Sunday, October 01, 2017

The Penalty (1920)

Who’s In It: Lon Chaney (The Hunchback of Notre DameThe Phantom of the Opera)

What It’s About: A young boy's legs are unnecessarily amputated by a rookie surgeon whose mentor covers up the incident. When the boy grows up, he becomes a criminal mastermind with a plot for revenge on the two doctors and the person they love most.

How It Is: I'm disappointed that The Penalty isn't scarier. Chaney plays a frightening character, but the movie isn't so much about the horror that he perpetrates as it is about the suspense of what he might possibly do. And since most of his intended victims aren't that likable, even the suspense is limited.

Blizzard's (Chaney) scheme is focused on a woman (Claire Adams) who's the daughter of one of Blizzard's former doctors (Charles Clary) and the girlfriend of the other (Kenneth Harlan). I like her, but she's the only character in the movie that I do care anything about. She wants to be a sculptor and she's quite good, but her father and boyfriend are so unsupportive and awful to her that I'd root for their downfall even if they hadn't been responsible for the loss of Chaney's legs.

There's another character who I liked for a while - a female police officer (Ethel Grey Terry) who goes undercover in Chaney's organization - but her story goes weird places that I didn't want to follow.

On top of all that, at some point the movie quits being even suspenseful and just turns into melodrama about the morality of what everyone has done or is doing. That's where it loses me completely.

Rating: Two out of five evil geniuses.


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

Sounds like Chaney's Blizzard is the forerunner to Vincent Price's The Abominable Dr Phibes with the injured eccentric who makes revenge into his life's mission.

I would like to watch this just to see how Chaney pulls off playing an amputee with pre-Lieutenant Dan movie tech.

Michael May said...

The leg effect is impressive. Apparently it was very painful and the studio's physicians advised Chaney against it, but he was adamant. The movie's worth seeing for that aspect, for sure.


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