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  • From the confines of the gloomy TOWER OF London, Richard, the treacherous Duke of Gloucester, murders his way to the throne of England.

    This lively & enjoyable pseudo-historical drama presents some surprisingly good performances which do much to elevate the film and make it quite enjoyable.

    Basil Rathbone is excellent as Richard, leering & smirking, dangerous as a poisonous serpent, he takes what could be a rather hammy part and gives it a certain malevolent stature. Here was a villain able to charm, coddle or kill his own brothers with equal skill. Rathbone makes him quite believable. (Oddly, while carrying Richard's humpback, Rathbone ignores the King's withered left arm.)

    Although this is not a horror film, Boris Karloff's Mord the Executioner is a very horrific character. Bald headed & club-footed, he stalks about the Tower carrying out Richard's foul orders. Karloff makes an indelible mark in his very first scene, inflicting more torments on the denizens of the torture chamber. With such a striking performance, as well as his status as one of Universal's most celebrated actors, it is strange that Karloff doesn't receive equal billing with Rathbone here.

    Vincent Price does very well in the role of the nervous, jealous, doomed Duke of Clarence, holding up nicely to the over-the-top performances of Rathbone & Karloff. (It is fascinating to see this early teaming of the three frightmeisters; the next time they would all appear in the same film would be in 1963's THE COMEDY OF TERRORS.)

    Special mention should be made of Ian Hunter as Edward IV. While acquiescing to all of Rathbone's bloody schemes, Hunter nonetheless injects an element of sardonic humor into the role, making it very entertaining.

    Barbara O'Neil as stately Queen Elizabeth, Nan Grey as spunky Lady Alice & Rose Hobart as lovely Anne Neville each do good work in roles which demand little from any of the actresses.

    The supporting cast is sprinkled with familiar faces - Leo G. Carroll, Miles Mander, Lionel Belmore, Ernest Cossart - each excellent in small roles. Far down the cast list is Ralph Forbes as Henry Tudor. This splendid actor was on the very cusp of becoming a major star at the end of the silent era; although gifted with a fine speaking voice, he was never able to achieve his full potential in talking films.

    Movie mavens will recognize uncredited appearances by both Robert Greig as a friendly priest & Nigel de Brulier as the archbishop who marries little Edward V.

    Universal gives the film a fine gloss, with good atmospherics. The exterior London scenes look impressive on the screen.

    The film presupposes a certain amount of intelligent knowledge to already be in the hands of the audience. Indeed, a working acquaintance with the facts surrounding the Wars of the Roses & the English Line of Succession could only be of help to the viewer in unraveling the intricate plot.

    TOWER OF London should be enjoyed as entertainment, not accepted as historical fact. Modern research is slowly overturning many of the old beliefs concerning Richard of Gloucester. As a result, he is emerging as a far less bloody individual and one who may have been pilloried for centuries by an unfriendly press. Shakespeare, it should be remembered, was writing for the Tudors - who may have had their own dark ancestral deeds to hide. Indeed, there is much creditable speculation that it was actually Henry Tudor who had the young Tower Princes murdered.
  • Richard III of England the maligned Plantagenent twisted by Shakespeare into the legendary ruthless embodiment of Machiavelli's Prince during the reign of the successful Tudor usurpers his only semi favorable appearance in literature is in R.L.Stevenson The Black Arrow. History wrote of him as a hunchbacked withered arm killer king. And in this movie,minus the shriveled left arm,he is. First seen on the local double dip of horror TV.show,it's really a historical drama that benefits from the presence of the great pairing of Karloff and Rathbone,as Mord the executioner and Richard ,respectively. It opens with an execution of a defeated Lancastrian lord during a moment of peace in the War of the Roses between Lancaster and York factions. Both the main villains share a common bond in both being physically flawed with Karloff/Mord having a clubfoot (Which he uses to great effect on a hapless page attempting to deliver a message!) In the hands of the capable director and the great star duo this modest budgeted epic delivers more than the ill-fated Alexander does. An interesting side note; Mr.Rathbone in a later interview said that the extras were wearing papier mache as a substitute for the real thing (modest budget) one of the battle scenes took place in the rain so there was the images of Yorkist and Lancaster men-at-arms flailing away in melting armor with soggy weapons.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    There are several reasons to recall "Tower Of London". It gave Basil Rathbone one of his few chances to portray a character that could be compared to Lawrence Olivier's portrayal in another film of the same character. It had a performance by John Rodion, Rathbone's illegitimate son, who tried to follow his father's footsteps into movies but was ultimately unable to do so. It was one of the few films that Rathbone did with Boris Karloff (others being "Son Of Frankenstein" and "The Comedy Of Terrors"). It was, I believe, the first film that Rathbone did with Vincent Price (oddly enough some twenty three years later Price appeared as Richard III, in a remake of this film).

    There is a story that Rathbone tells in his memoirs, "In And Out Of Character", of a practical joke played by himself and Karloff on Price. Price here was playing "false, perjured Clarence", that is George, Duke of Clarence, the middle brother between Edward IV and Richard III. The Duke of Clarence was in the Tower of London, charged with treason, when he died suddenly - reputedly he was purposely drowned in a "butt of Malmesey Wine" (a barrel of wine). Clarence, historically, was a very untrustworthy figure, who kept switching sides to better himself at everyone else's expense. In reality he was probably executed for treason. But rumor about the odd death in the barrel of wine spread, and eventually his death was thought to be due to the evil plotting of his brother Richard.

