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Blu-Ray Review - TOWER OF LONDON (1962)

Roger Corman's loose adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III.






Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Roger Corman

Starring: Vincent Price, Michael Pate, Joan Freeman
There are three Roger Cormans. There's the b-movie mogul who launched the careers of a generation of young American filmmakers - including Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Peter Bogdanovich - with the promise that, "If you do a good job for me on this picture, you’ll never have to work for me again." There's the knock 'em out cheap and quick director of schlocky cult classics like It Conquered the World and Attack of the Crab Monsters. And then there's the highly respected auteur behind a series of adaptations of the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Even the harshest of movie snobs are forced to acknowledge the quality of Corman's takes on House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum and  The Masque of the Red Death.

In between his series of Poe adaptations, made on the cheap for American International, Corman was hired by his producer brother Gene to helm a movie for United Artists based loosely on Shakespeare's Richard III, Tower of London. Naturally, he brought with him the star of those Poe movies, Vincent Price, to play the lead role, along with key members of his crew, including art director Daniel Haller, a master of creating scale on a limited budget.



When, on his death bed, King Edward IV (Justice Watson) names his brother George (Charles Macaulay, playing a role occupied by Price in the 1939 version of the story) his successor, his other brother, the hunchback Richard (Price) is none too impressed. He kills George with a dagger bearing the coat of arms of Edward's in-laws, the Woodville family. Thus begins Richard's devious and violent plans to ascend to the throne of England, torturing and murdering anyone who gets in his way, all the while being haunted and taunted by the ghosts of his victims.

It's a role that seems custom made for the unique talents of Price, a real showcase for one of the 20th century's greatest performers. The script by Leo GordonF. Amos Powell and Robert E. Kent gives Price a series of monologues, and Corman's camera wisely sits back and allows us to take in his brilliance - what a treat it must have been to see this man on a stage!



As portrayed here, Richard is deliciously vile, descending to shocking depths of villainy, from torturing a beautiful woman on a rack, to allowing a rat to feed on the head of a rival, to smothering a pair of young boys with their pillows, all with that devilish Price sneer splashed across his face. This bastard means business!

Working with the prestigious United Artists, Corman was surprised to find himself saddled with a budget even smaller than those he had worked with on his American International films, but as was his talent, there's a lot more on the screen than such funds might suggest. To this day Corman expresses disappointment at having to shoot this film in black and white, but to my eyes it adds a false production value, covering up some of the cracks that colour may have exposed. It also feels right for both the intimate nature of the story and its monochrome morality.



Black and white may have made Tower of London look dated in 1962, but watching it in 2017 it now feels like a timeless production. Rather than a footnote in their careers, this deserves to be considered a key movie in the filmographies of both Corman and Price. If Orson Welles and Laurence Olivier's films are the Kobe steaks of cinematic Shakespeare adaptations, this is one hell of a juicy cheeseburger.
Extras:

A brief interview with Roger Corman and a lengthier one with his producer brother Gene. Commentary by Vincent Price’s biographer David Del Valle and Tara Gordon, daughter of actor-screenwriter Leo Gordon. First pressings contain a collector's booklet.

Tower of London is on blu-ray February 13th from Arrow Video.



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