Thursday, 6 February 2014

Film Favourites: The Penalty

Lon Chaney in silent movie The Penalty

Lon Chaney is one of my all time favourite actors, and unfortunately people usually look at me blankly whenever I mention him. He's most well known for his horror roles such as The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and London After Midnight (1927), but he did an awful lot more besides and to write him off as merely a horror actor is a crime. He was inevitably one of the first names I came across when I began to delve into the world of silent cinema all those moons ago and I've held him very dear to my heart ever since, so expect a couple of his movies to pop up throughout this feature. This time however, I want to talk about The Penalty (which can be viewed in it's entirety on YouTube here if you're inspired to watch it).

Lon Chaney in silent movie The Penalty
Lon Chaney in silent movie The Penalty

Lon Chaney stars as Blizzard, a man who had his legs mistakenly amputated as a child. This knowledge, coupled with the social pressures faced by being disabled have driven Blizzard insane, and he devises a plan for the doctor who originally performed his operation to sew another man's legs onto his stumps.

One reviewer stated of The Penalty: "Here is a picture that is about as cheerful as a hanging", which is very true but it's a marvellous film just the same with some wonderful character acting by Lon Chaney. To portray Blizzard's deformity Chaney spent most of filming with his legs bend up behind him in harnesses and walked about on his kneecaps: this level of discomfort meant he could only film for a few minutes at a time and lead to him suffering permanent damage in his leg muscles, but it rightfully caused him much acclaim and lead to him becoming a household name.

Lon Chaney in silent movie The Penalty
Lon Chaney in silent movie The Penalty
Lon Chaney in silent movie The Penalty

The Penalty is largely considered to be one of Lon Chaney's best performances, and if you've ever been put off of watching silent movies for fear of them being over acted drivel, I urge you to give it a watch and see if you can't be swayed. Whilst it does occasionally fall into the typical melodrama, it's overall a very strong film that is at times heartbreaking, watching Blizzard deal with what has happened to him and his fight for respect as a disabled person in the 1920s.

Lon Chaney in silent movie The Penalty
Lon Chaney in silent movie The Penalty
Lon Chaney in silent movie The Penalty
(Screencaps were taken myself from my DVD. I apologise some of them aren't terribly clear but the movie is 94 years old!)

2 comments

  1. This film made me feel so weird - it's definitely a powerful one! Lon Chaney was a marvel.

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  2. What a strange film! It has a really interesting story line, which makes me wonder why it hasn't been redone into a modern adaptation Im sure it would make a good thriller or mystery type movie!

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