Not too harsh
A boy's legs are needlessly amputated by a novice doctor. Twenty-seven years later, he is the master of San Francisco's criminal underground, and bent on revenge.
Lon Chaney is mainly known for those things added to his appearance. Here, it is amazing how he manages to lose the lower half of his legs for the role. Of course, they're tied back on themselves, a fact hidden by a largish coat he's usually wearing. Plus, when he's seated, he's floating up a little bit higher than he should be. The thing is, apart from some imperfections - and frankly, for the time period, this is still pretty darn good - his mannerisms are those of someone having to deal with this condition for a very long time.
Whatever modern synthesized score this is that has been attached to this film is awful. It sounds like someone just learning how to program their first Yamaha DX7. Here's hoping Turner Classic Movies puts one of their Scorewriting contest winners on this one. The score is always important, deserving of better attention than this, but since The Penalty is a silent picture, it's even more so.
The plot seems a little incohesive. I'd say that depth has been sacrificed in the name of breadth, except there isn't all that much more breadth either. The story is dark and gritty stuff, but the film's approach doesn't really reach for that territory.
There's enough little flaws that add up here, but it's still worth watching if just to see exactly how mesmorizing a figure Lon Chaney was on the screen.
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