    When the film was shot, Rowland V. Lee (the director) decided that wine could not be used for the barrel's liquid - it would be wasted and was too expensive. He used Coca Cola, which is dark looking like a dessert wine. Price had to be tipped upside down into the barrel full of this Coke, and hold his breath for about a minute, and then be pulled out. He was shot a few times to be sure they got the best take for the film. Then he was taken out of the barrel, and was resting when Rathbone and Karloff came over - they gave Price a bottle of Coke to drink and relax with!

    The film has some novel touches in it, none of which are remotely true. Miles Mander's King Henry VI is killed by order of Richard while he is praying. Henry VI did die violently in the Tower of London in 1471, shortly after the failure of the attempt by Warwick the "Kingmaker" to restore him and the Lancastrians to the throne at the battle of Tewksberry. More likely, though, he was dispatched by order of King Edward IV. There was no box of wax dolls that Richard kept to remove the dolls representing the rivals he had knocked off. Mord is apparently a figment of the movie writer's imagination - no British monarch ever boasted of using a hangman to climb the genealogical tree to become king. Finally, I don't think that Richard's older brother, Edward IV (Ian Hunter), was such a ninny as to wink at Richard's acts of villainy as matters to laugh about while such a character came closer and closer to threatening the succession of Edward's own sons.

    For all the errors, it is stylistically a good film, with Rathbone at his wormiest as the ultimate bad uncle and usurper. Karloff's Mord is one of the few villain's he played with absolutely no good points to his character.

    It's not "Richard III", wherein Olivier (with Shakespeare) looks at the soul of a demonic villain. But as a good programmer it was worth watching.

    About eleven days ago was August 22, 2006, the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth Field, the battle where Richard and his cause fell in 1485, destroyed by Henry Tudor. As it does every year, the "Richard III Society" put a notice in the death columns of the New York Times regarding the sad fate of the monarch, and concerning loyalty (Richard's death in battle is tied to the opportunistic switch in loyalties of the Earl of Stanley and his men in the battle). I still hope that one day some serious film director will try to produce a film version of Richard's career and story that shows that the evidence that he killed his nephews and most of those other "victims" is not proved and probably was not done by him. But I wonder if such a film as that would turn out to be acceptable with the public, which is now used to seeing Richard III as always being a super-villain.
  • Not really a horror film, but a uniquely sinister and highly compelling history lesson, this late 1930's Universal production brings together a marvelous cast and tells a rather loose interpretation of William Shakespeare's famous play "Richard III". It's once again Boris Karloff's charismatic face that parades the DVD-cover, but the true personification of greed and wickedness here comes from the fantastic Basil Rathbone, who plays Richard the Duke of Gloucester and brother to Edward; King of England. Richard already heavily influences all the king's decisions, but he wants to reign by himself and thinks of fiendish plans to eliminate all those preceding him in line of the throne. He even owns a miniature theater where his progress to owning the royal crown is illustrated by dolls! Richard most loyal partner in crime is the barbaric and uncanny looking executioner Mord, performed by Boris Karloff. And yet another icon of horror cinema can be found in the cast list, moreover in the earliest phase of his rich career, namely Vincent Price. He splendidly gives image to the Duke of Clarence and appears in the film's absolute best sequence where he and Richard hold an unfair drinking contest. The story is sometimes confusing and not entirely without flaws, but the wholesome is very atmospheric and suspenseful. Near the beginning there's a morbid execution sequence and later in the film there are two spectacular and typically medieval battle scenes. The costumes and settings were convincing enough for me and every line that comes out of Rathbone's mouth is a fascinating experience. Roger Corman re-told this story in 1962, again starring Vincent Price, although that version put the emphasis more on explicit torture and supernatural elements. Very much recommended.
  • It's unfair to compare this horror movie of the pre-WW2 vintage to Richard III of the Bard. While the Tower of London builds on Shakespeare's vilification of Richard III, this tale is much more of a dark genre that was popular at that time and which continued up until after WW2. These are the days of Revenge of the Cat People, Frankenstein and its sequels and other films that strike the mood of those post depression times. The censors of the time forbade any explicit sex or violence and what you saw was always highly stylized. However, presenting a stylized horror film, mild, if not downright tame, by today's standards, required a great deal of subtlety from the actors, which is something sadly lacking in today's slice 'n dice menus. These new horror films are so predictable and rely on gore and explicit violence to provide the thrill which like pornography requires each new presentation to up the ante in mindless antics, each trying to out-gross the previous. So, what have we here in this fine old film. The classic tale of Richard Crook-back. We have the great Basil Rathbone as the Black Duke and Boris Karloff as his fictional sidekick, Mord. Yes, Karloff is nearly a stereotype for the evil henchmen who's willing to carry out the furious demands of his heartless master. But, there's a young Vinnie Price as the Duke of Clarence awaiting a drowning in a vat of Mumsey wine. The action line of this classic story moves quickly, the lines are spoken clearly and the the acting is superb. What else do you want from a 1939 horror drama?
  • "The Tower of London" was made by the same Director (Rowland V. Lee) and the same stars (Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff), that had made "Son of Frankenstein earlier the same year.

