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DVD Review

DVD cover

Tower of London (1939)
(2017 Reissue)


Starring: Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Barbara O'Neil, Ian Hunter, Vincent Price and Nan Grey
Distributor: Fabulous Films Ltd / Fremantle Media Enterprises
RRP: £14.99
Certificate: PG
Release Date: 21 August 2017

With acting dignitaries such as Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone on parade here you would be forgiven for thinking Tower of London is a horror film in the vein of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum. Rathbone is of course best known for his portrayal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s super sleuth Sherlock Holmes in a number of films (I have the box set of these and for me he was the ultimate Holmes, with only Peter Cushing coming anywhere close).

However, this black and white movie dating back to 1939 is a purely historical piece dramatizing the much despised ascension of Richard III to the throne. This was a blood-thirsty time of scheming and treachery which makes contemporary manic machinations seem like a paltry skip through the daisies. Richard is sixth in line to the throne, but he has strong and lamentable ambitions to be king. He has a little cupboard wherein figures of those who stand in his way lead up to the current king. The film – with the help of a little poetic licence – depicts how Richard ruthlessly planned and killed them one-by-one, including the king’s brother the Duke of Clarence (featuring a very young-looking Price) and his two young sons.

Boris Karloff plays the executioner Mord, confidant to Richard and the product of his murderous hand. In true Karloff style he has a bald head, grand bushy eyebrows and a club foot. He does much of Richard’s bidding, but a nice moment in which he appears to suffer a conflict of conscience regarding killing the boys is wasted in the blink of an eye. Rathbone is suitably nasty, manipulating everyone around him. The battle scenes are well-handled by showing great numbers rushing in to confront each other, and then concentrating close-ups on individual skirmishes.

The story was plotted by the history researching Robert N. Lee, who is the brother of the director Rowland V. Lee. The film is well-constructed and tells its tale well, but I did rather feel like I was having a history lesson rather than enjoying an entertaining fictional movie.


Ty Power

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