Jun 1, 2008

The Penalty

The Penalty (1920) is an American silent Horror classic that examines the psychology of a legless American gangster by the name of “Blizzard.” This gangster has become full of hatred due to the accidental amputation of his legs as a young child. Blizzard’s ultimate sinister plans are to take the legs of the surgeon’s (the one that cut off his legs) daughter’s fiancé and start an anarchic uprising in the city of San Francisco. Only a man with such repressed hatred could conspire such plans against his fellow man. Lon “The Man of a Thousand Faces” Chaney was appropriately cast as the gangster Blizzard who is bent on misanthropic revenge.

The surgeon’s daughter also sculpts a statue of Blizzard in the form of Satan. Blizzard is proud to be immortalized in the rock form of the prince of darkness. He is a man that is well aware of his hatred and his obsession with destroying the lives of others. Blizzard’s lack of legs is a constant reminder to himself that he can only do the devil’s work. He rabidly laughs in hatred when plotting and discussing destruction. Lon Chaney does a superb job expressing the maniacal laughter of this legless madman.

But what is “The Penalty” of a man who has made his life’s goal to destroy the lives of others? The price that Blizzard pays is honestly honorable and admirable. Blizzard confronts a fate that has been handed to him by his own actions. Fate unfortunately caused Blizzard to become legless as a child. When Blizzard became older he consciously decided to act cruel and heartless. The reality is that many hateful men like Blizzard die richly without confronting one of their sins. But then again, who knows what is really going on those men’s minds. Do they really have the courage to confront who they really are?

The Penalty is without doubt one of the finest American silent horror films. My taste in silent horror generally stays in the realm of the masters of German expressionism. The Penalty utilizes psychology horror in a similar way to the German silent masters (I.e. F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh) yet lacks the intricate set designs. The real wealth of The Penalty lies in Lon Chaney’s performance as the sadistic gangster. I honestly haven’t divulged too much into his acting career. It is about time that I do.

-Ty E

1 comment:

Fox said...

Excellent job of selling this to me. I am now going to add this to my Netflix.

Awesome movie bill too. Love the stumps.