    This is the story of the evil King Richard III's (Rathbone) rise to the throne of England in the 15th century. We learn that Richard (known as crooked back because of a deformity) as the Duke of Gloucester is sixth in the line of succession. Standing in his way are his brother King Edward IV (Ian Hunter), the feeble minded King Henry VI (Miles Mander) who is being kept prisoner, the Prince of Wales, Edward's two young sons and Richard's other brother the Duke of Clarence (Vincent Price).

    With his faithful servant, the club-footed executioner Mord (Karloff) Richard begins to destroy all who stand in his way. Queen Elizabeth's (Barbara O'Neill) nephew John Wyatt (John Sutton) refuses to marry the King's choice, preferring instead the Queen's lovely handmaiden Lady Alice Barton (Nan Grey) instead. Wyatt is imprisoned and tortured, however, the Queen aids his escape. Wyatt escapes to France and plots the overthrow of Edward with Henry Tudor (Ralph Forbes).

    Meanwhile, Richard has started to move up the line of succession. First to go is Henry who has emerged as a hero following his survival in a battle in which he was supposed to be killed. The Prince of Wales is killed in the battle. The Duke of Clarence is drowned in a barrel of wine and ultimately Edward dies of natural causes.

    Richard is appointed Prortector of the two young princes (Ronald Sinclair, John-Herbert Bond). He soon proclaims himself king and to be sure has Mord murder the two young princes.

    Wyatt returns to England to claim his bride. After stealing the King's treasure Wyatt returns to France and turns the treasure over to Henry Tudor. Tudor mounts an invasion of England and......

    Director Lee gives us a couple of exciting battle sequences over the course of the film. The murder of the two young princes cements the true evil of Richard.

    Rathbone's character is behind Price's in the line of succession, which would make him younger. Rathbone however, was almost 20 years older than price. Karloff has merely a supporting role here but does his best as the evil Mord. John Rodian who plays Lord DeVere who is executed at the start of the film was Rathbone's real life son.

    Karloff and Price would not work together again until 1963's "The Raven" for Roger Corman. Price had starred in the remake of "The Tower of London" in a low budget re-make, also for Corman in 1962. Price, Karloff and Rathbone, appeared together in Corman's "The Comedy of Terrors" (1964).
  • Ambitious, historical tale with lots of battles (fairly well done) and much power struggling, particularly of course by the hunchbacked Richard. The matters romantic slow things down enormously and although clearly striving for some measure of authenticity, there are just too many characters for the budget or script to be able to deal with as one might have liked. However, given the limited resources, a reasonable result is achieved, helped enormously by three excellent male leads. Basil Rathbone is very fine indeed and very convincing in the role of the scheming, Richard and none of the camp Price would bring to the role another time. A very young Vincent price is also most effective and it is great to see his crooked smile and fluttering eyelids already swinging into action. A bit too fey here perhaps but lets himself go in the infamous drinking scene. Incidental to the main story and probably originally added as a bit of light relief, Boris Karloff brings anything but. An appropriately towering performance and despite very few lines and not a lot of screen time he drags himself into centre frame and haunts one's memory afterwards.
  • The picture begins with a foreword : ¨No age is without its ruthless men -who , in their search for power , leave dark stains upon the pages of history . During the Middle Ages -to seize the tower of London was to seize the throne of England . In 1471 this has been done by Edward IV (Ian Hunter)- who has violently deposed the feeble Henry IV (Miles Mander) and holds him prisoner . Within the deep shadows of the Tower walls lives the population of a small city , some in prison cells and torture chambers , some in palaces and spacious lodgings , but none in peace . A web of intrigue veils the lives of all who know only too well that today's friends might be tomorrow's enemies¨ . As this excellent film tells the story of power-hungry Richard III Crookback (an incisive Basil Rathbone who features an acclaimed acting) , 6th in throne succession , subsequent and eventually crowned king , the English monarch who brutally executed the people who attempted to get in way to the throne . Richard eliminates those ahead of him in succession to the throne, then occupied by his brother King Edward IV of England. Richard , Duke of Gloucester , is a dominant , unstoppable , mean lord , gross black spider of a figure that devours or possesses everything on its path . After the death of Edward he becomes Richard III, King of England, and he needs only defeat the exiled Henry Tudor to retain power . Deformed and ruthless English king Richard battles Prince of Wales' army , as the opposing forces converge in Gloucester-shire and the Prince prays for victory at the Priory of Hereford . This melodrama is based on historical events , during Two Roses War , ¨Red Rose (York)¨ ruled by Edward IV and Richard III followers and ¨White Rose (Lancaster)¨ Henry VII followers who vanquish them . There finally takes place battle of Bosworth , in which Richard III is defeated and takes over the kingdom , a new ruler named Henry VII Tudor.

