Director: Roger Corman
Script: Leo V. Gordon, Amos Powell & James B. Gordon
Cast: Vincent Price, Michael Pate, Joan Freeman, Robert Brown, Bruce Gordon, Joan Camden, Richard Hale, Sandra Knight
Running time: 80 minutes
Based on a story by Leo Gordon and Amos Powell, and very much channelling Shakespeare’s Richard III and Macbeth, Tower of London is set in 1483 and begins with Edward IV lying on his soon-to-be death bed. King Edward passes responsibility of being the Lord Protector (well, until the two young princes are of age to be monarchs) on to the Duke of Clarence, much to the annoyance of Richard of Gloucester (Vincent Price) the king’s other younger brother. Feeling spurned, and out of favour, Richard decides to take matters into his own hands and goes on to commit murder in his quest for power and purpose.
Beginning by stabbing his brother in the wine cellar with a knife, which has the queen’s Woodville insignia on it, he ensures the good king is dead, and then accidentally kills the queen’s hand maiden, Mistress Shaw, whilst torturing her on the rack while trying to make sure that she would implicate the princes’ illegitimacy to rule. He later admits to killing Shaw for slandering the young princes, implying they were born illegitimately and hence having no rightful claim to the throne.
Richard begins to see the ghosts of his victims and is haunted by their untimely deaths. At one point, he even manages to accidentally strangle his wife, thinking she was a person that he’d already killed! However, this doesn’t delay his lust for power and he soon has the two young princes housed in the garden tower, under his ‘supervision’.
Will the princes be rescued? Will Richard get his just deserts? Put it this way, Richard makes for a lousy uncle and more people die as a result of Richard’s foul scheming; but then we wouldn’t want Mr Vincent Price’s characters acting any other way!
Tower of London is first and foremost Price’s film from the moment he skulks into the King’s bed chamber right through to his last, inevitable moments waving his sword around on the battlefield at Bosworth. Price demands your attention every moment he’s on screen and we love him for it; he’s mesmerising here. Often accused of being something of a ham actor and wildly over-the-top, Price always gives good value for money, and is a much better actor than critics credit him for. Richard is certainly a wonderful character for him to get his teeth into and he’s obviously relishing every moment of it. Price was a massive fan of Shakespeare and obviously loves saying what often amounts to Shakespearean dialogue here, although sometimes that does push the story back to its theatrical roots.
The rest of the cast do well to make an impact too, with the exchanges between Richard and his mother, in particular, standing out the most as good examples of excellent drama.
Corman’s direction is decent, if uninspired. However, the look of the film is saved by some great castle sets, which are amazing creations and should be praised accordingly. The costumes all seem to be very good too, although it’s hard to appreciate all their details when you are seeing them only in black and white. The lighting is done well too, creating crisp, atmospheric shadows where it needs to. And everything is nicely held together by some bombastic and, at times, strident music.
Arrow Video is distributing Tower of London on DVD and Blu-ray. Arrow has done a great job with the print – much of it could have been filmed last week. As per usual with Arrow Video there are some decent extras on the disc including:
A commentary with David Del Valle and Tara Gordon
An interview with Roger Corman (7 mins) – Roger admits that Vincent Price helped with the script, and that they ended up having to use stock footage from the original version of Tower of London (with Basil Rathbone) since they didn’t have the budget to recreate the battle themselves. Apparently, it was well received by critics and Roger still likes the film
An interview with Gene Corman (14 mins) – Gene reveals that this was originally his project but, in order to get it made, he got his brother, Roger, involved too. Gene reveals that Tower of London was shot in black and white to save money (what else!) and he congratulates Danny Haller on his amazing sets. Apparently, Roger was originally going to be an engineer, but changed career tack and became a script reader for the studios, initially.
Slideshow (4.5 mins) – featuring various posters, lobby cards and behind the scenes shots from the film.