To celebrate the UK Blu-ray release of the Corman-Price-Shakespeare horror, here’s 20 frightfully fun facts you should know…
(1) Roger Corman had already scored much success with four Edgar Allan Poe films (House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum, Premature Burial and Tales of Terror) when his producer brother Gene and screenwriter Leo Gordon turned to William Shakespeare for another gothic horror vehicle for Vincent Price.
(2) Using Universal’s 1939 Tower of London and The Bard’s Richard III, Hamlet and Macbeth as their springboard, they fashioned a script called The Dream of Kings, in which Gordon and co-writers Amos Powell and Robert Kent (as James B Gordon) fused macabre Poe elements with a Shakespearean tone by including some re-phrased blank verse – an example being, ‘Is this defeat, that I stand alone here?’ instead of ‘Is this a dagger which I see before me?’.
(3) With no real historical facts about Richard III available (at the time), they created their own version of events, including a non-historical ending. The grisly tale went thus…
(4) Vincent Price enjoyed the challenge of doing a Shakespearean-styled character combined with the horror film.
‘Every trick of dastardly I ever learned,’ Vincent says, ‘was preparation for my role in Tower of London. Then we added some new, diabolic devices to fill our Richard’s character as one of the ten meanest men in the world.’ (Vincent Price, from the Tower of London pressbook)
(5) Vincent had only done one Shakespeare play before – and, ironically, it was Richard III, back in 1953, in which he played the Duke of Buckingham to Jose Ferrer’s Richard.
(6) Vincent also appeared in Universal’s 1939 version as Clarence (as seen above), where he was dumped in a vat filled with cigarette butts as a joke by the film’s stars Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff.
(7) When Roger Corman showed Vincent the second draft, he jumped at the chance of adding in his own ideas, and became personally involved in the final draft and in the way the scenes were played. He also suggested some title changes, including Tower of Doom and Tower of Death.
(8) During Clarence’s death scene, you can plainly see that Vincent has a look of frustration on his face. Is it because he can’t get the lid of the vat to close properly, or that he wondered why Clarence was stabbed instead of drowned – like he was when he was playing the same character in the 1939 version.
(9) Prolific independent producer Edward Small (above), whose career began in the late-1920s and included classy hits like Billy Wilder’s Witness for the Prosecution and fantasy fare like Jack the Giant Killer, funded the project because he saw a profit in riding the coattails of AIP’s successful Poe formula. But, as insurance against AIP preventing Price from starring in the project, he engaged Roger Corman as director, as well as most of the crew from those films.
(10) Under Ed Small’s Admiral Pictures productions banner, Tower of London was first announced in February 1962, but two days before the cameras rolled in mid-March, he told the Cormans that in order to save money on the release prints, the film would be shot in black and white. It was not the only decision that would upset the Cormans as the film began its 15-day shoot at the Producers Studio in LA.
(11) The cost saving also compromised the climactic Battle of Bosworth sequence. Roger Corman says (in the interview included in the Arrow release) that he went in for close-ups of Price, a couple of extras and a horse, because the studio set up could not do justice to a full shot of the battlefield. To give the sequence a sense of scale, they acquired footage from Universal’s 1939 film (after much wrangling), and created a montage over a vintage map (Small’s idea) to fuse it altogether.
(12) Despite the studio-bound exteriors, papier-mâché forests and toy model of the Tower, the sets are suitably atmospheric, featuring a vast banquet hall (some sources say it was the re-dressed set from Pit and the Pendulum) and a dungeon filled with torture devices that were built according to the script. These were all fashioned by Daniel Haller, and took up most of the film’s $200,000 budget.
(13) Tower of London opened big in US cinemas on 24 October 1962, but ended up loosing money because distributors soon realised it wasn’t in colour. The same thing happened when it was sold to TV.
According to Gene Corman (in his interview on the Arrow disc), there was a lesson to be learned: ‘Never make a film in black and white. It was like we were making a silent film when everyone was using sound’.
(14) Despite the fact that it was officially only 78-minutes long, the US poster read ‘Dare you spend 83 minutes in the Tower of London’. This was corrected somewhat on the UK posters when Tony Tensor’s Tigon released it in July 1967, in a double-bill with the Boris Karloff horror, The Sorcerers.
(15) The film features eight Grand Guignol-styled deaths before Richard’s date with a muddy puddle: Clarence is stabbed and dumped in an oversized vat of wine; Mistress Shore is whipped and stretched on the rack; Anne is strangled by Richard believing she is Mistress Shore’s ghost; the two Princes are strangled in their bed; the Duke of Buckingham dies of fright (we suppose) when a rat is placed in a box on his head; executioner Gelder is poisoned by Richard’s John Dee-styled physician, who ends up with a hot poker in his back.
(16) The British censor slapped an X certificate on the film, mainly due to the torture rack sequence featuring Sandra Knight (aka Mrs Jack Nicholson at the time) as Mistress Shore. Imagine how they would have reacted if Vincent had of gotten his way – he felt her death scene was too abrupt and needed more blood (according to David Del Valle in his audio commentary).
(17) Roger Corman felt it was a huge challenge making a film that was bigger than his Poe pictures, but made on less money, and, being under pressure, the film suffered as a result: ‘I wasn’t really happy with what I did with it. I felt I could have done more’.
(18) This was the third black and white film starring Vincent that tried to recapture the success of their colour originals. The first was the 1954 House of Wax cash in The Mad Magician (Eddie Small also produced that one), and The Return of the Fly. Surprisingly, Vincent followed Tower of London with another film for Small’s Admiral Pictures: Diary of a Madman. But that’s another story altogether.
(19) Amongst the solid supporting cast is Australian-born actor, Michael Pate, playing Richard’s trusted High Sheriff, Sir Ratcliffe. Pate went on to great things in his native country where he landed the lead in the popular crime soap, Matlock Police. He also has the honour of starring in a vampire western, 1959’s Curse of the Undead.
‘I enjoyed working with Vincent Price, because he was a larger than life person. I was totally delighted to have worked with him. He had a great style. However, the script was not the greatest version of the story about Richard the Third, but it was technically well mounted and enjoyable to do. Vincent and I had a great deal of fun doing that film. He somewhat often voiced humorous asides on what was going on in the scene, which were well worth the price of admission. He was very witty and a very funny person who had the wonderful ability to laugh at himself’.’ (excerpt from The Price of Fear, edited by Joel Eisner)
(20) The reviews summed up the film to a tee.
‘Corny historical melodrama, involving unconvincing ghosts and, apart from a scene or two in the torture dungeon, introducing little that is horrific. Trite and unconvincing, and sadly lacking in excitement, it is likely to disappoint all except easily pleased fans, though title and star appeal provide some draw’. CAE Report
‘More bunk than history, perhaps, but still very entertaining… The opening scenes, graced by unusually literate dialogue, are particularly striking; but thereafter convention begins to take over as the horrid visions multiply. Even so… there is little time to be bored.’ Monthly Film Bulletin
‘Collector’s item: a genuine Roger Corman cut-piece version of Richard III. Circa 1962. Possibly the last black and white film by this director. Seeking friendly audience… Despite the script’s diverse influences, the dialogue is far above the average quality for low budget picture… All in all – it is great fun!’ Films and Filming