    Dazzling , hypnotic entertainment that was deemed extremely graphic for its time and some of the torture scenes had to be cut before it was released . More interested as historical drama than as a terror film , the picture profits from a magnificent cast who gives over-the-top interpretations . Well produced and atmospheric picture , being stunningly directed by Rowland V .Lee , which gives Boris Karloff one of his best characters as the shaven-headed executioner who looks like a forerunner of ulterior roles . Gorgeously polished visuals are perfect foil for the slimy , evil goings-on . The battle scenes were an ordeal to film. Principally shot on August 19, 1939 at a ranch in Tarzana, the fog machine proved ineffective in the face of high winds. The 100-degree heat caused the 300 extras to suffer and rain machines caused the soldier's cardboard helmets and shields to disintegrate. Additional battle scenes were shot on August 22 and on September 4, 1939, but the California heat continued to play havoc with the cast, crew and equipment . Production wrapped on 4 September 1939, 10 days and nearly $80,000 over budget . Tremendous black and white cinematography by George Robinson and stunning dramatic impact in one of the most successful Universal films ever made . Good musical score , though studio heads were alarmed that the score contained nothing but period music and ordered a new score be written ; time considerations ultimately prevented this, with Frank Skinner cobbling together pieces from his score from The son of Frankenstein , only pieces of the original score survived the final cut.

    Other films dealing with this historic personage are the followings : ¨Tower of London¨(1962) by Roger Corman with Vincent Price as Richard III , Michael Pate , Sandra Knight ; it results to be a sophisticated remake and Price plays a role taken over in the 1939 rendition who coincidentally appeared as the doomed Duke of Clarence ; the classic ¨Richard III¨ (1955) starred and directed by Laurence Olivier with Ralph Richardson , John Gielgud , Cedric Hardwicke , this is the landmark version of the Shakespearean play . And modern take ¨Richard III (1995) by Richard Loncraine with Ian Mckellen , Jim Broadbent , Robert Downey Jr and Nigel Hawthorne , being set in an imagined 1930s London of swanky Art Deco .
  • The bloody history of England has always been a ripe subject for films and this one is no exception. BASIL RATHBONE has quite a field day playing the ruthless and unscrupulous man who would later become Richard III and BORIS KARLOFF is his faithful executioner in this story of royalty run amok.

    Rathbone is willing to commit murders brutal and grotesque in order to stop anyone else from getting in the way of the throne. But the film is flawed by a muddled script which has to deal with too much exposition in the way of explaining all the character relationships and the various nobles involved.

    Karloff is quite effective as the executioner but really has little to do except sharpen his blades and deal roughly with various prisoners. It's not the sort of role he could really do anything deeper with. VINCENT PRICE shows promise in a good supporting role as Edward. He has an unforgettable scene in a wine contest with Rathbone wherein he eventually falls into a drunken stupor and is thrown into a vat of wine by Karloff and Rathbone.

    JOHN SUTTON at least gets more screen exposure than he usually got in his early years as a second string actor, mostly in Warner films with Flynn and Davis. NAN GREY does nicely as his loyal sweetheart who is reunited with him for the finale.

    Not quite as chilling today as it was when I saw it years ago and much of it is too labored with exposition of historical facts.

    TCM is showing an excellent print that demonstrates how expertise the cameramen were with their B&W cinematography.
  • Tower of London is as sinister as Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff and the rest of Universal's horror department can make it. Although the picture is not without its weaknesses, lack of thrills is not one of them. Neither is the casting--Rathbone and Karloff are savage enough to please the most bloodthirsty. Karloff enjoys his role as executioner and spends plenty of time in his torture chamber.
  • Shakespeare -- Universal Pictures style! Basil Rathbone plays Richard III, who rises to power with the help of his club-footed executioner Mord, played by Boris Karloff ("crookback and dragfoot"). Excellent historical suspenser from Universal. Not a horror movie, despite the cast and studio. Although Karloff's Mord would be right at home lurking around Castle Frankenstein. In addition to Karloff and Rathbone, the cast includes Vincent Price, Leo G. Carroll, Ian Hunter, and lovely Nan Grey. Great sets, costumes, and direction by Rowland V. Lee. Rathbone is having lots of fun being evil and Karloff is always a treat to watch. I really like this one!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Upon first viewing, I didn't warm up to "Tower of London" much. The story of 15th century political intrigue wasn't exactly what I was looking for when popping in a quote-unquote Universal Horror movie. This is, after all, the same historical material that inspired Shakespeare's "Richard III" and modern soap opera "The Tudors." Rewatching this movie tonight, I discovered, surprise surprise, it is a horror movie, at least parts of it anyway.

    Granted, a large portion of the film revolves around royal politics. There's lots of talks of familial relations, of marrying the right people, of who's next in line to the throne. As generally accepted by fiction, but not necessarily history, Richard III murdered his way up the royal line, all the way to the king's throne. In tradition with Shakespeare, Basil Rathbone's portray of Richard includes a hunchback. After the exile of Henry Tudor and the death of his mingling brother Edward, the film shows Richard's inclinations for murderous conspiracies kick in.

