Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Lon Chaney, Claire Adams, Charles Clary, Doris Pawn, Jim Mason, Milton Ross, Ethel Grey Terry, Kenneth Harlan
Written by: Charles Kenyon, Gouverneur Morris, based on the novel by Gouverneur Morris
Directed by: Wallace Worsley
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 87
Date: 08/01/1920
IMDB

The Penalty (1920)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Legs to Stand On

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The amazing Lon Chaney (1883-1930), also known as "The man with a thousand faces," was one of the greatest treasures in all of cinema. He could seemingly play any role, from clowns to monsters, and could literally play characters that were missing limbs. His makeup was so striking and complete that it might nearly be impossible to tell certain of his roles apart. But he was also among the most tragic of all actors. His characters routinely fell for some woman and failed to win her, not because of a mistake, but because of some inequality; he played on a basic fear that we are simply not worthy of our partners' love. (In real life, he was married, twice.) His characters usually met with a sad, sorry end.

One of Chaney's greatest performances -- perhaps his greatest -- comes in one of his earliest films, Wallace Worsley's The Penalty (1920). He plays a crime lord called Blizzard, who, as a child, has his legs mistakenly amputated by an inept doctor. Chaney apparently strapped his legs into two short stumps to make the effect look real, and his resulting performance is fiercely commanding. Angry and spiteful, Blizzard takes over the city of San Francisco -- where the film was actually partly shot -- and plans his revenge.

Kino released this movie on DVD first in 2001, and then in 2007 as part of their American Silent Horror Collection, and now it has been remastered for Blu-ray, with a brand new score by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. Extras remain the same as on the DVD: a video tour of Chaney's makeup case, and specifically his costume for The Penalty, surviving footage of Chaney's previous feature The Miracle Man, trailers for two other Chaney films, and an entire one-reel Chaney Western.

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