Tower of London is a 1939 American historical and quasi-horror film produced and directed by Rowland V. Lee (Son of Frankenstein) from a screenplay by his brother Robert N. Lee for Universal Pictures. It stars Basil Rathbone as the future King Richard III of England, and Boris Karloff as his fictitious club-footed executioner Mord. Vincent Price, in only his third film, appears as George, Duke of Clarence.
The film is based on the traditional depiction of Richard rising to become King of England in 1483 by eliminating everyone ahead of him. Each time Richard accomplishes a murder, he removes one figurine from a dollhouse resembling a throne room. Once he has completed his task, he now needs to defeat the exiled Henry Tudor to retain the throne.
The exterior castle sets constructed for this film became a staple of the Universal backlot and could be seen time and time again in subsequent films (most prominently in The Black Castle (1952).
Roger Corman’s 1962 film, with Vincent Price now in the lead role, re-used the title. The newer film was made on an extremely low budget, with a small cast (and used stock footage from the 1939 version for the battle sequences), and placed far more of an emphasis on horror.
“This is Rathbone’s show all the way. It’s also notable that this is Karloff’s and Price’s first film together. But again, don’t expect the later Price hamminess in a horror situation; he plays it straight and he’s excellent. Writer and director Rowland V. Lee directs the actors well, but the film’s pace starts to lag before the third act.” Paul Mavis, DVD Talk
“It was probably the two stars, who had appeared together the same year in Son of Frankenstein, also directed by Rowland V. Lee, who gave the impression of the macabre being a stronger element than it was, but that said their dastardly villainy make the film enjoyable and the action falls very flat when they’re not on screen, whether together or apart.” Graeme Clark, The Spinning Image
” …a surprisingly classy affair. Rathbone delivers a confident performance as the crookback King, and Karloff maximizes every ounce of screentime, clearly delighting in his role as the pain-dispensing Mord. Only Price is a bit underused here, playing Richard’s brother George.” The Terror Trap
“Horror legend Vincent Price has one of his very earliest parts here as the sniveling Duke of Clarence, and in what may perhaps be the movie’s most memorable sequence, is involved in a battle of wits with Basil Rathbone as the pair indulge in a riveting malmsey drinking game with a fateful outcome. Though Boris is more a supporting player in this one, he is magnificent…” Joe Karlosi, DVD Drive-In
” …it’s fairly entertaining and well-acted throughout. I think it falls just short of greatness because it isn’t really very memorable, and the final battle scene is a bit of a disappointment, though it does feature a good death scene for Karloff.” Dave Sindelar, Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings
“It’s a bit creaky now but Tower of London does still move well. The turns from the main cast are all tremendous fun, and the sets and battle sequences are bigger and better than much of what made its way into the studio’s horror films. Rathbone is very good as Richard, making him less of a caricature than Olivier perhaps later did, and Karloff’s introductory scene in the torture chamber is wonderful.” John Llewellyn Probert, House of Mortal Cinema