    And that's were the film's horror elements come from. The film invents the character of Mord, a royal executioner with a clubfoot, childhood friend of Richard, played by Karloff. Mord is one of Karloff's most sadistically evil characters. Karloff's head is shaved and his all ready imposing frame is further padded out, making him look especially intimidating. This is a man who gleefully grinds an axe before the gallows, has no qualms about stabbing an old man while he prays. Interestingly enough, Mord is also responsible for spreading rumors, gossip that slowly erodes at the public's trust of Prince Edward V and his brother. Richard's manipulation of the boys takes up a large portion of the film's middle section. The moment Rathbone first considers murdering the children even causes Karloff's totally immoral character to pause for a second. The scene where the boy princes are killed has got to be one of the darkest moments in Post-Code thirties cinema.

    This is largely an actor's film. Rathbone gives an interesting performance. Richard III is never more then a calculating villain. Even his generous public area or the scenes with the woman he plans on marrying are never more then mechanical moves towards power. It's still a very good performance, strictly because Rathbone imbues every line and turn with a sinister attitude. Among the supporting cast is a very young Vincent Price as Duke George, played here as a foppish alcoholic. The best scene in the movie is the drink-off, like a duel but with booze, between Rathbone and Price. Another example of two great actors playing it over the top against one another. There's some dark comedy sprinkled throughout too, most of it coming from Mord's causal brutality, such as opening a iron maiden and letting a body fall out as calmly as you and I take the garbage out.

    The horror content peaks during the scene where a prisoner of the Tower is tortured for information. Whipping, hot irons, the rack, all of it displayed in as much graphic detail as 1939 would allow. (Which might be more then you'd think.) Could the roots of post-millennial torture horror be in this little seen period drama? Probably not, but it's fun to think so. The story climaxes with a huge battle scene, which is fine but marks the end of the horror elements. Rathbone is given a surprisingly lackluster death scene but Karloff's dramatic dive off a cliff makes up for it. After 90 minutes of brutality and darkness, the overly up-beating ending is a real tone breaker. "Tower of London" honestly isn't pure horror but, every time I see the film, I'm surprise at how closely it skirts up against the genre.
  • Director Rowland J. Lee takes a few pages from English history to tell the story of Richard the III. A sick, misshaped, ambitious and evil man who would stop at nothing to usurp the Throne of England. As Richard of Gloucester (Basil Rathbone) designs an ambitious and dastardly plan by which he will seek to destroy all who would stand in his way to be king of England. With his equally sinister henchman (Boris Karloff) he creates a tiny miniature stage on which all who must die are systematically remove. This includes the rightful sons of Queen Elizabeth (Barbara O'Neil) together with Edward IV (Ian Hunter) and the Duke of Clarence (Vincent Price). The superb cast included Leo G. Carroll as Lord Hastings. Like the black pages of a Gothic novel, the selected cast prove a fitting tribute to those who lent their talents to create this film Classic for the entertainment of audiences everywhere. Recommended for all who enjoy English drama at it's best. ****
  • When one has seen the Shakespearean treatment of this story, it falls far short of the masterwork. That said, it isn't fair to compare a low budget period movie to Shakespeare. I think what I did like about it, though, is its visuality. I liked Karloff going through a day's work, putting one more weight on a guy they're suffocating, like a cook checking to see if there's enough salt in the soup. I really like Basil Rathbone. Of course the Sherlock Holmes movies are my favorites, but he is a consummate actor and rises above everyone else in the story. I was disappointed in the lack of character development other than Richard and the silly romantic subplot.

    Karloff ,also, should have had his moment to confront Richard since he is a fictionalization anyway.

    It was neat seeing Vincent Price begin his mugging, whining characterization of the ineffectual son of the king. I did like the drinking scene but wonder why no one else was there to observe the result. Richard (Rathbone) seemed to have an awfully easy row to hoe. I was also disappointed in the big battle scene at the end, but won't spoil it here.

    All in all, I liked looking at this movie, but felt sort of empty at the conclusion. Also, where does it come off as a horror movie, other than the rather comical dungeon scenes?
  • Contrary to many an assumption, Tower of London is actually not a horror film, despite the dark and miserable English castle setting, the sight of Boris Karloff as club-footed executioner Mord, and the presence of Rowland V. Lee - a director perhaps best known for Son of Frankenstein (also released in 1939) - behind the camera. There's also the existence of Roger Corman's low-budget effort of the same name, which emphasised the horror and pushed genre legend Vincent Price (who also appears here in a smaller role) into the central role as the deformed, scheming Richard III. In fact, Lee's Tower of London is a historical drama, borrowing much from Shakespeare's Richard III but somewhat confusingly leaving out much of the detail.

    Edward IV (Ian Hunter) sits comfortably on the throne of England after defeating King Henry VI (Miles Mander) and imprisoning him in the Tower of London. The feeble-minded former king wears a paper crown and lives in the hope that his son will return from exile in France to reclaim his crown. Edward enjoys combat practice with his formidable and cunning brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Basil Rathbone), while their soft, drunken younger brother the Duke of Clarence (Price) watches on enviously. Richard is an incredibly capable leader of men, but is way behind in the line of succession. He keeps a mini theatre hidden away where he plans to remove everybody in his way, and despite the many rivals who could challenge him for the crown, the hunchbacked prince will stop at nothing until he is seated on the throne.

