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The Penalty (1920)

Passed | | Crime, Drama, Horror | 3 June 1921 (Mexico)
A deformed criminal mastermind plans to loot the city of San Francisco as well as revenge himself on the doctor who mistakenly amputated his legs.


Wallace Worsley


Gouverneur Morris (by), Gouverneur Morris (adapted from his famous novel) | 1 more credit »


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Complete credited cast:
Charles Clary ... Dr. Ferris
Doris Pawn ... Barbary Nell
Jim Mason ... Frisco Pete (as James Mason)
Lon Chaney ... Blizzard
Milton Ross Milton Ross ... Lichtenstein
Ethel Grey Terry ... Rose
Kenneth Harlan ... Dr. Wilmot Allen
Claire Adams ... Barbara Ferris


Blizzard, deranged from a childhood operation in which both his legs were perhaps needlessly amputated after an accident, becomes a vicious criminal, and eventually mob leader of the San Francisco underworld. Out for revenge against the surgeon who performed his operation, he undergoes brain surgery which has a chance of altering his anti-social behavior. Written by Doug Sederberg <vornoff@sonic.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


You'll follow the career of Blizzard - legless king of San Francisco's underworld, with breathless interest. See more »


Passed | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »






Release Date:

3 June 1921 (Mexico) See more »

Also Known As:

Bűntetés See more »


Box Office


$88,868 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


(2004 alternate)

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


A shot of Lon Chaney walking down stairs was put onto the end to prove the audience that he was not an amputee. It was removed from the 1926 release and the film footage is now lost. See more »


Blizzard: Do I look like Satan? Before I am through with her and her father, they'll think I'm the devil himself.
See more »

Crazy Credits

There is no cast list, but the 8 main actors and their character names are credited in the inter-titles as each appear in the film. See more »

Alternate Versions

In 2004, Turner Classic Movies exhibited a version on television with a music score, but no details were given. It ran 90 minutes. See more »


Referenced in Man of a Thousand Faces (1957) See more »

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User Reviews

Lon Chaney Takes Off
9 March 2008 | by wes-connorsSee all my reviews

Lon Chaney (as Blizzard) is the underworld lord and master of San Francisco, despite a striking disability - he has no legs. Mr. Chaney's "Blizzard" was, as a boy, a "victim of San Francisco traffic", and had his legs amputated above the knees, after an accident. Moreover, the amputations were unnecessary; they were needlessly preformed by young, inexperienced Charles Clary (as Dr. Ferris); Mr. Clary also leaves a brain contusion untreated. As a boy, Chaney hears an older, experienced doctor scold Mr. Clary on the unnecessary procedure; but, they cover up the crime, and dismiss the young amputee's protests as delusions, caused by ether.

Twenty-seven years later, the powerful crime lord decides to enact his terrifying revenge on the doctor who cut off his legs. Cheney answers a newspaper ad posted by Clary's daughter Claire Adams (as Barbara Ferris); she is a sculptress, looking for someone to model Satan, for her bust:

"WANTED -- Model to pose for statue of 'Satan After the Fall.' If you think you look like Satan, apply at studio of Barbara Ferris, 32 Institute Place. 8284"

The Satanic-looking Chaney is the perfect candidate to sit for the young woman; and, Ms. Adams welcomes him into her art studio, unaware (yet) of his unfortunate association with her father. Meanwhile, Cheney's underworld operation is being infiltrated by a spy; lawman Milton Ross (as Lichtenstein) has sent his best undercover agent, Ethel Grey Terry (as Rose), to gets the goods on Chaney. He is especially interested in why Chaney has his "show girls" making thousands of hats…

"The Penalty" has a noticeable degree of implausibility, as do many films; and, it does become make the film more than a little distracting, at times. Yet, Chaney's performance is so commanding, and so thoroughly enjoyable, it's really pointless to list faults. The film works on the strength of Lon Chaney's performance. Director Wallace Worsley, photographer Donovan D. Short, and art director Gilbert White contribute to the master, by giving the film a great, atmospheric look.

Among the supporting players, James Mason (as Frisco Pete) is easily the standout. Young Edouard Trebaol (as Bubbles) is also well-employed, and natural, alongside the high degree of emoting present amongst the adults. Trebaol memorably re-teamed with Chaney in "Oliver Twist" (they were "Fagin" and "The Artful Dodger"). Interestingly, in the original Gouveneur Morris novel, "Bubbles" had an expanded role, which eventually revealed him to be the son of "Blizzard". That subplot would have added greatly to this film, further contrasting cruelty and humanity; and, of course, recalling the boy "Blizzard", and his earlier loss. It would have also confirmed the adult Chaney's obvious sexual prowess (note how women kneel down to play Chaney's pedals has he tickles the ivories).

Whatever its faults, "The Penalty" set the standard for the expertly performed and extremely successful Lon Chaney role - grotesque, anguished, sympathetic, and/or deformed. It started here. Give yourself a penalty if you pass up this Chaney classic.

********** The Penalty (11/15/20) Wallace Worsley ~ Lon Chaney, Ethel Grey Terry, Claire Adams, Jim Mason

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