The Corman-Verse Blogathon: Tower of London (1962)

This post is part of the Corman-Verse Blogathon, hosted by Cinematic Catharsis and Realweegiemidget Reviews. Read the rest of the Corman-tastic posts in this blogathon HERE!

I love pseudo-history. I never go into a historical drama expecting it to be accurate. For me, they are jumping-off points to looking up the real story behind the inevitably embroidered facts of virtually every movie based on a real-life story.

Yes, that includes Shakespeare, my dears. He embroidered like crazy in service of his patroness, Elizabeth I, who was descended from a king whose claim to the throne of England was tenuous at best.

Which brings us to the subject of the film I have chosen to cover, Tower of London, which is centered on that famous historical baddie and rival of Queen Elizabeth’s grandaddy, Richard III (Vincent Price).

There is a lot of disagreement, including among historians, over just HOW bad a baddie Richard was. It’s a great example of the victors getting to write history. There are people who claim he was just a poor, misunderstood fellow who tried his best to keep England from falling apart as the War of the Roses came to an end. (There are literal Richard stans who try to rehabilitate his image as a wronged and righteous man.) Others have accused him of murdering multiple people, including his nephews and brothers, to secure the throne for himself, which is the central premise of Shakespeare’s play.

Like most things, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

When it comes to Roger Corman’s version of the story, there is no middle. Richard is an even more despicable baddie than Shakespeare’s.

Though there is a 1939 film of the same name that also centers on the rise of Richard III (which starred Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff) this is not a remake of that film. It is an interesting combination of Corman’s signature horror aesthetic with serious historical drama, drawing on Shakespeare’s Richard III with a side of Macbeth.

It opens with King Edward (Justice Watson) on his deathbed. His brother Richard and Richard’s wife Anne (Joan Camden) expect Richard to be named Protector since Edward’s two sons are still children. Instead, he names their brother George, Duke of Clarence (Charles Macaulay) as Protector.

Almost before you can blink, Richard is stabbing George to death and throwing him into a vat of wine, framing the Queen’s family by using a knife with their crest.

Now Protector, upon Edward’s death Richard plots to disinherit his nephews by forcing their midwife Mistress Shore (Sandra Knight) to claim they are illegitimate. With his henchman Sir Ratcliffe (Michael Pate) Richard has her tortured to force her to comply. Instead, she dies on the rack.

Soon he is being haunted by her ghost and others that he has killed. He is driven so mad by the apparitions he chokes his own complicitous wife to death, adding her ghost to those haunting him.

The king’s physician Tyrus (Richard Hale) is worried about the safety of the two young princes and enlists Sir Justin (Robert Brown) to rescue them. With the help of his girlfriend Lady Margaret Stanley (Joan Freeman) he only manages to help the younger prince escape. The boy is recaptured and Richard has both princess murdered.

Sir Justin and Lady Margaret join her father and the Earl of Buckingham (Bruce Gordon) in opposition to Richard, but he still manages to be crowned king. In spite of succeeding in his ambition he is driven even madder by the ever-increasing number of ghosts of the people he has murdered.

At the Battle of Bosworth, his enemies watch him battle people who aren’t there until he falls off his horse and is killed by the axe of a knight lying dead on the battlefield.

So here’s the thing:

This movie is so loopy in so many ways and yet. . . the actors, especially Price, treat it like they’re playing Shakespeare. That’s why it works.

Yes, there’s an exploitative aspect to some of it (the torture of the unfortunate Mistress Shore can fairly be categorized as torture porn). The traffic jam caused by the endless parade of ghosts comes off as a little silly sometimes.

But pretty much every actor is treating this like History with a capital “H.” Which is what keeps the movie from going out of control and makes it very watchable and enjoyable.

Corman hated the film, it was his least favorite of his collaborations with Price. He complained that the script was changed without his consent. He felt the movie was too old-fashioned but that may be another clue as to why it isn’t a bad film. The serious vibe balances out the overwrought villainy but it still has enough of his directing style that it feels very much like a Corman film. He’s certainly not the first director who disliked a film he made that other people ended up enjoying.

(Interesting fact: Francis Ford Coppola worked on the film as dialogue director.)

Price, on the other hand, was pleased with his performance in the film. I agree, he totally commits. That’s why he’s so good in in it.

(Another interesting fact: he played the Duke of Clarence—the wine vat swimmer—in the 1939 Tower of London.)

This film isn’t going to help students pass their history tests, and it’s a little bit of an outlier in the Corman oeuvre. It’s still a fun watch with very respectable performances. Get some popcorn and enjoy the fractured history without the use of iambic pentameter.

8 thoughts on “The Corman-Verse Blogathon: Tower of London (1962)

  1. Like you, I am a sucker for a good historical drama, and the casting of this does sound promising- just added this to tonight’s post which will be live in less than 5 minutes. Thanks for joining Debbie,

  2. Fun review! There’s a great trivia question in there– who played the nobleman murdered by Richard III in the 1939 Tower of London, then played the murderer in the 1962 film of the same name? Since at the time Vincent Price was firmly established as a horror star, I suppose there was no chance of marketing this as a straight historical drama. I can just imagine the story conference — “there’s not enough horror in this, let’s throw in some more ghosts!” 🙂

  3. Great review! I also participated in the Corman-Verse Blogathon, with a review of ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’. Your description of ‘Tower of London’s blend of history and horror remind me of the 1961 adaptation. Even though Edgar Allan Poe’s story is, I believe, a fictional one, the film presents that world with historical accuracy. Edgar’s literary works are known for their horror elements. While the movie does incorporate these elements, they don’t overshadow the acting performances. If you’re interested, here’s the link to my review:

    Take 3: The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) Review

  4. Great review, Debbie! I suppose this is proof that filmmakers often don’t let facts get in the way of an entertaining story. Of course, if Vincent Price is onboard, we’re likely to accept this version of history, hook, line and sinker! Thanks so much for joining the blogathon!

  5. “I never go into a historical drama expecting it to be accurate.” Amen! Even documentaries play with facts (non-fiction films always have an agenda). Anyhow, this is an interesting movie for all the things you mentioned. And Price seems to be enjoying himself. What else would you want? 🙂

  6. I’ve seen Shakespeare’s Richard III on stage (at Stratford no less) and the depiction of Richard as a humpbacked, club-footed, monster always dressed in black leaves little doubt in my mind that this is a caricature of a person rather than an accurate portrayal. But isn’t that part of the fun?

    I’ve only seen the 1939 Tower of London and, while I greatly enjoyed it, I suspect Price as Richard is even more fun. I actually have the this version on BluRay so I really have no excuse not to give it a watch. Thanks for the push in the right direction.

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