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  Tower of London Put Up Your Dukes
Year: 1939
Director: Rowland V. Lee
Stars: Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Barbara O'Neil, Ian Hunter, Vincent Price, Nan Grey, Ernest Cossart, John Sutton, Leo G. Carroll, Miles Mander, Lionel Belmore, Rose Hobart, Ronald Sinclair, John Herbert-Bond, Ralph Forbes, Frances Robinson, Donnie Dunagan
Genre: Horror, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year is 1471, and the weak King Henry has been deposed by a new monarch, King Edward IV (Ian Hunter), who has been slaying all those who oppose him. As his two young sons are attended to by their mother and maidservant, the brutal reality of the land continues elsewhere as Lord Devere (John Rodion) is sent to be executed by axeman Mord (Boris Karloff), who has been sharpening his blade for this very occasion as he has before and will do again. Nobleman John Wyatt (John Sutton) is the condemned man's cousin, and asks to be by his side in the courtyard, an act that is allowed by Edward's Queen, Elyzabeth (Barbara O'Neil), although when the King finds out he allows it. Yet the man who he should be most wary of is the one he considers his closest ally: the Duke of Gloucester, the scheming Richard (Basil Rathbone).

Although presented as a horror film, Tower of London took as much relish in the court intrigue as it did the torture chamber. 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 onscreen, whether together or apart. It may not be entirely historically accurate either, and resembles a version of William Shakespeare's tragedy Richard III without all that troublesome Shakespearean dialogue - no sign of "A horse! A horse! My Kingdom for a horse!" here.

The film was scripted by director Lee's brother Robert N. Lee, and fairly packs in the incidents to keep the story thundering along. As the fictional character of Mord, Karloff manages light and shade, though still in shadowy hues with a man who lives to serve Richard yet rather pathetically yearns for a life outside the torture dungeon, preferably fighting at his master's side. He gets his wish at the climax of the film, but we all know how that turns out. Rathbone was born to play hissable baddies like this, barely hiding the smirk of pleasure from his features when events take a turn his way. He even has a little playhouse of action figures, all depicting the people in his way to the throne; as the tale opens, Richard is sixth in line, and when, say, the Prince of Wales is cut down in battle, his doll is thrown onto the fire. Another one down, not many to go!

There's another horror star in Tower of London, one who would take the Richard role in a remake over twenty years later, and he's Vincent Price as the Duke of Clarence. He starts the film all twitchy and ineffectual, but his big scene involves a drinking game for his life with Richard, and he can certainly put away the wine. Unfortunately for him, Richard's passing out through drunkenness is only temporary, and Clarence ends up put away in a cask of wine. These sequences are quite fun in a wicked kind of way, but one scene still chills, and that's the inevitable, if you know your history, killing of the Princes in the Tower. It's as if the preceeding drama has been a costumed romp, but there nothing to laugh about when Mord, who has reservations, ventures up to the Princes' chamber on Richard's orders. Lee works up a lavish look, even in the battles, with Rathbone and Karloff enjoying top form, even if many of the supporting cast tend towards the drab and bring down the thrills.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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