Tower of London (1962)

Roger Corman is (in his way) a genius regarding making effective films on a relatively small budget. In the late 1950s and through the 1960s he basically followed Edward Wood’s “pioneering” in the use of name stars in his films. Unlike Wood, however, Corman knows how to direct and produce. You look at his movies, and instead of finding screamingly funny (unintended) blunders you keep watching the actors and listening to the lines. He latched onto Edgar Allan Poe far more than had happened in Hollywood in the past, and while he stretched Poe’s stories (and in the case of THE RAVEN his poetry) out of recognizable limit to what the originals are, enough of the original framework remains to leave the movie respectable and sometimes far more than that (such as my favorite Corman – Poe flick, “The Masque Of The Red Death”).

Corman turned from Poe to William Shakespeare in this 1962 film, “Tower of London”, which (while based on the Sir Thomas More – William Shakespeare version of the character, career, and reign of King Richard III of England) is a remake of the 1939 Basil Rathbone film “Tower of London”. That film was quite effective, given the talents of Rowland Lee (it’s director), Rathbone, Boris Karloff (as the cruel executioner Mord), and the cast including Ian Hunter, John Rodion, and Vincent Price (as the “Duke of Clarence”). It’s defects are of the same historical variety found in most historical films (i.e. accuracy), and in the continuing issue of whether Richard (who, after all, was finally defeated and killed by Henry VII at Bosworth Field) has been traduced. Also it (and this remake) have both been pushed into the background of the cinema loving public by Sir Laurence Olivier’s performance as the evil usurper in his version of Shakespeare’s “Richard III”.

The 1939 version really benefited by a larger budget (although a “B” feature) and a studio’s sets and stages. Corman manages to get real mileage out of his ability to improvise intelligently (as opposed to Wood). A classic example of getting more with less. He used footage from the earlier film for the battle sequence, but he added atmospheric touches showing fog and a swamp that were quite good.

One thing he uses from Shakespeare is that he used the ghosts of the various victims of Richard to haunt him. This includes not only Clarence, but King Edward, the two Princes in the Tower, and Buckingham (who was a Duke – that title has been one of the most fatal in British history!).* Actually Shakespeare had them all pop up before Richard’s battle at Bosworth, as the King tries to sleep – they all recount what he did to them, and tell him to despair and die. In Corman’s hands, after each evil crime, Richard is confronted by the ghosts who demand his explanation, and he gives mealy (“realpolitik”) excuses (“You were not strong enough to be a good King!”). It’s an interesting approach, but it really does not sound viable.

(*Think of this – First you have this Duke of Buckingham, a cousin of the House of York, who tries to be a leading supporter of Richard, but finds himself pushed aside – Richard probably didn’t trust him. Buckingham led a revolt in 1485 against Richard, lost the revolt, and Richard ordered him executed. Then you had the title revived and given to a cousin and male heir to Henry VIII, who would get involved in several questionable actions in 1521 – including possible witchcraft to encompass Henry’s demise. He went to the executioner’s block as a result. Nobody wanted the title for a century. Then it was revived first as Earl then as Duke for Georger Villiers, favorite of both James I and Charles I, and he becomes the de facto Prime Minister of England. But his poorly planned policies raise the public against him, and he is assassinated in 1628 – the subject of Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers”. The title was revived in the 19th Century as the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. Nothing happened finally.)

Price does what he can as Richard, but he lacks the vicious inner strengths (oddly enough) of both Rathbone and Olivier. They know what they want and know how to get it (and think they know how to keep it). Price has a type of uncertainty that suggests his actions were successful in spite of himself, not because of his sagacity. His surprise when he suddenly learns he is facing Henry at Bosworth (a name he supposedly never heard of – yet he hears a warning concerning Bosworth earlier from a ghost that should have set him looking for any place that had that name to avoid it!) is really surprising. He only has one powerful moment – when he decides to execute Buckingham. The viciousness of the torture used brings out Price’s special horror gifts to the fore. But that is an isolated sequence.