MINI MOVIE REVIEW: “The Penalty” (1920)

“Okay, honey, I’m only going to explain once more. Holding is only a five-yard penalty, but unnecessary roughness usually gets you fifteen.”
“But when does the hat trick come in?”
“Just go back to watching ‘Real Housewives’ and I’ll watch the game on the iPad.”

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:

“Hey, tighten those suckers up! I’m not earning $5 a day for nothing, you know!”

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.

“Oh yeah, you were all impressed with ‘Green-Screen’ Gary Sinise in ‘Forrest Gump’. THIS is acting, kids!”

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.


About The Knitting Cinephile

I'm obsessed with good yarn, bad movies, and the Hubster.
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2 Responses to MINI MOVIE REVIEW: “The Penalty” (1920)

  1. Jack Flacco says:

    One of my relatives is a big fan of old, collectible movies. He knows exactly who Lon Chaney is, since he’s talked about him frequently. To see him without the legs is pretty interesting, given they didn’t have CGI back then! Pure vintage, this one!


  2. Bree To you says:

    That photo of Chaney getting into the harness is AMAZING! Where did you get it?


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