Like many other movie fans, my only view of Lon Chaney was in The Phantom of the Opera. I enjoyed it a lot and decided to try some of his other work. The Penalty sounded the most interesting since Chaney's legendary makeup skills are used not on his face but on his legs. He is nothing short of amazing in his role as a double amputee/crime lord. Indeed, this is one of those movies that is carried by an actor's charisma.
Unfortunately, the supporting cast is not nearly as fascinating as Blizzard. With the exception of Rose, they are just the standard gangster film characters. (The eager young man, the innocent young girl, the dogged investigater) Whenever Blizzard is onscreen, the movie really works and the viewer misses him when he is not there. Chaney takes a completely horrid character and makes him almost likable. It's no wonder this was the movie that made Chaney a real star.
The plot involves Chaney's character, Blizzard, seeking revenge on the imcompetant doctor who amputated Blizzard's legs at the beginning of the movie. Meanwhile, the police are investigating Blizzard, hoping to bring down his entire gang.
The print is nice enough, quite watchable. The soundtrack is another matter. It consists of NIN sounding loops and drumbeats. Some silent movie fans are purists when it comes to music and some are not. I am in the middle. I would have preferred a more traditional soundtrack (the clangs and bangs are distracting sometimes) but it did not wholly hamper my enjoyment of the film. I just want to give a warning to any traditionalists.
The DVD boasts a suprising amount of extras for a silent film. A 1914 western short starring Chaney. I enjoyed seeing how little a western changed between the teens and the fifties! Also,and a brief but well-done tour of Chaney's makeup case. There is a book-to-movie comparison that explains why the ending was changed. (I think the movie would have been stronger if they had kept the original ending.) I won't spoil it of course but I didn't think it was in keeping with the mood of the rest of the movie.
All in all, check it out for Chaney. It is an entertaining film and a great piece of film history.