Saturday, June 18, 2011

Roger Corman's Fancifully Macabre Shakespeare/Poe Amalgam Known as The Tower of London

The following is my contribution to Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear's Roger Corman Blogathon.  There may be spoilers ahead, for those who care about such things.

When one thinks Roger Corman one thinks invariably about the hundreds of cheaply-manufactured B-movies the man directed and produced.  Sure, he is responsible for much of the transformation from the old studio era Hollywood into the more director-driven Hollywood of the seventies and early eighties (before it was sadly killed off by the age of the blockbuster!) and for giving first breaks to such future directorial luminaries as Coppola, Scorsese and Bogdanovich - and should be applauded for such - but still, when the name Roger Corman comes up (for those who have even heard of the man - and sadly there are many who have not) the visions of sea monsters and deformed ghouls and insectoid women spring immediately to mind.

Is this fair?  Is it accurate?  Is it inevitable?  One can probably answer yes on all three counts, but by no means should this be looked upon as something to be ashamed of.  Even being the film snob I most likely am (at least toward some things) I have had numerous hours of fun watching some really hokey B-movies.  From those early Warners gangster movies to the tentacle-writhing works of the infamous Ed Wood to the macabre messes of Corman's oeuvre to the dark and sinister films of Bava and the Giallo movement of the seventies to the Grindhouse so loved by one of my own idols Quentin Tarantino.  Perhaps these films will never make any respectable Top 10 Lists (then again, perhaps some will) but many of them are great fun indeed.

The funny, and quite ironic thing about Corman's 1962 film Tower of London is, even though it is assuredly of B-movie stock, it is a very well made film indeed.  Being a remake of the Rowland V. Lee directed 1939 film of the same name which starred Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff (and of which Corman has usurped footage of to add to his film's final battle scenes), Corman's updated version leans, of course, more heavily on the macabre parts of the story.  The film stars the always enjoyable, and always giddily chilling Vincent Price as the evil-minded Richard, Duke of Glouchester and eventual King Richard III.  This is an inspired bit of casting due to the fact that Price had a supporting role in the original 1939 version.  It is also inspired because who other than Price could pull off such a crazed kooky role as this.

Inspired in its storyline by Shakespeare's Richard III but also inspired by the style of the Poe adaptations Vincent Price was already part of (and would do more of again), Corman's film is a giddy macabre delight.  Done on the lowest of budget's of course, Corman gives us one of his richest, most visually textured and most psychologically layered films.  Reaching above the B-label, Tower of London is a frightfully good yarn.  Perhaps stiff at times (some of the actors are downright wooden) it is Price and his unique ability to give any production a sense of creepy dread while maintaining the most steadfast of respectable acting.  Only Boris Karloff was able to do this as successfully as Price in this genre.

Fun to watch (some Corman directed movies are far from a good time had by all) Tower of London is the story of a dying king, his gallant brother who he bequeaths guardianship of his children to (including the one who would be king) and his other brother, the hump-backed bitter Richard.  In Price's Richard we are shown a man who has been tormented his whole life, made to feel inferior to his brothers and even shunned by his own mother.  It is one of Price's juicier roles and one of his better performances.  Corman uses Prices already famed sense of actorly dread to make his film all the more ghoulish.  Perhaps the scenes with the ghosts are rather cheap looking, but the black and white cinematography helps make these work.  This may not be what most call great cinema (though Corman has made a handful of films as director that could be called such) but it certainly is what most should call fun cinema.

But above all the great Vincent Price, acting as hammy as anything he has ever done (and chewing enough scenery to fill the biggest of bellies) makes it all work as well as it does - and it does work surprisingly well.  Done straight, this film may seem more tired, but done in that infamous Vincent Price manner, the film is a delightfully gleeful B-movie horror schlock thingee well worth one's most precious time.


Nathanael Hood said...

I think that if Corman had made his Poe films with anybody OTHER than Price, they wouldn't have been as successful, innovative, OR enjoyable. You get a sense from Vincent Price that he really enjoys what he's doing, that in some strange way...he believes in the material. It was that enthusiasm that rocketed Corman's work into the stratosphere.

