Saturday, April 07, 2007


This nicely mounted historical piece is often classed as a horror film, mostly because it comes from Universal and stars Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, and Vincent Price. It does have some Gothic-type trappings (a torture chamber, beheadings, a particularly creative murder) but is otherwise squarely in the costume melodrama mold. I have to admit I don't know a Plantagenet from a pomegranate, but I was able to follow the film of royal intrigues with little trouble. Based on the same events that Shakespeare dramatized in "Richard III," the story is set in England during the late 15th century; Edward (Ian Hunter) has just deposed the senile King Henry (Miles Mander) who wanders the castle in a fog, wearing a paper crown. Rathbone is Edward's devious brother Richard, frequently referred to as "Crookback," though Rathbone doesn't overdo the deformity of the hunchback. Price is the sniveling brother, the duke of Clarence, who winds up, in one of the best scenes in the movie, drowned in a vat of wine. The main narrative thread follows Rathbone on his quest for the throne. He has a little doll's house set up with figures standing in for all those in his path, and each time one is put out of the way, the figure is tossed away, moving Richard's figure closer to the throne. It takes years but he soon gets his wish, after having killed off several folks, including the two rightful child heirs, with the help of Karloff as Mord, his faithful torturer and executioner. Karloff cuts a very creepy figure here with his bald head, club foot, and swinging axe; in some ways, he's almost scarier here than he is as the Frankenstein monster, because the monster has some sympathetic moments but Mord does not. There is a romantic subplot that bubbles up from time to time involving young lord John Sutton and lady Nan Grey, and the exiled Prince of Wales spends most of the movie waiting in France for the right time to lead a revolt, which does indeed come at the end. Other cast members include Barbara O'Neil (as Queen Elizabeth), Leo G. Carroll, Ralph Forbes, and Rathbone's son John Rodion as Lord Devere who gets the axe early on. [TCM]

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