List Film

Tower of London (4 stars)

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Tower of London

(15) 92min
(Optimum)

This long unavailable (on DVD), deliciously nasty historical horror made in 1939 is all dungeons, manacles, torture and beheadings. But it’s also fairly classy stuff, boasting a fine cast headed by Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff and Vincent Price, lavish sets built on Universal Studios’ back lot and sweeping battle scenes filmed in what must have been sweltering Californian heat. It was finished 10 days late and came in a whooping $80,000 over budget, but the extra time and money is there to see onscreen.

Rathbone is wonderfully wicked as the Duke of Gloucester, would-be usurper of King Edward IV’s 15th century England throne (we even get a duel from the greatest swordsman in Hollywood). Karloff is gloriously demented as the Tower’s chief executioner and Price is marvellously foppish as the Duke of Clarence, who in one of the most memorable scenes is drowned in a vat of wine. Not to be confused with Roger Corman’s 1962 cheapo version in which Price was recast as Gloucester. No extras.

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