Fun Size Review: The Penalty (1920)

Lon Chaney is at his Chaney-iest in an early hit as solo lead. He plays a criminal mastermind who had his legs amputated below the knee when he was a kid. This did not amuse him and he wants revenge. And hats. Lots and lots of straw hats. How else will he take over San Francisco?

The movie is nuts and, thanks to Chaney, rather addictive. His painful makeup stands up to the test of time but it is his performance that really wins the day. This is silent film at its twisted best.

How does it end? Hover or tap below for a spoiler.
Chaney has his head operated on, becomes good but then gets shot by members of his former gang, thus paying the penalty.

Read my full-length, deep dive review here.

If it were a dessert it would be: Eyeball Cupcakes. It revels in its own macabre subject matter but no one is going to deny how tasty it is.

Availability: Released on DVD and Bluray by Kino.


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  1. Samuel Kerr Lockhart

    It’s a crazy movie, but it’s often slow and repetitive and the gear-grinding, ear-splitting, mind-numbing score on the Kino Lorber edition makes it last even longer and seem even more annoying. And try and find an alternate score, if you can.

  2. richardsd3

    A favorite film, unmatched for weird touches. Prostitutes making straw hats, Chaney playing the piano while a woman works the pedals, Chaney climbing up a pegged wall w/o legs…the images are indelible.

  3. Keith S.

    Definitely one of my favourite Chaney films, a companion to The Unknown. It’s totally weird in any case, but the way that woman has to crouch under the piano? what’s that all about? Another story where mental issues are conflated with physical disability, I have found that it has made me think again about my assumptions on disability issues and , hopefully for the better.
    Still an ace film, though.

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Well, it’s not exactly the most progressive film in the world but in its defense, it is more about brain damage making somebody act out of character. The case of Phineas Gage would likely have been on the minds of the screenwriters.

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