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The Penalty


Lon Chaney plays Blizzard, a deranged psychopath scarred by the childhood operation where a young doctor mistakingly amputated both of his legs. Hellbent on revenge Blizzard becomes a master criminal. This is one of Lon Chaney's most famous non-horror roles. This is copied from video mastered off a well worn home movie print.

File:The Penalty (1920).webm
The Penalty is an United States crime film starring Lon Chaney, Sr. and originally released in 1920 in film. The movie was directed by Wallace Worsley, and written by Philip Lonergan and Charles Kenyon, based upon the pulp novel by Gouverneur Morris (author). The supporting cast includes Charles Clary, Doris Pawn, Jim Mason (actor), and Claire Adams.


  • Charles Clary – Dr. Ferris
  • Doris Pawn – Barbary Nell
  • James Mason (American actor) – Frisco Pete
  • Lon Chaney, Sr. – Blizzard
  • Milton Ross – Lichtenstein
  • Ethel Grey Terry – Rose
  • Kenneth Harlan – Dr. Wilmot Allen
  • Claire Adams – Barbara Ferris
  • Montgomery Carlyle – A Crook
  • Cesare Gravina – Art Teacher
  • Lee Phelps – Policeman
  • Madlaine Traverse – Woman
  • Edouard Trebaol – Bubbles
  • Clarence Wilson (actor) – A Crook


The film follows gangster Blizzard (Lon Chaney, Sr.), whose legs were mistakenly amputation at a young age. Driven insane by the social pressures of being forced to walk on crutches, Blizzard becomes a crime lord. He tracks down the doctor who performed his operation, and plots a twisted revenge: kidnap the doctor's daughter's fiance (Clary), and graft his legs onto Blizzard's stumps.


The apparatus worn by Chaney to simulate amputated legs, which consisted primarily of two wooden buckets and multiple leather straps, was complex and incredibly painful. Chaney's knees sat in the buckets, while his lower legs were tied back. Studio doctors asked that Chaney not wear the device, but he insisted on doing so, so that his costume would be authentic.
To assure audiences that Chaney was not an amputee, the original release of the film reportedly included a short epilogue clip showing Chaney out of character. This clip does not survive in the existing prints.


The Penalty was one of Chaney's breakout roles, showcasing his taste for the macabre and talent for contortion and disguise. He had previously demonstrated similar qualities in the previous year's The Miracle Man (1919 film), but The Penalty and Treasure Island (1920 film), both of 1920, secured Chaney's place as one of America's most famous character actors, before moving on to his more famous roles in 1923's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923 film) and 1925's The Phantom of the Opera (1925 film).
In 2009 Empire Magazine named it #17 in a poll of the 20 Greatest Gangster Movies You've Never Seen* (*Probably).

  • Skal, David J., The Monster Show, pg. 65. ISBN 0-571-19996-8
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    Category:1920 films
    Category:American films
    Category:American silent feature films
    Category:Black-and-white films
    Category:American crime drama films
    Category:Goldwyn Pictures films
    Category:1920s crime films
    Category:Films based on American novels
    Category:Films directed by Wallace Worsley
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    Wallace Worsley

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