The Tower of London
History has some great villains that can be used for bone-chilling stories. Bram Stoker used Vlad the Impaler as the basis for Dracula, and the Spanish Inquisition had some gruesome torture devices that would still haunt the nightmares of any avid horror fan. William Shakespeare also borrowed from history to create his heroes and villains; Julius Ceaser, Anthony and Cleopatra, The Hollow Crown series and the hunchback king, Richard the Third. Richard the Third is so iconic that he has been played by numerous actors over the centuries, Ian Holm and Ian McKellan have played him on the screen, and a modified Richard can be even be seen on Game of Thrones (somewhat shortened) in Tyrion Lannister. So then how do the King of screams, Vincent Price, and the Duke of fast and cheap thrills, Roger Corman, go about telling the tale of Richard the Third in their 1962 film The Tower of London, being released on Blu-Ray and DVD by Arrow Home Entertainment this February?
If you know the play Richard the Third you know the plot of Tower of London. Richard Duke of Gloucester (Vincent Price) is overlooked by his brother King Edward IV who names his eldest son Prince Edward heir to the throne, while also naming the Duke of Clarence as Protector. From there Richard murders his way to the throne all the while haunted by his deeds and those he has killed.
For a film that was made fast and cheap, Tower of London is dripping with atmosphere. Art director Daniel Haller certainly pulled out all the stops on the medieval castle and, helped by Raymond "Ray" Boltz Jr. who dressed the sets, the titular Tower of London becomes a funhouse of horror. However, it would be nothing without the wonderful cinematography by Archie R. Dalzell, who adds a sweeping scale of grandeur, while Editor Ronald Sinclair does masterful work covering the films almost evident lack of budget with special effects by Modern Film Effects.
Though I could go on about the rest of the cast and crew, you've probably seen this film for one reason and one reason only, Vincent Price; Vincent Price classically trained actor, hard-working thespian and the king of spooky. With Vincent Price as Richard, the Third you could have one of two performances; one of those could have been a very serious portrayal of a complex villain, the other one, which is what we got, is so hammy it would stoke a butchery for two years, and it is delicious. Price chews the scenery and steals the show in virtually every shot, and he proves why he is so beloved by Horror fans.
Tower of London, isn't going to change the world, but it sure is a good time. It provides a level of 1960's chills that is to be expected from two great names in high-quality B-Movies, Corman and Price. Those who are Vincent Price fans and who haven't seen this film have a valuable addition to their collection.
Arrow do an excellent job on the transfer and the presentation of the Blu-Ray. Though the film is presented in Black and White, a problem of the original production rather than this duel format set 1080p which really allows the subtle play of chiroscuro to sing. Though the DVD is presented in standard definition, the visual quality is also decent with no transfer issues or digital glitches.
The sound presentation is also a suitably high definition, with an uncompressed 1.0 mono audio on the Blu-Ray disc and a compressed version on the DVD that allows you to hear every thunder clap and musical sting with great clarity.
The menus are easy to navigate with titles and subtitles that are easy to read to help you find your way through the disc menu.
Overall the disc is of a decent quality and provides an ease of use that has become expected of these sorts of releases.
There are two interviews with the Corman brothers, Gene and, of course, Roger. These provide an excellent look into the way these two film pioneers worked to bring their films to the screen as well as providing a look at the production of Tower of London and all the trouble it faced.
However, the best extra has to be the commentary provided by Vincent Price's biographer David Del Valle and Tara Gordon, the daughter of the screenwriter Leo Gordon. The commentary also goes into the production of Tower of London but it is the little stories about Vincent Price and Leo Gordon, as well as the clear love of these campy horror films that makes this commentary track a wonderful listen.
The film is cheesy and cheap, but it knows that it is and that is why I love it. It's a good time with Vincent Price who lovingly hams it up as Shakespeare's greatest villain, supported by great art design and informative extras that show the craft and care that went into the film; it's well worth a watch for fans of Vincent Price and early Horror cinema.