    Although not a horror, Tower of London certainly looks like one. The huge set created for the film became a staple of Universal, and the dark, chilling castle could be seen in many genre pieces produced by the studio in the following years. There's also a few brutal but bloodless murders, almost always involving Karloff's Mord, who is the closest thing the film has to a monster. Yet for the most part, this is more akin to Shakespeare, performed by a ridiculous wealth of acting talent. There are great turns by Hunter, Mander, Price (in only his fourth role) and Barbara O'Neil as Queen Elyzabeth, but the film belongs to Rathbone and Karloff, with the former even eclipsing Laurence Olivier's arguably hammy thesping in the 1955 film. Packing what is an incredibly complex tale into 90 minutes can confuse matters, but this is an entertaining, somewhat lighter alternative to Shakespeare's infinitely more grandiose work.
  • gavin694218 October 2015
    In the 15th century Richard Duke of Gloucester (Basil Rathbone), aided by his club-footed executioner Mord (Boris Karloff), eliminates those ahead of him in succession to the throne, then occupied by his brother King Edward IV of England.

    This film has suffered from being thought of as horror, probably because it has Vincent Price (in a very early role) and Boris Karloff. It is not horror. Some have taken to calling it "quasi-horror", which may be true, though exactly what that means is not clear so who is to say? Anyway, if you go in expecting horror, you will leave disappointed.

    As a historical drama, this is an exceptional film. If you do not know English royal history, the characters are more than a little confusing. But if you go in understanding the basic plot, it is a great tale of treachery and evil ambition. And, for the most part, a true story.
  • I really enjoyed this film in spite of any historical inaccuracies. If you watch the film as simply a Hollywood drama instead of "historical truth" then the movie is quite enjoyable to watch.

    Basil Rathbone & Boris Karloff are in what might be their most wicked and vile roles ever! Rathbone plays Richard - Duke of Gloucester while Karloff plays the chief gaolor of the Tower & executioner Mord.

    The movie is not considered to be a horror film yet it feels much like watching a historical horror-drama similar to watching the unrelated film "Tower of London (1962)" which also stars Vincent Price. ToL '62 is a completely different story than this Rathbone, Karloff and Price classic from '39.

    "Tower of London (1939)" is worth watching for the fans of horror, historical dramas, Rathbone, Karloff and/or Price.

    9/10
  • 1939's "Tower of London" was a Universal 'A' budget picture, director Rowland V. Lee's followup to "Son of Frankenstein," as conceived by his brother Robert N. Lee, who also scripted Rowland's final feature in 1945, "Captain Kidd." Together, they chose a real-life horror story set in 14th century Britain, the throne usurped by three brothers, immortalized by Shakespeare's "Richard III." Wearing the crown is King Edward IV (Ian Hunter), his closest adviser brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Basil Rathbone), while half brother George, Duke of Clarence (Vincent Price), is regarded as a self serving weakling. Few are aware of Richard's own aspirations toward the throne, though Edward's wife, Queen Elyzabeth (Barbara O'Neil), correctly suspects that Gloucester is not the loving uncle her sons believe him to be. Boris Karloff's Mord is the chief executioner, ruling over the Tower of London, where all of Richard's enemies eventually end up. The first victim opening the film is played by John Rodion, Basil Rathbone's son from his first marriage, whose only other credit was also with his father (1938's "The Dawn Patrol"). The wine jousting death of Clarence is memorable (borrowed by Price himself in 1973's "Theater of Blood"), but by far the most shocking are the cold blooded murders of Edward's two sons, the boy King having taken his father's place upon the throne, only for Richard to order their deaths in striking back at the defiant Queen Mother. Karloff preferred the term 'terror' over the word 'horror' in describing his films, but surely would have had no problem describing this movie as a genuine 'horror film.' Basil Rathbone enjoys one of his greatest screen roles, handsome and resplendent, his humpback barely noticeable. Having debuted in Universal's 'Service De Luxe,' Vincent Price (in only his third feature) would finish his brief sojourn at the studio following "Green Hell," "The Invisible Man Returns," and "The House of the Seven Gables," moving on to 20th Century-Fox for "Hudson's Bay." Splendidly hamming it up in this first brush with the genre he became indelibly linked, Price actually graduated to starring as Richard himself in Roger Corman's impoverished 1962 remake, also titled "Tower of London." Price would also be reunited with John Sutton in "The Invisible Man Returns," "Bagdad," "The Bat," and "Return of the Fly."
  • All in all, this oddball 90-minutes could be called a noir costume drama. The lighting is either dull gray, shadowy b&w, or plain foggy, all the way through. Of course, this befits a very dour tale based, it seems, on some historical fact. As the scheming Richard of Gloucester, the sharp-featured Rathbone is perfect. And by golly, nothing's going to stand in the way of his becoming a 15th century King of England, even if he has to step on half his family to get there. Of course, he's got reliable old clubfoot Mord (Karloff) to do the dirty work. And do it, he does.

