Daily Archives: December 28, 2021

Tower of London (1962)


*. The origins of this movie are a bit muddy, and the featurette on its production included with the DVD doesn’t help clear things up much.
*. In the first place, it is not a remake of the 1939 Basil Rathbone film, though it deals with the same subject matter and borrows some of that earlier movie’s battle footage for the Bosworth montage. They’re two very different stories.
*. Is it Shakespeare? Or Shakespearean? Well, according to producer Gene Corman that was the idea. But the reasoning doesn’t sound right. According to Corman, he honestly thought Shakespeare meant box office after the success of Olivier’s Hamlet. But that movie came out in 1948, and his Richard III in 1955. So I don’t think that was what was behind it.
*. It is, however, Shakespearean to some extent. I don’t want to sound condescending (because this was a cheap film, and shot on one of Roger Corman’s express schedules), but it does play a bit like Shakespeare for Dummies. There’s no direct quoting from Richard III here, but the characters speak in a kind of ersatz Shakespeare, with Vincent Price as Richard delivering the following soliloquy on the battlements: “Is it what men do that darkens the sky? Or do the skies blacken the souls of men? And do I laugh to myself because I am ambitious and would be a king? Or do I laugh at myself? A misshapen thing that traffics with evil to gain a throne?”
*. According to the documentary on the making of the film, Gene Corman wanted “period language, authentic language” with the template for the script being Hamlet. Hm.
*. Apparently the original plan was to film Macbeth, and there’s still some residual Macbeth material in the way Richard’s Anne is played as Lady Macbeth. So in a way, it’s like a Shakespearean pastiche.
*. Price returns from the Rathbone film, where he played the Duke of Clarence nearly twenty-five years earlier. He was good as Clarence, but better suited for Richard. At least Richard as the hammy villain, the Vice from medieval morality plays who becomes an almost comic figure delighting in playing up his wickedness to the audience. This Richard is a little different in being hag-ridden by a small army of ghosts, but he’s still very much in that B-picture vein. Because this is a B-picture.
*. It’s something I’ve brought up before (see my notes on The Haunted Palace and The Last Man on Earth) but why is it that Price kept playing these roles where he’s a villain mooning over his dead wife? There’s no basis in the source material for it here, but remarkably it’s shoehorned in again, with Richard mourning Anne (who he has unintentionally murdered).
*. The original plan was to shoot it in colour, but the switch was made to black-and-white in order to save a buck or two. This hurt. In the first place, as Gene Corman knew, an essential element to his brother’s garish visual style was lost. It also left the film with the unfortunate bait-and-switch effect of having the studio logo come up in colour and then the rest of the film follow in black-and-white. This is something that can be counted on to piss audiences off, and it did. After decent opening box office things really dropped off because word got out that it wasn’t in colour.
*. The 1939 telling of the story was more a historical costume drama. The Corman sensibility is something different. He likes the costumes and the Gothic sets, but really he can’t wait to get back to one of Poe’s dungeons. The ghosts are pretty humdrum here, but that Room 101 box over the head with the rat in it is the movie’s raison d’être.