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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

The Penalty [Blu-ray]


(Wallace Worsley, 1920)



Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: Goldwyn Pictures Corporation

Video: Kino Video



Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:27:16.439

Disc Size: 32,733,919,870 bytes

Feature Size: 26,277,536,832 bytes

Video Bitrate: 31.89 Mbps

Chapters: 10

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: October 22nd, 2012



Aspect ratio: 1.33:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



DTS-HD Master Audio English 3848 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3848 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
LPCM Audio English 2304 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2304 kbps / 24-bit






• A video tour of Chaney's actual makeup case and the "double amputee" costume worn in The Penalty (9:33)
Original theatrical trailers from Chaney's The Big City (:47) and While the City Sleeps (:54)
Surviving footage of Chaney's The Miracle Man (2:37)
Chaney's one-reel Western By the Sun's Rays (11:27)
Essay: "The Penalty: Novel, Script to Screen"
Scene comparison (novel, screenplay, film)
Production budget sheet from The Penalty

• Essay by Chaney biographer Michael F. Blake
Gallery of photographs and artwork





Description: In a role that established him as one of the most dynamically terrifying performers of the Silent screen, Lon Chaney (The Phantom of the Opera) stars in The Penalty, a grotesque thriller form director Wallace Worsley (The Hunchback of Notre Dame). When an incompetent doctor amputates the legs of a young boy, he has no idea that the youth will grow up to be the immoral and embittered Blizzard, a criminal mastermind who orchestrates a bizarre and heinous plot to avenge himself upon his malefactor.



The Film:

Lon Chaney, the Man of a Thousand Faces, was no mere makeup wizard, as this dark, deviant crime drama shows. Strapping his legs into a painful leather harness to play a double-amputee underworld kingpin, Chaney scrambles through the film like a human spider weaving his criminal web across San Francisco with equal parts seduction and terror. Crippled as child by an incompetent doctor, he dedicates his life to vengeance in a double-barreled plot that will bring both the city and the doctor (now an honored physician) to their knees. Director Wallace Worsley (who later collaborated with Chaney on his legendary Hunchback of Notre Dame) peppers the busy plot with bizarre touches of sexual menace and sadism, and he creates a wicked atmosphere of corruption and murder that implicates every character. Even the absurd twist of a happy ending can't wipe that away.

Excerpt from Sean Axmaker's review at Amazon located HERE

In The Penalty Chaney transforms his body into that of a double amputee (needless to say, the 1920 intertitles have no qualms about calling him a cripple). There are no elaborate makeup effects. We can see his true face here, and the hammy grimacing that Chaney could indulge in is kept pretty much under control. The evil of his character of Blizzard, king of the San Francisco criminal underworld, is generally conveyed by a slight scowl to his features, which only softens when he’s with his underlings, when he’s applying a mask of pretence to the outside world, or when he’s enraptured by the power of music. (Yes, here music calms the savage beast.)

Chaney’s tour de force in The Penalty is his use of a harness that strapped his legs behind him, thus giving the convincing physical appearance of a legless amputee. There’s no use of trick photography or doubles and hardly any use of camera angles or compositions to hide Chaney’s true limbs (compare, in contrast, the tiring lengths Peter Jackson went to trying to get us to believe in his hobbits). Instead, Chaney’s body minus his legs is deliberately on display. In a powerful physical performance his body is constantly in movement. Equipped with half-size crutches, he’s forever on the move, climbing stairs, jumping on and off chairs, hobbling across the floor. There are some bravura touches, such as the way, in his study, he hauls himself from one peg to another up the wall so that he can look through the high-placed window into the room next door; or how he clambers up and down ropes between his room and the secret basement; or even how, in one scene, he drops down a fireman’s pole to land on his stumps and then move quickly across the floor.

Excerpt from Not Coming to a Theater Near You located HERE

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The Penalty arrives on Blu-ray from Kino Video.  The image quality is about what I expected. This is dual-layered with a strong bitrate and, I assume, the 1080P does its absolute best with the impressive George Eastman House 35mm restoration. There are tints but mostly the film is in black and white with decent contrast. Detail in close-ups has impressive moments. This Blu-ray has done a solid job in presenting the film with few warts and a reasonably consistent image.


















Audio :

Audio comes in two flavors of the same new Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra score - a DTS-HD Master surround at a healthy 3848 kbps and a linear PCM stereo track at 2304 kbps. The surround mix has some adroit separations but in my sampling I may have preferred the 2.0 channel which still contained some potent depth and the orchestra sounded crisp. The intertitles are in English and there are no subtitle options. My Momitsu has identified it as being a region FREE disc playable on Blu-ray machines worldwide.


Extras :

There are some decent extras on this Blu-ray. We get a 10-minute video tour of Chaney's actual makeup case and the "double amputee" costume worn in The Penalty which is fairly interesting. There is also one of Chaney's one-reel westerns entitled By the Sun's Rays running a dozen minutes. It is only 2.5 minutes but the disc includes the only surviving footage of Chaney's 1919 The Miracle Man about a gang of crooks who evade the police by moving their operations to a small town. There are original theatrical trailers from Chaney's The Big City (:47) and While the City Sleeps (:54) and some liner notes essays; "The Penalty: Novel, Script to Screen" and another by Chaney biographer Michael F. Blake etc.



Great Silent film and a gripping thriller to boot. Of course it is over-the-top - as films of that era usually are but there are some dramatic subtleties that separate it. This Blu-ray produced a pleasing presentation - I'm so glad to have seen the film. I doubt we're going to see The Penalty looking any better and we absolutely recommend! 

Gary Tooze

October 18th, 2012



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