TOWER OF LONDON (1939)
aka RICHARD III, LONDON TOWER
Directed by Rowland V. Lee
Written by Rowland V. Lee
Starring Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Barbara O’Neil, Ian Hunter, Vincent Price, Nan Grey, Nan Grey, John Sutton, Leo G. Carroll, Miles Mander, Lionel Belmore, Rose Hobart, Ronald Sinclair, John Herbert-Bond, Ralph Forbes, Frances Robinson, G.P. Huntley, John Rodion, Walter Tetley, Donnie Dunagan, Joan Carroll, and, I just included this one because I loved the name of his role, Harry Cording as the Lead Murderer of the Children!
Not to be mistaken for the 1962 version TOWER OF LONDON which also stars Vincent Price in a more prominent role, this tale of castle treachery and intrigue stars Basil Rathbone as the villainous Richard Duke of Gloucester. While I am a Vincent Price fan until the day I die, I don’t know which actor plays the role better as both are surprisingly dastardly tales from a much more innocent time in cinema.
TOWER OF LONDON is a lengthy film for its time, following the long and treacherous path Richard the misshapen Duke of Gloucester takes in order to become the King. With the help of his monstrous henchman Mord (Boris Karloff), Richard lies, cheats, betrays, steals, and murders his way through many in line for the throne to gain the power he desires.
While I believe Price played Richard as a more dastardly creep, Rathbone is conniving and stern reminiscent of Thomas Hiddleston’s portrayal of Loki in the MCU. Though the hump on his pack is inconsistent and sometimes not even there, Rathbone is consistent in his deviousness and unflinching drive to get what he wants. While it is a wonderful and simple visual cue, I found it amusing that Richard has a diorama with dolls signifying those in line ahead of him for the throne. Seeing him gleefully toss the dolls in the fire one by one is one of the highlights of his performance.
The rest of the cast is great too. A very young Vincent Price is great as the sniveling Duke of Clarence. Barbara O’Neil is tragic and powerful as the tormented Queen Elisybeth. And Boris Karloff is iconic in his truly menacing portrayal of Mord. He takes his size and imoposing posture and gives a performance that is comparable to his role of Frankenstein.
Though made in 1939, this is an expansive tale full of ornate castle scenery, a complex plot, top tier performances by Rathbone, Price, Karloff, and Ian Hunter as King Edward IV, and giant battlefield scenes with hundreds of knights battling it out with swords, spears, and axes. TOWER OF LONDON is the a precursor to the big budget, big spectacle films that will dominate the cinemaplexes forty years in its future and to the present. Fans of GAME OF THRONES will definitely get something out of this, which could be looked at as the great grandfather to that tale of the quest for power. It even has a much more satisfying ending than GOT. There’s a lot to love about the rich detail of all of the performances in TOWER OF LONDON. It’s full of amazing cinematography utilizing shadow and light over gore, but nevertheless telling a tale as dark as they come.
Sorry, sadly I couldn’t find a trailer for this one…