Roger Corman, 1962
Starring: Vincent Price, Michael Pate, Robert Brown, Charles Macaulay
Just before dying, King Edward IV names his brother, the Duke of Clarence, as Protector of the realm until his son, Price Edward, is old enough to claim the throne. But his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, has other ideas and quickly dispatches with Clarence by drowning him in a vat of wine and claims the protectorate for himself. His wife Anne encourages his behavior, which results in a reign of terror, torture, and murder. He tortures the Queen’s lady-in-waiting, Mistress Shore, so that she will say the two young princes are illegitimate. She refuses and he tortures her to death. The ghosts of his growing number of victims begin to haunt him and he fears he is going mad. He accidentally kills his wife and the duplicitous court physician helps him perform a magic ritual to banish the ghosts.
Meanwhile, there is a plot to send the young princes to safety, but Richard gets wind of it and sends the boys to the Tower under the guise of protecting them. One conspirator, the Lady Margaret, is imprisoned and Richard has the young princes killed. He has a ceremony to crown himself King of England, but is increasingly disturbed by the ghosts. His enemies, Lord Stanley and the Earl of Richmond, raise an army against him, but the now completely mad Richard is convinced that he cannot be beaten in battle.
Tower of London was one of two films that Vincent Price did for Admiral Pictures (the other was Diary of a Madman, based on a Guy de Maupassant story). On one hand, it is a break from his colorful horror films with American International Pictures, but it is also not able to live up to the superior Edgar Allen Poe series. This is a remake of the 1939 version of Tower of London, which starred Basil Rathbone as Richard III and Boris Karloff as his fictional executioner, and featured Price in a small role as the Duke of Clarence. That film was loosely based on historical documents and Shakespeare’s Richard III.
The remake, however, is a far cry from both Shakespeare and English history. There is a focus on Richard’s growing madness and paranoia and there are many elements of Macbeth blended into the plot. Probably thanks to Price and director Roger Corman, the film has a strong horror focus. In addition to all the murder and torture, which includes killing a woman on the rack and murdering two children, Richard is constantly haunted by ghosts. There is a lot of Gothic imagery, namely a lovely scene with some real scares where Richard searches for his dead wife and either witnesses or images her rising from a coffin. And, of course, there is a scene where he and Tyrus, the court physician/magician perform a ritual to summon the ghosts and query about Richard’s future.
Sadly, these elements are not quite enough to make this an interesting film. The blend of Richard III and Macbeth is jarring and the more clever, charismatic elements of Richard’s personality are replaced with paranoia. He feels almost pathetic at times. Regardless, Vincent Price is likable as Richard, particularly during the conclusion where he is nearly frothing at the mouth as he wanders the battlefield alone, still convinced he is untouchable though he entire army has been slaughtered. The other actors are competent and professional, but not very memorable next to Price. Some notable exceptions are Michael Pate (Curse of the Undead), who is fittingly slimy as Richard’s deadly sidekick Ratcliffe and Richard Hale (A Thousand and One Nights) as the court physician, who lives long enough to get his revenge.
Tower of London also suffers from a very low budget. It was supposed to be shot in color, but was switched to black and white at the last minute due to budgetary constraints, much to Roger Corman’s surprise. The black and white actually does the cheap set a lot of favors and there is some lovely, gloomy cinematography.
Overall I can only recommend this to die hard Price fans or anyone obsessed with Richard III. Oddly, Tower of London can be found on DVD from MGM’s Midnite Movies as part of a double feature with The Haunted Palace, one of Price and Corman’s horror films for AIP.