    It's impressive how well Rathbone transitions here from the unscrupulous plotter to his later intellectual gumshoe Sherlock Holmes. There's been no one quite so compelling before or since. Then too, as Mord, the great Karloff makes better use of his massive frame than usual. With his bald head (though the skull cap seams sometimes show), he's an incomparable presence. Still, there's that fleeting moment where the murderous Mord contemplates the sleeping bodies of the two doomed princes and the cruelty of his work. It passes quickly but amounts to a telling touch. Then there's that memorable scene where the Duke of Clarence (Price) and Richard compete for most quaffed wine in royal history; that is, before Clarence gets to bathe in the vat permanently. Though I've never again heard of Malmsey kind of wine, that scene's stayed with me for years.

    In my little book, director Lee is underrated for his work here and in other costume epics he seems to have specialized in, e.g. Captain Kidd (1945). Nonetheless, the movie is flawed in certain respects, as other reviewers point out. There's a heckuva lot of characters that come and go, so you may need the proverbial scorecard. Plus, the royalty gets their finery to wear, but the bare-bones interiors look like the budget didn't cover set decoration. And I'm still wondering how combatants could tell friend from foe in those fog shrouded battle scenes that come across like cloudy nightmares.

    Anyhow, I know nothing about the historical accuracy of what's on screen. Nonetheless, the oddball results have stayed with me for near 6-decades. Thanks, Rathbone and Karloff, and especially a long-gone TV Late Show.
  • Despite having been released on video as part of the "Universal Pictures Monster Collection," it's actually an historical drama that looks fairly elaborate considering it's rumored low-budget. It is certainly well-acted especially by Basil Rathbone and, in his film debut, Vincent Price (who would star in a 1962 remake). Nevertheless, even with a bald, ax-wielding Boris Karloff in tow, this is a tedious affair, and I suppose it always was, even in the early 70s when I had seen and liked it in the wee hours on my local TV station's "Late Night Movie." It impressed me for some reason back then, but I don't know why. I still don't. It's certainly a big letdown from "Son of Frankenstein" which the same director (Rowland V. Lee) made earlier in the year for the same studio, with the same two stars (Rathbone and Karloff).
  • Aside from superior performances by Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, and Vincent Price, there is little I found in this film to recommend.

    I believe the movie fails (as many films do) under the weight of a mediocre script and sub-par supporting cast. Even if one wasn't paying attention during their high school World History class, we already know within the first 15 minutes of the film what the entire story is, what will happen, and can make a common-sense-guess as to how the film will end. And, sure enough, there isn't a single surprise in the entire film. Wait, I take that back...the American accents were quite a surprise for me! Nan Grey is GORGEOUS...just as sexy dressed as a chimney sweep as she is dressed in fancy gown, but her American accent completely removes any sense of truth from the film. Barbara O'Neil at least tries a British accent periodically throughout the film...and even though she fails most of the time with it, at least she tries. The problem with O'Neil's performance is that it is so fake and over-the-top that it is impossible to take her seriously...especially with a couple of her stare-bug-eyed-directly-into-the-camera looks...utterly ridiculous!

    And I have no idea what anyone was thinking casting John Sutton as the hero of the piece...he was only slightly more masculine than the character Vincent Price was playing! I know Errol Flynn was too big a star at the time for the role, but he was exactly what this film needed to elevate it to where it needed to be...Basil Rathbone is such a powerful screen presence, he deserved a hero of equal stature.

    This movie is a must for Rathbone and Karloff fans, but there is little here for the rest. As good as Vincent Price was in this 1939 film as Clarence, his 1962 version of "Tower of London" has the horror legend giving a stellar, scenery-chewing performance as Richard that is among his greatest!

    Overall, a 4 out of 10 strictly out of respect for the lead performances.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This slow-moving piece benefits from a very effective performances by star Basil Rathbone as a corrupt duke whose ambitious nature leads him to gradually destroy all those who stand between him and the crown. Rathbone exudes cunning evil in this enduring film, and his scheming and wicked ways are the chief reason to watch. Not many other actors could have done this better. Although Rathbone is best known for his role in over a dozen Sherlock Holmes films in the 1940s, this remains one of his best performances ever.

    Some people have complained that this melodrama is too slow, not in my opinion. I think a lot of people are simply disappointed that this isn't exactly a horror film after it was recently re-released in misleading packaging. Sure, it's not horror, but there are plenty of frightening moments (plus the usual torture, beheadings, sword fights, you name it...), and Boris Karloff stumps around in makeup which wouldn't look out of place in any spooker you care to mention. Karloff here adopts the role of a faithful manservant to Rathbone, a bald executioner with a club foot who carries out his master's bidding unnervingly. Karloff isn't given much opportunity to act here, apart from in a scene with a young child, and mainly trades in on his terrible Frankenstein image. But then there's no harm in that.

    The time period of the film is very good, as we gradually watch Rathbone rise through the various ranks in the royal court. Absolutely nobody stands in his way in the film until the final moments where a heroic opponent escapes and paves the way for a full-scale battle. The acting is uniformly good, as is the score, and it's nice to see a young Vincent Price in an amusing role as a drunkard who meets his end in a vat of red wine. Price sports a terrible British accent here and plays a very effeminate character, but his portrayal of drunkenness is accurate and you can see the seeds which eventually led to him becoming a famed actor some two decades later in the likes of THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH.

