Sinister Cinema: Lon Chaney’s The Penalty

When I met the mysterious CitySleuth he mentioned that he was working on finding San Francisco location shooting for the Lon Chaney flick The Penalty from 1920 — one of my favorites, with Chaney in one of his greatest roles as the legless crime lord with plans to rob the Old Mint, which I maintain in the tour book is an obvious model for Hammett’s plotting in The Big Knockover, one of my top favorite Hammett Op yarns.

I realized it had been awhile, so I surfed over to ReelSF to see if anything was shaking. Hey-hey. He’s got it going, tracking down one building and street after another — and lots of the locations are standing today.

Start here with the opening scenes, then on to the next entry and the next. I can’t believe he’s scouted out so many locations. You can ponder this entry in which he reveals his methods, but as far as I’m concerned, the guy is a Zen Voodoo Master. Tell me if you ever thought someone would point out the actual address for Chaney’s lair (in Wentworth alley in Chinatown) or be able to dope out the use of Orben (between Fillmore and Webster, and California and Pine).

Some of my fellow Frisco film buffs are going to go nuts when they check his research out. I’m talking drooling. . . .

Incredible.

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