The Penalty is a very entertaining silent film starring Lon Chaney in a remarkable performance that made him famous. Its addition to this blog takes us back to 1920 San Francisco and lets us see how the movie's location sites have changed over the passage of almost 100 years.
The movie's opening credits roll over a background of the Ferry Building at the turn of the century as seen from the bay (map). But this is a stylized painted image, the clock tower is similar to but a little different from that of the real Ferry Building which replaced an earlier wooden structure in 1898 and has remained more or less unchanged to this day. Also, the hill to the right, meant to be Nob Hill, would not loom so large when viewed from this far out.
Then ... Had the moviemakers used the actual bay view when they filmed the movie it would have looked similar to this contemporaneous postcard photo. The building at far right is the Fairmont Hotel, atop Nob Hill since 1906. Left of center is the Southern Pacific Building, there since 1916.
... and Now, in a drastic transformation the Financial District today dwarfs the surviving Ferry Building and Southern Pacific Building.
(Note to readers - to streamline readability CitySleuth has taken the liberty of attaching the script from the title cards beneath the image).
The story begins with an inexperienced doctor (Charles Clary) called upon to operate on a young accident victim.
He decides to amputate both of the unfortunate boy's legs above the knee. Right after the operation his senior colleague checks the boy out and tells Ferris he has made a huge mistake.
Ferris has mangled the poor child for life but the older doctor covers for him and lies to the boy's parents.
The boy had overheard the doctors' conversation and tries to tell his parents but they believe their explanation that he is delusional from the anesthetic... "It's the effect of the ether".
The boy now has to wear artificial stumps for the rest of his life - he will grow up with a twisted determination to wreak revenge both on the doctor and the city of San Francisco itself.