The Corman brother’s take on William Shakespeare in their gothic, Poe influenced, rendition of the sinister story which portrays the horrific rise and demise of the last Plantagenet, Richard the Third.
If you don’t know the story from either Shakespeare, the history it is loosely based on or indeed this film from its original release back in 1962, it begins on the fateful evening of April, 1483 as King Edward IV dies leaving behind his two sons and the care of England in the hands of his brother George, Duke of Clarence. Although deserving his stay as lord and protector of the realm, is sadly short lived. Initially Richard – another brother of Edward’s seems happy, but he is a deceitful, manipulative and scheming sort of guy who literally stabs his brother in the back to take the kingdom of England for himself. The story follows Richards increasing lust for power, mirrored by a developing madness which occurs in the form of spectral harassment delivered at the hands of those whom he has betrayed. His insanity finally drives him to some ill-advised leadership decisions accumulating in his demise at the infamous battle of Bosworth.
The story lends itself to gothic horror adaptation very well – indeed I am told in good authority the more contemporary plays of Richard the Third are very gory in their own right. There’s all the essentials, ghosts, murder, plenty of the evil guys being evil and the good guys being the definition of chivalrous. Leo Gordon puts together quite a convincing script which, whilst I don’t think anyone dare say rivals Shakespeare’s writings, is convincing enough to be in keeping with the themes and dialogue of the time period it portrays. Neither Vincent Price (who plays King Richard) nor director Roger Corman are strangers to horror, and between them they bring to life the dark and treacherous history in an engaging way.
Shot in black and white, and remastered to perfection in the Arrow release, the film looks pleasantly stylised rather than dated. The choice of print (which incidentally was less desirable at the time with both Corman brother’s pushing Universal to film in colour) inadvertently helps with the special effects, which, once you look past the obvious model castle rendered in 1080p, don’t look all that bad. The film by today’s standard is reminiscent of a distinct period in cinema history and therefore all the familiar techniques of the time add to the charm rather than distract or date. The see through ghostly overlays and, the copious smoke effects and polystyrene falling objects not to mention some wobbly ‘stone’ sets make this film a time capsule through which the remaster enhances enjoyment. This is a time of cinema where the actors really were the stars of the show and this film is no exception – their performances are ironically very much stageworthy!
Overall there is very little not to like about ‘The Tower of London’ and as I always end up saying the, release from Arrow is definitive. Not only does it include a fantastic transfer in both picture and sound, but some interesting featurettes about how the unusual medley of classic and gothic styles came together presented by both producer and director.