Saturday, June 13, 2020

THE BASIL RATHBONE BLOGATHON: Tower of London, 1939


Pale Writer is hosting The Suave Swordsman: Basil Rathbone Blogathon on June 13th and 14th. Click HERE to read about the actor's exciting life and career. Thank you, Gabriela.


Richard III plays a dangerous game of thrones in Tower of London, 1939 from Universal Studios. The historical epic was directed by Rowland V. Lee (The Count of Monte Cristo) with a screenplay by his brother Robert N. Lee (Little Caesar).


From the forward:

"A web of intrigue veils the lives of all who know only too well that today's friends might be tomorrow's enemies."

Vincent Price, Ian Hunter, Basil Rathbone

These three men are brothers, Vincent Price as the Duke of Clarence, Ian Hunter as King Edward IV, and Basil Rathbone as Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Perhaps in another lifetime, they could depend upon each other but it is the time of the War of the Roses, pitting the Lancasters against the Yorks, and the Yorks against each other. Edward has the throne, Clarence has the money, and Richard has the ambition. 

Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone

Richard is ably assisted in carrying out his schemes by Mord, the executioner. The sadistic and club-footed Mord worships his master as a god. He tortures, kills, spies, and with the poorer class under his thumb, spreads rumors and misinformation to benefit Richard.

Basil Rathbone

Tower of London has an exemplary cast performing to the hilt. The atmosphere of machinations and danger is palpable in the screenplay. Miles Mander is the feeble-minded deposed Henry VI. John Sutton and Nan Grey are the young lovers, John Wyatt and Lady Alice. Such characters are so necessary to the mind of producers and their story threads them throughout the years of Richard's ascent to the throne.

Ian Hunter, Barbara O'Neil

Ian Hunter is a boisterous and confident King. Vincent Price a petulant and grasping younger brother. Rathbone barely hides his contempt for all yet manages to fool many. Barbara O'Neil is a lovely Queen Elyzabeth, who fears her brother-in-law Richard, and Shakespearean history tells us with good reason.


The battle sequences at Tewksbury and later at Bosworth Field are very well done with crowds of extras, horses, rain, and the royal combatants. Despite its many ideal aspects, Tower of London falls short of its goal of creating a great screen epic. The pacing feels rather sluggish for its 92-minute runtime. 

Nonetheless, there is much for an audience to discover in its script and performances. The long history of stars Rathbone, Karloff, and Price and their place in the horror genre add to the enjoyment in viewing Tower of London today.

Basil Rathbone

Basil Rathbone's Hollywood career was tremendously busy during the 1930s. The golden year of 1939 saw not only the release of Tower of London, but also of Son of Frankenstein, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Rio, and The Sun Never Sets. It is a continual pleasure to discover and rediscovery the versatility of Basil Rathbone over his five-decade screen career.


Of note:


Vincent Price, Clarence in our picture, starred as Richard III for Roger Corman's version of Tower of London in 1962.


Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, and Vincent Price in Tower of London, 1939.


Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, and Vincent Price publicizing The Comedy of Terrors, 1963 with Peter Lorre at the keyboard.












22 comments:

  1. Nice write up! I have never seen this, but given my adoration of all things Tudor, and by extension, all things Plantagenet, I REALLY should watch it -- if not for that, then for the amazing cast!

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    1. All things Tudor - and Plantagenet - I like that.

      Thanks for visiting and the compliment.

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    2. Charity, I was just thinking of your books and imagining these actors as the sort of predecessors for the people in that -- so fun!

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  2. I remember this as a really good film, with Rathbone excellent as Richard III.
    The bit with the dolls in the dollhouse-size castle, as Richard plots who next to get rid of to get closer to the throne, is an inspired bit, and Karloff is wonderfully menacing as Mord. But really a great cast overall.

    Rathbone's great ambition was to be a Shakespearean actor; I wonder if this film was the closest he could get to the Bard's version or if he ever did get a chance to act in the play? Seeing him in this film does make you wish he had the opportunity to do so.

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    1. Rathbone was Romeo opposite Katherine Cornell's Juliet on Broadway for 77 performance in 1934/35. I imagine he must have waltzed with the Bard elsewhere over the years. He gave so much to film audiences, but only one Shakespearean role. His Richard III here is positively Shakespearean, and the movie has a lot of fine performances to recommend it.

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  3. I have always loved Tower of London. The cast all do a wonderful job--little wonder with Basil Rathbone, Vincent Price, Ian Hunter, and Boris Karloff in the cast! And it is a movie that really crosses genres--a bit of period drama, a bit of swashbuckling, a bit of horror! It really is a great film.

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    1. I love your enthusiasm for the movie. I am continually drawn to its excellent aspects.

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  4. An exemplary cast indeed! When I first saw this as a kid, the scene that grabbed my attention was when one character was drowned in a vat of malmsey wine. It was also my introduction to Richard III. Basil is certainly memorable in the lead role, but I think Vincent Price is even better as the smarmy Duke of Clarence. A great choice for a Rathbone blogathon!

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    1. Thanks.

      Indeed, such a performance from Vinnie so early in his screen career is really impressive especially up against the "vets."

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  5. BARBARA ONEIL had a part in I REMEMBER MAMA. She is probably best known for playing the mother of SCARLETT OHARA in GONE WITH THE WIND. Her husband was played by THOMAS MITCHELL that you just mentioned on the section about THE HURRICANE(37).

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    1. I adore Barbara O'Neil. She played kind and mad, regal and down-to-earth all perfectly.

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  6. I've been hoping to see this for quite a while now, because how could I resist Rathbone and Price??? Lovely review, as usual!

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    1. Thanks so much.

      Rathbone and Price? Resistance is futile.

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  7. What are some of your favorite movies with BARBARA ONEIL?

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    1. I Remember Mama, I am the Law, All This and Heaven Too, and When Tomorrow Comes are favourites with Barbara O'Neil. Plus, she is excellent in Tower of London.

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  8. BORIS KARLOFF and BASIL RATHBONE were both in THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI. They had no scenes together. The movie starred TOMMY KIRK and DEBORAH WALLEY. Tommy is best known for DISNEY movies including OLD YELLER. Ive mentioned before that DEBORAH was perky and fun to watch. She was as cute as a button. She was once married to JOHN ASHLEY.

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    1. I've seen a lot of those Beach movies. I generally get the titles mixed up. Deborah Walley was extra adorable as Elvis's drummer in Spin-out, a favourite of mine.

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  9. You said it – Basil Rathbone was really busy with film work in the 1930s, and we are the richer for it. I can't think of one bad (or even mediocre) Rathbone performance. Lately I've been listening to him as Sherlock Holmes in an old radio series, and he is just as superb there.

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    1. When my daughter was young we would borrow tapes of those radio shows from the library. My memory told me Basil was excellent, but now that you have confirmed it, it may be time to listen to those shows again.

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  10. Speaking of DEBORAH WALLEY her first two movies were GIDGET GOES HAWAIIAN and the DISNEY movie BON VOYAGE. MICHAEL CALLAN was also in those two movies. He is 85. (His birthday is in November.)

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  11. I want to correct an error. MICHAEL CALLAN is 84.

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    1. I haven't even thought of Bon Voyage in ages. It may be worth looking up this summer.

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