Lon Chaney – The Penalty (1920)

Lon Chaney – The Penalty (August 8, 1920)
Cast:        Lon Chaney as Blizzard
                Ethel Grey Terry as Rose
                Claire Adams as Barbara Ferris
                Kenneth Harlan as Dr. Wilmot Allen
                Charles Clary as Dr. Ferris
                Milton Ross as Lichtenstein
                Jim Mason as Frisco Pete

Written by Gouverneur Morris
Directed by Wallace Worsley

Plot: Blizzard is a deranged criminal mastermind in the San Francisco who is plotting his greatest heist ever, which also includes restoring his two legs and gaining revenge on the doctor who mistakenly amputated them 28 years earlier.

Richard’s Review: The Penalty is definitely one of Lon Chaney’s most memorable roles, enhanced by his physical appearance and amazing performance. What starts out simply as a crime thriller takes an interesting turn towards the latter half of the film as Blizzard’s true plot comes to the surface. The idea of capturing of the doctor who amputated his legs and having him grafted onto him to restore his ability to walk is played out horrifically. The twist ending is rather interesting as well. It’s a dark film that is brought to life through Lon’s fantastic presence on screen. At first, he appears to be incredibly cruel with redeeming qualities but there is a sympathetic side that surfaces, altering your perception of the villain. While there is no fancy makeup in this film, the amputee illusion is a prime example of the lengths Lon would go to further his craft. I highly recommend this as one of his best films I’ve seen so far.


  • Lon Chaney tied both of his legs back to walk on his kneecaps and create the illusion that he was an amputee. He could only endure the pain for ten minutes at a time and he suffered permanent ligament damage as a result.
  • Gouverneur Morris wrote the script based on his 1913 novel of the same name. He also wrote The Purple Mask, which was adapted as The Ace of Hearts (1921), also starring Lon Chaney.
  • Wallace Worsley also directed The Ace of Hearts (1921), A Blind Bargain (1922) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), all starring Chaney.
  • Ethel Grey Terry is most remembered for her role as Rose and made her last film in 1928. She never transitioned to sound and died in 1931 at the age of 48 after suffering from an undisclosed illness for over a year.
  • Kenneth Harlan appeared in 200 films, including many supporting roles in chapter serials.
  • Charles Clary appeared in 235 films, his last of which was in 1930. He died in 1931 at the age of 58.

Availability: The Penalty is in the public domain and can be found in a variety of places and from a wide selection of sources. Picture quality and accompanying score will vary. For home video, the Kino Classics 2012 Blu-ray is your best bet for a quality presentation.

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