performance is his walk. He uses clutches or bare hands but walks on his knees (his legs tied behind). It is a very painful experience, especially when he has to jump down a stool or slide down a ramp, falling on his knees. This film is the first of a series in which Lon Chaney plays crippled characters - mostly with Tod Browning - using or not make up : The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (Rupert Jullian, 1925); The black Bird (1926), The Road to Mandalay (1926), The black Bird (1927) and West of Zanzibar (1928), directed by Browning. The French title (Satan) is more relevant than the American title. the Devil is always present in the movie: -The chief of police talk about "a cripple from Hell"; - Blizzard calls himself "Satan"; - Blizzard is referred as the Beast (number 666?) in the inter-titles; - Blizzard is chosen as model by the doctor's daughter who wants to create a bust of Satan; - Blizzard rules the underworld (do I need to explain?).

But the end of the film is a bit naive: Blizzard is cured and becomes a good man. Society gives him another chance: he will marry Rose and use his great intelligence for Good rather than Bad. Unless Fate gets involved...
Fabulously grotesque potboiler
Lon Chaney remains one of the most loved figures of the silent era and for good reason: he was a fantastic actor who threw himself into his parts 100 percent. The Penalty (1920), his first starring effort, is no exception.

With a plot featuring drug-dealing, prostitution, and murder, The Penalty is a grisly picture with a great, seedy underworld atmosphere. Chaney steals the show as the double amputee crime lord Blizzard; his performance is part terrifying, part wicked camp, and part sympathetic, all in all a complex villain. Also notable is Ethel Grey Terry as Rose, the woman who infiltrates Blizzard's underworld and hopes to bring him to justice- before falling in love with him, of course. Terry underplays it and gets to shine in an active role. No damsel in distress is she.

Still, the film does have flaws. The "heroes" of the film are not only out-shined by the more charismatic Blizzard, they are also unlikeable for a modern audience with their sexist attitudes toward women, whom they believe should just stay at home and reproduce instead of following their ambitions. The ending smacks of deus ex machina, though I will say the filmmakers pull it off as best as they can.

Absolutely essential for fans of the silent film era.
The Music
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.
Lon Chaney at his mesmerizing best...
LON CHANEY hobbles around on crutches, his legs mere stumps through a young doctor's mistake in amputating both legs above the knee after an accident as a young boy.

Chaney, the actor, must have endured a lot of pain from having to bind both legs in order to convincingly play the double amputee--and, of course, he does it with so many flourishes using his crutches and nimbly mounting chairs and climbing using just the strength in his arms. There's strength in his face too, and it's used to advantage here when he poses for a bust of Satan, the Evil One. He can convey evil with just a slight change of expression and a look in his eyes, so much so that he's quite chilling in several scenes with very little make-up needed.

The plot seems like a contrivance--an old-fashioned one about a man seeking revenge for the man that wronged him, but the plot throws in a couple of twists along the way so that in the end, "the penalty" is not the one you expected.

I watched this on TCM and the only unfortunate thing was the irritatingly busy background score which became repetitive and inappropriate for the on screen action. Let's hope that someone else will compose a better score for this film, for it truly deserves better than the one provided so far.
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