The Penalty (1920) - Wallace Worsley

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The Penalty from 1920 just might be the most demanding role that Lon Chaney has ever had to take on. This role called for him to play Blizzard, a gangster that has not had legs for most of his life. They were amputated. To preform this role Lon Chaney had to literally tie his legs behind his back so that he could appear as an amputee for the film. This proved to be extremely painful for Chaney who would only be able to film scenes for about 5 - 10 minuets at a time. This was about when the pain would become excruciating. This role actually left the great actor with permanent damage to the muscles in his legs. Now, that is going out on a limb (or two) for your role.

The Penalty is nothing more than a gangster picture. Wikipedia and the sources that I use to research horror movies says otherwise. They classify this movie as a Crime/Horror film. However, there isn’t a scene in the entire movie that makes a hair stand vertical on my neck. That being said the movie is really interesting. The lengths that Chaney went through for his role should at least give the movie some credit. It’s a fine movie too, the timing is just fine, the acting is spectacular. This just isn’t scary.

The movie introduces us to Blizzard, the perspective kingpin of San Francisco. Blizzard has huge visions for his city. Visions of chaos and carnage that would leave him sitting as king of the city. The police are wise to him though and they get a young girl to infiltrate his lair. She is witness to the various abuses that he puts people through including cold-blooded murder.

Chaney is frightening. He describes himself in the film as the closest thing to the devil himself. He is coldblooded and maniacal, yet strangely sad. He “befriends” a young sculptor that uses him as a muse for sculpting a bust of Satan. Through these modeling sessions the two grow close, but how close is too much for this young innocent.

If you agree that Lon Chaney is a master of the silver screen and a father of horror, then I would suggest looking this movie up. You can probably find it on YouTube (its Public Domain). It is a great movie if only for Chaney’s performance. Watching himself put it all into a role is really a great treat. Also, try watching this movie with the Nine Inch Nail’s album Ghosts on. It kinda fits.

Thats it for now…


  • Lon Chaney had to have his legs tied to his back so that he could appear as an amputee for the film, The Penalty. It was extremely painful and caused permanent damage to his legs.
  • In 2009 Empire Magazine named it #17 in a poll of the 20 Greatest Gangster Movies You've Never Seen* (*Probably)
  • A shot of Lon Chaney walking down stairs was put onto the end to prove the audience that he was not an amputee. It was removed from the 1926 release and the film footage is now lost.