Tower of London, 1962.
Directed by Roger Corman.
Starring Vincent Price, Michael Pate, Joan Freeman, Robert Brown, and Bruce Gordon.
The story of Richard III is given the Roger Corman/Vincent Price treatment in a Gothic tale of madness and murder.
The story of Richard III has been told many times over in various different ways – although we haven’t yet had one about the discovery of his bones underneath a Leicester car park but that is probably on the way – and in the early 1960s producers Edward Small and Gene Corman approached Corman’s brother Roger about directing a film based loosely on the historical figure. Small had been impressed with Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations that he made with American International Pictures with Vincent Price playing the leads and so once Corman was on board it didn’t take much to get Price to appear, especially as Price came from a theatre background and stage actors always relish the chance to work with Shakespeare, and because actual historical facts about Richard III aren’t plentiful it was the Shakespeare play that became the basis for the film, along with Universal’s 1939 adaptation (in which Price appeared as Richard’s brother Clarence) from which some stock footage was used here.
And you can see the relish in Vincent Price’s face as he embraces the characteristics of Richard III and adds his own dash of scenery-chewing madness to the performance, boosting the story of a man desperate to become the King of England who will stop at nothing to secure his place on the throne with grand gestures and subtle nuances that Price could do better on an off-day than most actors at the top of their game could muster. Aside from his line delivery it is the facial tics and expressions that Price seems to summon at will that give his interpretation of the character more depth than many of the limping, grimacing thespians who have played the role before or since; the scene in which Richard crowns himself the King and opens the doors of his castle to greet the public is a defining moment in the film, the cheers of the crowd outside making the King smile as the ghostly voices and screams of the people he has murdered to get there fill his head, giving Price the chance to go rubber-faced for a moment but the insanity of King Richard is evident in his eyes and for a few fleeting seconds you don’t see the actor in the costume but the character of Richard III himself.
Presented in glorious black-and-white – Roger Corman wanted to shoot in colour but United Artists insisted they couldn’t afford colour film, despite the less-well-off AIP offering to make the film in colour – this Blu-ray transfer looks immaculate, making you glad that Corman went against type and compromised with the studios, and although the monochrome gives the film the feel of an old Universal movie from the 1940s – remember, this was made in the glorious Technicolor era of Hammer Films and Corman’s own AIP pictures – you get the feeling that something would have been lost if Corman had gotten his way. The disc also comes with a commentary by Vincent Price’s biographer David Del Valle and Tara Gordon, daughter of actor-screenwriter Leo Gordon, slideshow and interviews with Gene and Roger Corman, who both give a detailed history on the production of the film, including how to adapt Shakespeare for what was technically a drive-in movie audience.
Fortunately, as Roger Corman tells it, the filmmakers decided not to fill up the dialogue with Shakespearean prose, instead opting for a more direct approach in order not to alienate the audiences who would go to see a Roger Corman/Vincent Price B-movie (interestingly, a young Francis Ford Coppola worked on the film as dialogue director), and although a black-and-white film version of a Shakespeare play may not sound too appealing to the average cult movie enthusiast, the combination of Vincent Price going stupendously OTT in a role that seems a perfect fit for him and Roger Corman applying his low-budget filmmaking tricks to make the production seem more lavish than it actually is works incredibly well in keeping you glued to the screen to see the villainous King Richard get his comeuppance. The film does suffer slightly – as do most Vincent Price movies – when Price isn’t on the screen, something which blights the mid-section of the film as we have a few scenes of Richard’s subjects plotting against him that come off as something you would see in a play where there is only one star and a cast of amateurs, and the final scenes of Richard in battle out in the daylight lose all of the Gothic splendour that was built up throughout the rest of the movie, but despite those minor quibbles Tower of London is an entertaining and surprisingly gripping thriller that won’t intrude on you time-wise and should hopefully have a bit of light shone on it now that Arrow Video have added it to their catalogue.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★