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.
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