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 t... more »hrough 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« less
Chris Aitken | Manakin Sabot, Virginia United States | 04/02/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Other than "The Phantom of The Opera" this is Chaneys' best work. I have viewed most Lon Chaney films (All that are in print). I must admit, some of his films are corny, one hour melodramas,that I would only recommend to dedicated fans. However, this story, the acting, and the "Kino" soundtrack, will make this one to remember. Better than "The Hunchback" (and that's saying a lot)"
One of Chaney's Best
Mr Peter G George | Ellon, Aberdeenshire United Kingdom | 10/31/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Penalty is a superb Lon Chaney film. It has a really sinister, creepy atmosphere and a central performance from `The Man of a Thousand Faces' which is amongst his best. Chaney, in the role of Blizzard, does not use elaborate face makeup, although his face still takes on an incredible number of varied expressions. What makes his performance so memorable is that he is able to convincingly play the part of someone who has had both legs amputated above the knee. Chaney is totally believable as he moves around on crutches. He shows an incredible strength in using only his arms to climb ladders and ropes. Chaney's performance is not merely a physical tour-de-force. His portrayal of the bitter criminal mastermind does not descend into caricature. The viewer sympathises with him even as his violent actions make him repellent.The story of The Penalty is lurid to say the least and at times rather far fetched. It is basically a story of Blizzard seeking revenge for the unnecessary amputation of his legs as a child. This revenge involves an elaborate plot to trap the doctor responsible for his plight. Alongside this revenge plot Blizzard plans to take over the city of San Francisco using `Reds' to fight the police while his gang robs the banks and jewellery stores. The story is far from plausible, but stories of criminal masterminds rarely are. It is however hugely enjoyable, exciting and also at times quite shockingly violent for a silent movie. The print used for the Kino DVD is very good. It is nicely colour tinted and is clear and sharp. The score, composed by Michael Polher, is modern in style and takes a bit of getting used to. It has a thumping beat for large parts of the film, which can be a bit annoying, but on the whole the score fits in quite well with the mood of the film. This DVD has a lot of extras. The best of these is Chaney's one-reel 1914 Western, By the Sun's Rays, which shows the younger Chaney already playing the villain. There is also an interesting video tour showing Chaney's makeup case and the costume he wore in The Penalty. Other extras include a photo gallery a good essay on The Penalty. This is a fine DVD with one of Chaney's best films. Silent film fans will not be disappointed."
LON CHANEY'S ELECTRIFYING MASTERPIECE
Robin Simmons | Palm Springs area, CA United States | 09/08/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Kino on Video has carved a niche for themselves with their fine digital transfers of art, foreign and classic silent films. Four of the towering icons of early cinema were Lon Chaney, John Barrymore, Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino. Now, each of these stars has a seminal film freshly available for a new generation to discover and enjoy on DVD (along with a generous sampling of choice supplemental material).A few years before his death, I got to know Allan Dwan, the legendary film pioneer and director of over 400 features films, who by then was well into his 90s. After a special screening of a his 1922 "Robin Hood," a spectacular comic epic adventure starring Douglas Fairbanks, Dwan told me how he discovered Lon Chaney. "I was at Universal and picked up a new prop man," he said. "Suddenly, every day after work, I noticed a stranger leaving the set where we were shooting. A stranger with a missing leg, or eye, or odd nose, hair or teeth. It turned out to be Chaney in his home-made makeup effects. I said, 'You wanna be in front of the camera?' and began putting him in small parts where he was immediately noticed -- not so much for his makeup, but rather his personality. So I took the tip and featured him. He had that mysterious hidden thing that certain people have. He was a star from the very beginning." When I saw "PENALTY" I understood what Dwan meant about Chaney's sheer force of personalty. Shot in 1920, this Wallace Worsley ("Hunchback of Notre Dame") directed thriller features Chaney as Blizzard, an embittered double amputee and criminal mastermind out to avenge the incompetent doctor who cut off his legs when he was a boy. Blizzard befriends the surgeon's artist daughter and serves as model for her sculpture of Satan. All the while biding his time to enact his demonic revenge. Chaney is electrifying. The disc is loaded with essays, photos, clips, shorts, trailers, a video tour of Chaney's makeup case and a look at the double amputee rig and costume. The atmospheric music score is by Michael Polher. A DVD for the digital library. Trust me."
