A Bloody Trail – Tower of London (1939)

While there are certainly overtones of horror throughout the film, Tower of London is more of a historical drama than anything else with a little bit of action interspersed throughout. That is not to say anything negative about this Universal offering because it is indeed a good watch, but if one was looking for horror and not simply something horrific, then this movie will not do the job.

Starring Basil Rathbone as the villainous Duke of Gloucester, Boris Karloff as Mord the executioner, Barbara O’Neil as Queen Elizabeth and Vincent Price in a minor role, the film does not lack for talent. Based on historical events, namely of how Richard became the King of England in 1483, it follows the man throughout as he does away with those who stand in his way, be they man, woman or child. In that instance, a bit of horror comes into play, most especially when he has his nephews who are but children killed, the two of them but another stepping stone on his way to the throne. It is perhaps the turning point in the movie and the final straw that would break the camel’s back, metaphorically speaking for once the children were removed, that is when those around him finally saw what he was truly capable of and the man for what he was.

Rathbone does a fantastic job as the conniving and evil Richard and while he might have the starring role, he does steal the show though Karloff would give him a run for his money. For his sake, Karloff does not have very many lines, but he does play an essential part of the picture as the heavy so to speak, the man that serves Richard, no questions asked no matter the task. Karloff’s appearance and his delivery of the dialogue given make him a memorable character whereas Rathbone is doing what he has done in a many a film – a good job for sure, but playing the well-spoken gentleman whether it be Sherlock Holmes or one of a dozen different noblemen from previous movies he has starred in. One does have to give Rathbone credit though, for he plays the villain perfectly and it is a joy to watch him dupe those around him until he no longer can and more than makes up for those horror titans present in Karloff and Price who are not given much to do.

Also lending itself to what little horror is present is the atmosphere which is always somewhat dour, photographer George Robinson creating a very moody impression within the castle, making it all seem just a little claustrophobic as those within its walls really have nowhere to go as they get picked off one by one. The music goes hand-in-hand with what takes place on-screen and director Rowland V. Lee who also directed Son of Frankenstein the very same year, does a great job at bringing it all together, making Tower of London a satisfying and enjoyable time to be had.  Altogether, this was not the strongest offering from one could expect from Universal in the horror department, but it is still worth the time and effort.

3.5 out of 5

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