The Penalty is a crime drama from 1920, starring the great Lon Chaney as a double amputee gangster. As a child, the Lon Chaney character (known as Blizzard throughout the movie) has his legs mistakenly amputated by Dr. Ferris. Precisesly why the legs were amputated is never explained, although it is noted that not only was the amputation unnecesaary, but that the child also sustained a bad contusion to his head, which is not treated. (I guess we’re just supposed to go with the idea that doctors at the turn of twentieth century were total morons, which explains why we have to write on ourselves with markers before we have any kind of surgery these days.) The kid wakes up and flips out, understandably. The loss of his legs leads Blizzard to a bitter life of crime, as well as a crazy notion to seek revenge on the doctor who bungled his operation, as well as make a pro-union statement (despite the pro-union idea being intertwined with a life of violent crime — Sam Goldwyn knew which side his bread was buttered on).
What makes this movie fantastic – which otherwise is your standard pulp fiction celluoid — is the creative genius and craziness that is Lon Chaney. Only Lon Chaney would strap himself into padded stumps, tying his legs up to the backs of his thighs in a manner that could only be construed as both excessively painful and possibly insane:
Never, never, during the movie do you think that Blizzard has full legs. In fact, there is a lost clip of this film that allegedly shows the actor Lon Chaney walking down stairs with his full legs, to prove to audiences that Lon Chaney was not a real amputee.
My only complaint with the movie is the ending, which I will not spoil here, but I will say that my reaction was, “Aw, MAN. Seriously??” And not in a how stupid is this? way, but more of I can’t believe they did that to that poor schmuck way.