Tower of London is a Roger Corman film made in the middle of his Poe cycle, a series of films that this one owes a lot to visually. Corman wanted to make a Gothic horror using the story of Richard III, and of course Vincent Price was totally game for playing the title role in that. It follows the historical story fairly closely, with bits taken not only from the Shakespeare play but also from various historical biographies. The ghostly elements from Shakespeare’s version are here as well.
The plot follows Richard III as he kills everyone in his way on his ruthless path to the crown. It’s really Price’s film, even more than Corman’s. Price was a trained Shakespearean actor, and unlike most of the other films he worked on, on this one he had a major influence on the story and dialogue. There were numerous screenwriters involved, but he definitely had a key role.
Price is clearly having a ball in the movie—he had always wanted to do Shakespeare on film, but his early career trajectory resulted in typecasting. About a decade later, he would also make the film Theatre of Blood, in which he plays bits and pieces of Shakespeare’s plays in his part as an actor who carries out the murders from them all.
This wasn’t the first time the Richard III story been done as a horror film—another version had been made in 1939 as well by Roland V. Lee—this was actually one of Price’s first films, in the role of the Duke of Clarence, and cuts from the Battle of Bosworth in that movie are spliced into this one in Corman’s typical fashion.
Corman had the standard budget for a Poe film for this one, but had bigger ambitions, leading to some budget problems and creative solutions that weren’t always successful. Tower of London was a United Artists film, a rare example of Corman being commissioned by a major studio. The original plan was for a colour film, but the UA execs instructed him to shoot in black and white, and he was not best pleased by that. Gene and Roger Corman actually almost left the film because of pennypinching executives.
Although it’s a lot of fun, it’s not the strongest of Corman’s productions from that period. Archie R. Dalzell, who worked almost exclusively with Corman or in TV, was the cinematographer—he was also responsible for Little Shop of Horrors, The Trip and the original Addams Family television show. The budget, however, limited what was possible and there are scenes that are clearly reused, or that have been shot in a studio when they should have been done on location.
The disk includes short interviews with Roger and Gene Corman, a slide show, and booklet with an essay about the film by Julian Upton.