Tower of London almost makes it. The film gets through the low budget, which has a static picture of a model Tower of London instead of a picture of the real Tower for establishing shots, obvious backdrops, not great makeup to age or deform its cast, and the occasional reused footage. Director Corman keeps the pace up—the film doesn’t even run eighty minutes and covers two years and at least a half dozen murders. Well, more assassinations than murders. The film’s about Richard III (Vincent Price, who’ll either get a half sentence or a paragraph later, both are suitable) and his mad quest for power. He kills off kin, children, women, and the elderly, most of whom come back to haunt him as ghosts. See, Tower of London isn’t just Vincent Price and Roger Corman doing a historical horror picture together, they’re doing Shakespeare. More specifically, Price is doing Shakespeare, while Corman refuses to give Price that stage. Though probably for budgetary reasons, not to spare the audience.
The film’s best sequence is when handsome, fit, good guy Robert Brown is trying to get the Queen and her two sons to safety. Richard III, historically, in the play, and in this film, wants to kill off his little nephews so he can assume the throne. Brown isn’t going to let that happen. He’s handsome, fit, and good, after all. Unlike Price’s Richard, who’s got a varying-sized hunched back (it doesn’t jump left to right and then back, unfortunately) and an ostensibly withered arm. We never see the arm (Price always has on a glove) but it seems perfectly strong enough to wield a sword. But Price is a warrior, something Brown is not. Though Price being a warrior doesn’t matter because he goes crazy.
But the escape sequence. There are a few times in Tower of London when everything comes together and the escape sequence is the best example of it. Corman’s pacing, the sturdy professional performances from Brown, Sarah Selby, Joan Freeman, and Richard Hale (they all seem to be able to pretend they’re doing Shakespeare, not Tower of London), Archie R. Dalzell’s excellent black and white photography (it’s not moody but it’s outstanding), and, I don’t know, the added value of children in danger. The escape sequence is really good. You wish the movie could somehow end with it, even before you find out how the movie’s actually going to end.
Because Tower’s greatest strength is everyone but Price. Price gives a hammy, drooly performance, limping and wrenching his back to and fro, full of energy. His monologues are enthusiastically whiny. His character is a combination of a jackass and an idiot. The only people stupider in Tower of London than Price are the entire rest of the cast because he’s always killing people and never getting even suspected of it. When the rest of the cast finally gets to just act like they know Price is killing people left and right, Tower enters into its best phase—the escape sequence is in this portion. But getting to watch the actors opposite Price when he’s cavorting? Their professionalism, if not better (Joan Camden is actually good as Price’s wife, who Lady Macbeths him, and Michael Pate is kind of awesome as Price’s chief stooge), makes Tower interesting to watch.
Unfortunately the finale—and blame Shakespeare—gets rid of the supporting players and is instead just Price hamming it up in an absurd suit of armor—the costuming is probably inaccurate but is at least not absurd for most of the film, but Price’s king outfits are hilarious. There’s one where he wears the crown over his silly hat and then his armor has a visibly cheap crown incorporated into the helmet, which also has a big floofy feather. He should win the battle when everyone else starts laughing and he can take them out. He also doesn’t have much of a hunch in the armor, which is annoying since Price’s looked goofy the whole movie because he’s wearing such a big hunch, who knows how he might’ve played without it to leverage. Price somehow isn’t overtly theatrical, but borrows devices from such a performance and applies them badly to whatever he’s doing.
But, yeah, the end. No one else around to react to Price, just him blathering… Tower falls just when it needs to stay strong. It’s too bad, though probably inevitable.
Directed by Roger Corman; screenplay by Leo Gordon, F. Amos Powell, and Robert E. Kent, based on a story by Gordon and Powell and plays by William Shakespeare; director of photography, Archie R. Dalzell; edited by Ronald Sinclair; music by Michael Andersen; produced by Gene Corman; released by United Artists.
Starring Vincent Price (Richard of Gloucester), Michael Pate (Sir Ratcliffe), Joan Freeman (Lady Margaret), Robert Brown (Sir Justin), Bruce Gordon (Earl of Buckingham), Joan Camden (Anne), Richard Hale (Tyrus), Sandra Knight (Mistress Shore), Charles Macaulay (George, Duke of Clarence), Justice Watson (Edward IV), Sarah Selby (Queen Elizabeth).