Wednesday, February 17, 2016

#2,011. Tower of London (1962)

Directed By: Roger Corman

Starring: Vincent Price, Michael Pate, Joan Freeman

Tag line: "Mother England meets Father Terror!"

Trivia: This film was originally planned to be shot in color

Though not a remake, Roger Corman’s Tower of London is, like the 1939 movie of the same name, the story of Richard III, the English king who supposedly murdered several family members (including his young nephews) to gain the throne. Vincent Price, who played Richard’s doomed brother the Duke of Clarence in the 1939 version, is also on-hand this time around, portraying the tyrannical lead character. Yet while there are definitely similarities between the two films, Corman’s Tower of London delves deeper into Richard’s psyche than the previous movie did, painting him as a scheming individual who is tormented by the spirits of his victims, and is slowly losing his mind.

The film opens in April of 1483. England’s King Edward IV (Justice Watson) lies on his deathbed, and, surrounded by his family and several loyal subjects, declares his brother, the Duke of Clarence (Charles Macaulay), the Protector of the Realm, which makes him the legal guardian of the two young princes, future king Edward V (Eugene Mazzola) and Richard (Donald Losby). In turn, the king asks his other brother Richard (Price) to be Clarence’s closest advisor and right-hand man. But Richard is ambitious, and instead leads Clarence into a wine cellar and plunges a dagger into his back. As a result, Richard is proclaimed Protector the moment Edward IV dies, and aided by Sir Ratcliffe (Michael Pate), he eliminates all those who stand between him and the throne of England. But as Richard will discover, the path to the monarchy is not without its perils, and each and every day, he is haunted by the spirits of those he’s killed, pushing him to the brink of insanity.

While 1939’s Tower of London focused more on the dramatic elements of Richard III’s climb to the top, this 1962 version introduced gothic horror into the mix, giving us several unsettling scenes in which Richard is confronted by the ghosts of those he’s murdered. Director Roger Corman, who, just prior to this film, turned out a pair of successful Poe adaptations (House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum), handles these scenes wonderfully, yet it’s the manic performance delivered by Vincent Price that makes Tower of London such a disturbing motion picture. Teetering back and forth between evil manipulator and out-of-control lunatic, Price’s Richard is a terrifying despot, and his descent into madness gives Tower of London a creepy vibe that only grows stronger as the story unfolds (at one point, Richard believes he’s attacking an apparition, only to find that he’s wrapped his hands around the neck of his beloved wife Anne, played by Joan Camden).

1939’s Tower of London was a well-made motion picture, with Basil Rathbone doing a fine job as the despicable Richard. But when it comes to playing insanity on-screen, few could do it as well as Vincent Price, and it’s thanks to him that this version of Tower of London is the more memorable of the two.

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