Kino on Video has carved a niche for themselves with their fine digital transfers of art, foreign and classic silent films. Four of the towering icons of early cinema were Lon Chaney, John Barrymore, Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino. Now, each of these stars has a seminal film freshly available for a new generation to discover and enjoy on DVD (along with a generous sampling of choice supplemental material).
A few years before his death, I got to know Allan Dwan, the legendary film pioneer and director of over 400 features films, who by then was well into his 90s. After a special screening of a his 1922 "Robin Hood," a spectacular comic epic adventure starring Douglas Fairbanks, Dwan told me how he discovered Lon Chaney. "I was at Universal and picked up a new prop man," he said. "Suddenly, every day after work, I noticed a stranger leaving the set where we were shooting. A stranger with a missing leg, or eye, or odd nose, hair or teeth. It turned out to be Chaney in his home-made makeup effects. I said, 'You wanna be in front of the camera?' and began putting him in small parts where he was immediately noticed -- not so much for his makeup, but rather his personality. So I took the tip and featured him. He had that mysterious hidden thing that certain people have. He was a star from the very beginning."
When I saw "PENALTY" I understood what Dwan meant about Chaney's sheer force of personalty. Shot in 1920, this Wallace Worsley ("Hunchback of Notre Dame") directed thriller features Chaney as Blizzard, an embittered double amputee and criminal mastermind out to avenge the incompetent doctor who cut off his legs when he was a boy. Blizzard befriends the surgeon's artist daughter and serves as model for her sculpture of Satan. All the while biding his time to enact his demonic revenge. Chaney is electrifying. The disc is loaded with essays, photos, clips, shorts, trailers, a video tour of Chaney's makeup case and a look at the double amputee rig and costume. The atmospheric music score is by Michael Polher. A DVD for the digital library. Trust me.