THE PENALTY (1920)
Lon Chaney's first major starring role in The Penalty introduced the "Man Of A Thousand Faces" to a national audience. The movie was based on a 1913 serialized novel by Governeur Morris written in the sentimental style prevalent at that time but director Wallace Worsley chose to cut back on the sentimentality and instead emphasized the lust, murder, corruption, sexism, bigotry and manipulation that permeate the story. Silent movies boring? Watch this one! In the novel the action took place in Manhattan but the convenience of the Goldwyn Pictures studio in Culver City on the west coast prompted the movie's setting to be changed to San Francisco. Chaney would go on to do over 160 movies including The Hunchback Of Notre Dame and The Phantom Of The Opera but it was his remarkable ability in this one to elicit both sympathy and disapprobation for his evil scheming ways that first put him on the map.
Dr. Ferris, an inexperienced surgeon (Charles Clary), amputates both legs of a young boy injured in an accident. Ferris is mortified to be told by a second doctor that the amputation had not been necessary. The boy overhears and protests, to no avail, when the doctors lie to his parents about how the amputation saved his life. Fast forward 27 years and we learn that the boy, now known as Blizzard (Lon Chaney) and despite needing wooden stumps to get around, has become a criminal mastermind. He is intent on revenge against Dr. Ferris and schemes to get back at him through his demurely beautiful artist daughter Barbara (Claire Adams). Blizzard's ability to avoid arrest is due in no small part to his having the local police in his pocket and so a fearless secret service agent, Rose (Ethel Gray Terry) volunteers to infiltrate his organization. When she discovers that he has an elaborate plan for anarchists to take over the city of San Francisco she has the means to bring him down but becomes enamored with the charismatic demon and struggles to report the plot. Everything converges in a surprising finale...
The movie is available in DVD and BluRay format by Kino (each is accompanied by a different soundtrack) or you can watch the entire movie here (from the DVD version) on YouTube. For potential shoppers, here's a comparative description of DVD versus Blu-Ray.
- "You Should Not Have Amputated" Opening Credits, View of Ferry Building from San Francisco Bay
- Years Later Panorama from the Fairmont Hotel, Nob Hill --- Presidio Terrace, Arguello Boulevard at Washington, Inner Richmond --- Grant Avenue looking south from Clay Street, Chinatown --- North side, 500 block of Pacific Avenue, Jackson Square
- Murder At The Hippodrome Hippodrome Dance Hall, 560 Pacific Avenue, Barbary Coast (now Jackson Square)
- Cigar Factory 15 Jason Court, Chinatown
- It's Who You Know Wentworth Place, Chinatown
- Dr. Ferris, Famous Surgeon St. Mary's Hospital, Hayes Street between Stanyan and Shrader, Nopa
- Barbara's Studio 32 Orben Place, Japantown, Western Addition
- Rose Is Spared 7 Old Chinatown Lane, Chinatown
- A Diabolical Plan Financial District viewed from the Fairmont Hotel, Nob Hill --- Russian Hill viewed from the Fairmont Hotel, Nob Hill
- A Diabolical Plan, Continued 801 Grant Avenue, Chinatown --- Commercial Street from Drumm, Financial District --- 700 Grant Avenue, Chinatown
- A Diabolical Plan, Revealed Old Hall Of Justice, 750 Kearny Street, Financial District --- Union Trust Bank, Market Street and Grant, Union Square --- Old Mint, 5th Street and Mission, SoMa
- The Penalty Is Paid 59 Wentworth Place, Chinatown
Click here for a photo map of the locations in this movie.