The Penalty (1920)

The Penalty (1920) movie poster

director Wallace Worsley
viewed: 10/21/2017

Lon Chaney stars as “that cripple from hell,” a criminal mastermind in San Francisco who lost his legs in a trolley accident (though more significantly due to malpractice), by the name of Blizzard.

1920’s The Penalty is a sleazy pulpy proto-noir that helped Chaney burst into stardom despite playing largely villains or monsters. Really, he himself is the special effect. He plays a man who lost his legs beneath the knees and moves around with the help of buckets and crutches. Chaney’s legs were strapped painfully behind him.  It’s an amazingly physical role as he climbs around and menaces venally. He even slides down a fireman’s pole.

I’m not sure how much of it was shot in San Francisco but parts of the film certainly were. It’s a glimpse into a much different city.

It’s not brilliant but it is good pulpy fun despite the rather odd deus-ex-machina happy ending. It’s cool that Chaney was such a star since he’s so against type as a star though full of star-power.

“Don’t grieve, dear, death interests me,” a sweet epitaph.


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