I tried to watch as many of Corman's films as I could before this blogathon. I managed to watch 27 of them in about two weeks.

This...unfortunately...was one of the few that I wasn't able to watch...and now I'm envious! You have made this movie out to be a thrilling and macabre thrill ride!

I, too, have a great love of B-movies and exploitation flicks. Out of curiosity...have you ever watched Mystery Science Theater 3000?

Anyhow...I just want to personally thank you for participating in this blogathon! The Corman/Price films are among his very best and they require a very special touch to appreciate and write about. You have done a fantastic job injecting your writing with enthusiasm and joyful glee!

Also, don't forget to vote for the Readers' Choice Award on Monday and to vote for the topic of our next blogathon by voting at the poll on my site's home page.

Kevyn Knox said...

Thanx. Glad to be a part of the fun.

And yes, I have seen MST3K. Great fun as well.

Thanx again.

Page said...

I could sit and watch Vincent Price reading The Farmers Almanac for two hours and be entertained so perhaps I'm biased and not the best judge on Vincent's 'best' roles but I have to agree that he steps it up here in Tower of London.

I love the films atmosphere and RC managed to make everything work for me from beginning to end.

Your review was well thought out and touched upon everything that makes this film a horror classic and a cut above any 'B movie' during that time period until now. The best part of a review is seeing the film through some else's perspective and picking up on things you took for granted on a film.

These kids wasting their money on the Scream franchise really should sit down and watch a few Price films. There's no comparison.

It was nice to meet you over a very cool Blogathon.
Kudos on a great review!

Page said...

Ooops! Of course it's Kevyn.

Kevyn Knox said...

Thanx. I appreciate the kudos.

ClassicBecky said...

Tower of London is definitely one of Corman's best. Price is delightfully nasty, of course the story is wonderful, and it is one of the better Corman movies. For me, it's especially a favorite because I am a Shakespeare freak, and Richard III is my favorite character of all his plays.

I'm not much of a fan of the really exploitative, biker gang type of Corman film, but I love his horror genre. The weird bug movies and such are a lot of fun, but his Poe cycle and Tower of London are my favorites.

You did a wonderful job of reviewing this lesser-known Corman, Kevyn. Great job!

Kevyn Knox said...


I was surprised at how well done Tower of London is. My only tastes of Corman-directed films have been a few of the lower B-movies.

Always love Price.

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

(and chewing enough scenery to fill the biggest of bellies)

I'm ashamed to admit I roared at this. And I'm one of the biggest Price fans around.

My memories of Tower of London are a little on the fuzzy side because admittedly it's been a long time since I've seen the film...why I've chosen not to revisit it is a mystery but I may have to make a point to hunt it down again (I know it often turns up on TCM during Halloween). Smash-up job on reviewing the film, Kev.

(Oh, and off-topic: Ooh la la is right with regards to the divine Miss Dvorak.)

Kevyn Knox said...

Thanx Ivan. I enjoyed that line while I was writing it. Just read your great review of A Bucket of Blood. I left a comment on your blog so I won't pontificate here.

Oh yeah, and ooh la la indeed. Love Ann. I have only seen about one third of her output so far but hope to enlarge that number greatly over the next year or so.

Stacia said...

Great review. This is one of the few Corman-Poe-Price movies I haven't seen, but I'm itching to now. I love it when Price eats scenery, he does it with such control and deliberation that he can be quite sinister, but at the same time you're frightened you're also attracted. He turns the notion of psychopathy around; usually you think of psychopaths as people who can pretend to be charming, but he's a charming guy who can pretend to be a horrible menace, and as such he fascinates people.

Jack L said...

Great review Kevyn,
This film sounds great, I'll be sure to watch it. COincidentally, this one was made the same year as the film I reviewed for the blogathon, The Intruder.
Such a prolific but undeniably talented director.

MP said...

I'll have to check this one! It looks like a little gem made modest but efficient. As always, excellent work!