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The Penalty

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The Penalty, starring Lon Chaney, Ethel Grey Terry
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The Penalty (1920), starring Lon Chaney, Ethel Grey Terry

Synopsis of The Penalty

In The Penalty, Lon Chaney stars as Blizzard a criminal mastermind crippled in his childhood by a young doctor’s mistake. He takes his revenge on the world through his crimes. But is the person he has become his fault or is there some other explanation?

Editorial review of The Penalty courtesy of

Lon Chaney, the Man of a Thousand Faces, was no mere makeup wizard, as this dark, deviant crime drama shows. Strapping his legs into a painful leather harness to play a double-amputee underworld kingpin, Chaney scrambles through the film like a human spider weaving his criminal web across San Francisco with equal parts seduction and terror. Crippled as child by an incompetent doctor, he dedicates his life to vengeance in a double-barreled plot that will bring both the city and the doctor (now an honored physician) to their knees. Director Wallace Worsley (who later collaborated with Chaney on his legendary Hunchback of Notre Dame) peppers the busy plot with bizarre touches of sexual menace and sadism, and he creates a wicked atmosphere of corruption and murder that implicates every character. Even the absurd twist of a happy ending can’t wipe that away. –Sean Axmaker

Product description of The Penalty

In a role that established him as one of the most dynamically terrifying performers of the silent screen, Lon Chaney stars in The Penalty, a grotesque thriller form director Wallace Worsley (The Hunchback of Notre Dame). When an incompetent doctor amputates the legs of a young boy, he has no idea that the youth will grow up to be the immoral and embittered Blizzard, a criminal mastermind who orchestrates a bizarre and heinous plot to avenge himself upon his malefactor. The Penalty teems with irony and sexual menace as Blizzard befriends the surgeon’s daughter and serves as an artist’s model for her sculptural rendition of Satan, waiting for his moment to show the depth of his demonic desires.

In playing the devious Blizzard, Chaney tightly harnessed his legs within a pair of leather stumps, flawlessly rendering the physical disfigurement that so profoundly echoes the misshapen mind that drives this sadistic character toward his violent destiny. As Chaney biographer Michael Blake says, “One has to wonder if the intensity Lon brought to this role might have been due in part to the pain produced by his harness.” This special Kino on Video edition is loaded with supplemental features which better one’s understanding of The Penalty, Lon Chaney and the great lengths to which he went to craft such a feverishly villainous performances.

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