The Penalty (Lon Chaney)

Discussion in 'Classic' started by dwatts, Feb 21, 2008.

  1. dwatts

    dwatts New Member

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    This was my first time seeing this film.

    The Penalty - based on a novel written a few years before production - isn't a monster movie, it's a gangster flick. On the surface Chaney plays "Blizzard", a guy with a chip on his shoulder bigger than all of San Franciso, where the film is set. A childhood accident, combined with a youthful doctor who was a tad too quick to amputation, led to evil and a future for Blizzard carved out of scorn and his deformity. A life long plan for revenge finally comes to fruition, with unexpect results.

    of course the film is largely remembered for the excellent make up effects. Forrest Gump relied on CGI to remove an actors legs, but Chaney didn't have such tools. all he had was makeup, imagination, and solid determination to do whatever it took to make the part work.

    Using leather straps, oversized clothes, and a pair of crutches, Chaney pulls it all off rather brilliantly. Whilst Chaney is legless in the film, that doesn't mean he's at all immobolised. We see him walking around, climbing walls, shimmying down poles fireman style. It's incredible to think what he pulled off without a wheelchair in sight.

    Narrative wise it's actualy a pretty standard gangster thriller. However, pre-Hays code really helps it with Prostitutes plying their trade, murderers who kill on screen but never get found out, and some full nudity. The Penalty snuck under the radar before the Hays Code could interfere, and it's all presented here.

    The DVD from Kino itself is fantastic. The print quality is good for a film of this type. The soundtrack is synthesized, but it's actually quite good. I worry a little with some of the instrumantation included - distroted guitar being an obvious moment of concern - but in actual fact it all suits the film quite well. Most of the time it repetative swirls that we might expect from Phillip Glass. The strings actually sound like strings (often they don't). So yeah, the soundtrack is great.

    The DVD also benefits from some amazing extras. These include a reasonable article on the film, a couple of trailers for gangster films Chaney made after The Penalty, and more. The biggest extra though is something I never thought I'd see. You see, the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles have, stored away in some musty basement, not only the original costume Chaney used in the film, but also Chaney's personal make-up case! We get to see this, and are walked through all the different make-ups in the case and what they were used for. It's plain terrific.

    I don't have "favorite" lists of silent films, I'm awed to be able to see any of them to be honest. I'll just say that this one is easily a match for the only silent Chaney's available today and it highly recommended both as a piece of entertainment, a piece of history, and as an example of the marvellous artistry of this brilliant performer.
     
  2. Erick H.

    Erick H. Well-Known Member

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    Though I knew of it,I've never seen this film.Chaney was extraordinary,a great actor with a stunning imagination and enormous devotion to his craft.I don't think there has been anyone quite like him since.That mix,doing his own makeup,acting and the physical stunts,the arduous lengths he put himself through.Dazzling.
     
  3. dwatts

    dwatts New Member

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    One of the things that's interesting about this film is that, watching it, it doesn't FEEL like a silent film. That is, the storyline, and the way the narrative rolls out, feels quite modern. The climax is terrific too, but I don't want to spoil it for people out there. Suffice it to say, it really tells an interesting little story (albeit a little worn by years of having been borrowed and reused).

    It's worth the price of admission for that short featurette, with the white gloved guy taking each piece of Chaney's makeup case out and telling you what it was used for. It's short, but just too good to be true.

    And to imagine he was walking on his knees during the film, and that his legs - bent up and strapped together - are not at all visible.... having hurt his back it mentions that he had to stop after a few minutes to have his legs massaged..... stars just wouldn't do such things now, saved by the microchip and stand-ins.

    Do try and check it out.
     
  4. Erick H.

    Erick H. Well-Known Member

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    Do try and check it out.[/QUOTE]

    I will,thanks for the tip !
     

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