    As for the horror content, there are a few choice moments in a torture chamber to delight the genre fan. Karloff is a master of pain, casually tossing water over a floor for a prisoner to lick up and dropping a weight on a man's chest in passing. I was surprised how graphic some of these tortures were, and one man has to survive whipping, branding, and even being stretched on the rack at the end of the film. Some battering! If you want to see a Shakespeare play given a top-notch treatment by some forgotten stars, then TOWER OF London is the film for you.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Released the same year as 'Son of Frankenstein' it reunites the creative talents behind that film Karloff, Rathbone, and director Rowland V. Lee. It's arguable as to whether or not this counts as a horror film really but if it you do it is by far Universal's largest macabre spectacle. It's a loose retelling of the legend of Richard III with Rathbone in the title role and Rathbone might be delivering his finest performance. He totally gets the two faced nature of the character. You have to like something about Richard in some regard otherwise the story just stretches plausibility too much. Rathbone might actually have it harder in that this is not Shakespeare and there is no direct address to the audience. The film benefits as well from having Ian Hunter being a very strong Edward IV. He isn't a total pushover and the scenes between him and Rathbone show two smart men with Rathbone just having the cunning Edward IV does not.

    Karloff is unfortunately relegated to nothing more than the basest of supporting roles. He plays Mord Richard's personal executioner who does the dirty deed of killing the princes in the tower. It's a role that could have stood to be expanded. Mord too is disfigured with a club foot and that seems to be why he idolizes Richard and is willing to murder all his enemies. I think it would have been interesting to see Karloff's character become disillusioned in his hero at some point. The most disappointing Karloff pictures are the ones where Karloff is there merely to look sinister and 'Tower of London' follows that formula unfortunately. That being said Mord has one outstanding moment. He doesn't receive much dialogue but there his introduction is brilliant.

    "Your highness, you're more than a duke, more than a king. You're a god to me!"

    It isn't really a horror picture but it's a pretty good historical epic and easily one of Universal's biggest films of the period. These sets were recycled in a lot of later films. Look out for Vincent Price as the Duke of Clarence. This has to be his first or second film. They are still thinking he could be a romantic instead of a heavy.
  • Basil Rathbone stars as Richard, the Duke Of Glouster, a ruthless and ambitious man who systematically plots to murder all those who stand in his way to the throne, held by King Edward the IV. He is helped in this by his loyal and sinister servant, the club-footed Mort(played menacingly by Boris Karloff) who tortures, imprisons or exiles all who oppose him. Eventually, Richard does come to power after Edward dies, becoming the famous King Richard the III of England, who must face a returning enemy in battle to secure his power, aided by the eager Mort... Vincent Price is amusing as a drunken Duke of Clarence, another victim. Good acting and direction(by Rowland V. Lee) with literate script make this film a winner.
  • Rowland V. Lee's "Tower of London" of 1939 is a tense, well-made and highly atmospheric Historical Drama starring three of Horror's all time-greats, Basil Rathbone (in the lead as the vicious King Richard III), Boris Karloff (as his loyal executioner), and the young Vincent Price (in the role of the Duke of Clarence). Even though the film is sometimes labeled a Horror film, it isn't really. Personally, I saw Roger Corman's 1962 remake, in which Vincent Price plays the leading role, several years before first watching this one. I'd probably say I still prefer Corman's version, due to the creepy atmosphere, the stronger focus on the 'Horror' elements and Richard's growing madness, and, mainly, due to Vincent Price's indescribable on-screen persona. It cannot really be said which is the 'better' film however. Though telling the story of the same King, the two versions do differ immensely in most aspects. They begin at a different stage in Richard's aspiration for power, and while Richard is depicted as an absolute madman by Vincent Price in Corman's 1962 film, the Richard played by Basil Rathbone in this film is merely a calculating, unscrupulous and extremely cold-blooded aspirator for kingship.

    Lee's "The Tower of London" begins within the reign of King Edward IV (Ian Hunter), the older brother of Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Basil Rathbone). The unscrupulous, hunchbacked Richard longs to be King, and is willing to commit any murderous deed necessary to achieve his goal. He is assisted in his plans by his most loyal servant, the club-footed executioner and torturer Mord (Boris Karloff)... "Tower of London" is definitely a dark, gloomy film, and furthermore very explicitly violent for its time. Unlike Roger Corman's 1962 version it is not a Horror film, however, but a Historical Drama. The great Basil Rathbone is ingeniously sinister in his role, and Horror-deity Boris Karloff is incredible as the ghoulish executioner. Vincent Price's role of the Duke of Clarence is regrettably small, but he is brilliant in it, as always. A 28-year-old Price, who was not yet the Horror-icon he would become, gives a great foretaste of the brilliance to come. Most (though not all) of the supporting performances are good. The 'good guys', such as the hero played by John Sutton, are not too memorable, but, at least in my humble opinion, great villains are of far greater value for this kind of story anyway. Though it treats the eponymous King, "Tower of London" is not based on Willaim Shakespeare's play "Richard III". The film is greatly shot, the choreography is very good and the historical settings are incredible. Overall, "Tower of London" is an excellent film that shouldn't be missed by fans of classic cinema. Highly recommended!
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