Weird and rather fun
Gwen Kramer | Sunny and not-so-sunny California | 08/02/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Like many other movie fans, my only view of Lon Chaney was in The Phantom of the Opera. I enjoyed it a lot and decided to try some of his other work. The Penalty sounded the most interesting since Chaney's legendary makeup skills are used not on his face but on his legs. He is nothing short of amazing in his role as a double amputee/crime lord. Indeed, this is one of those movies that is carried by an actor's charisma.Unfortunately, the supporting cast is not nearly as fascinating as Blizzard. With the exception of Rose, they are just the standard gangster film characters. (The eager young man, the innocent young girl, the dogged investigater) Whenever Blizzard is onscreen, the movie really works and the viewer misses him when he is not there. Chaney takes a completely horrid character and makes him almost likable. It's no wonder this was the movie that made Chaney a real star.The plot involves Chaney's character, Blizzard, seeking revenge on the imcompetant doctor who amputated Blizzard's legs at the beginning of the movie. Meanwhile, the police are investigating Blizzard, hoping to bring down his entire gang.The print is nice enough, quite watchable. The soundtrack is another matter. It consists of NIN sounding loops and drumbeats. Some silent movie fans are purists when it comes to music and some are not. I am in the middle. I would have preferred a more traditional soundtrack (the clangs and bangs are distracting sometimes) but it did not wholly hamper my enjoyment of the film. I just want to give a warning to any traditionalists.The DVD boasts a suprising amount of extras for a silent film. A 1914 western short starring Chaney. I enjoyed seeing how little a western changed between the teens and the fifties! Also,and a brief but well-done tour of Chaney's makeup case. There is a book-to-movie comparison that explains why the ending was changed. (I think the movie would have been stronger if they had kept the original ending.) I won't spoil it of course but I didn't think it was in keeping with the mood of the rest of the movie.All in all, check it out for Chaney. It is an entertaining film and a great piece of film history."
Michael C. Browning | Palm Beach Gardens, FL United States | 03/06/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film and this DVD reissue have already received vy competent reviews from prior critics, so I cannot add much. This is one of the best restorations I've seen, superbly mastered and artisically tinted. The music is extraordinary, very well coordinated with the action. I liked it a lot. It reminded me of "Tubular Bells" in Friedkin's "The Exorcist." Chaney is simply astounding in this film. He is known as the Man of a Thousand Faces and most people meet him in his heavily made-up roles as the Hunchback of Notre Dame and the Phantom of the Opera. Here he is himself, just his own face, his own acting skill against the camera lense, and he is astounding. This is one of the great, great silent films and I was reminded of Gloria Swanson's immortal line in "Sunset Boulevard." "Back then we didn't need sound. We had FACES." Chaney's gymnastics as a legless cripple are tremendous -- he climbs stairs on crutches and twice lifts himself by sheer arm-strength up a series of pegs driven in a wall, like a giant spider -- but in some way they are the least part of the film. It's his face, his acting, his sheer power that carries the film along. It's all expressions, all shoulders and arms and hands. It's an astounding performance. The only drawback is that he just blows everybody else away, every other actor in the film seems made out of cardboard, compared to Chaney. I agree with a prior reviewer: "WHAT ABOUT THE HATS?" That part of the film doesn't make much sense, though it does afford Chaney one of the most terrific and scary moments in his career, when he threatens a hatmaker, wobbling and towering above her like a huge monster on a table. The ending is silly, but one is left with the disturbing and unforgettable sense of having seen something truly demonic briefly released on film. An astounding and powerful film, a real tour-de-force, handsomely restored and presented with many fascinating extras. Even the subtitles are curiously horrific.
A minor note: Rex Beach, who seems to have collaborated on the screenplay, went on to promote Coral Gables as a real estate development south of Miami, along with William Jennings Bryan. Everybody ends up in Florida, sooner or later!"