Kronos (1957)

Kronos title

Directed by Kurt Neumann

Run Time: 78 minutes

Tagline: PLANET ROBBER TRAMPLES EARTH…STEALING ENERGY FOR OTHER WORLDS!

Kronos is a little 50’s sci-fi treat that I somehow missed earlier in my misspent life. And since I thoroughly enjoyed it I’m going to feel a little guilty as I make fun of it. So I want you to know that I’m making fun of it with love. The same kind of love that I feel for Hostess cupcakes. A shameful, guilty love, but one I can’t resist. And actually, it’s a good thing I didn’t see it as a kid. For I’d probably have had the same reaction as my friend Doug McKeown, who wrote me:

Last time I saw (Kronos) was, I believe, the 3rd or 4th week of April, 1957. I was several months over ten years old by then…I did not enjoy myself in the darkened Forum Theatre on Main Street. A lot of talk by dull adults. The monster? Just a big metal thing chugging along the horizon (as I recall) and no grotesque alien monsters or giant squids, apes or lizards.(It’s a sign of how seriously Doug takes grotesque alien monsters that he went on to write and direct 1983’s The Deadly Spawn.)

Grave charges indeed, and alas, true. But I would argue for a suspended sentence because Kurt Neumann and his talented crew tried to do something rare – make a low-budget sci-fi film that was relatively plausible and adult. In this they succeeded with a surprisingly good looking production that features Karl Struss’s elegant cinematography and Theobold Holsopple’s handsome production design. And thankfully, it still has plenty of campy charm, 1950’s style. Now it’s time to line up the usual suspects – i.e., have a look at the cast:

Jeff Morrow Dr. Leslie Gaskell (Jeff Morrow)

Ah Jeff, he of the strong chin, warm yet gravelly voice, and puppy dog eyes. He was certainly no stranger to menaces from outer space, he even played one! His soulful performance as Exeter in 1955’s This Island Earth is a one reason it’s such an enjoyable blast of sci-fi pulp adventure. 1957 was a big year for Jeff; he not only confronted Kronos, he went up against The Giant Claw too! That must have been a traumatic experience, because his IMBD history records no further sci-fi activity until something called Octaman came out in 1971. (I will, of course, now have to track down Octaman.)

Barbara Lawrence Vera Hunter (Barbara Lawrence)

Poor Vera goes through a significant portion of the movie in a bad mood – because her boyfriend Dr. Gaskell is the kind of distracted worrywart who cancels a date when a 4.9 mile wide planetoid starts plunging towards the earth. Scientists, sheesh! Kronos is the only sci-fi work that Barbara Lawrence ever played in, according to the IMBD. And while she doesn’t have Mara Corday’s spirited va-va-voom, or Faith Domergue’s sultry mystique she does a decent job with a thinly written part.

John Emery Dr. Hubbell Eliot (John Emery)

Dr. Eliot isn’t himself today, and you’ll find out why in the review. Like Barbara, John is something of an alien presence (ha ha!) in 50’s sci-fi, with Kronos being the only example he was in. He did, however, co-star with Vincent Price and Eva Gabor in 1954’s The Mad Magician.

George Ohanlon Dr. Arnold Culver (George O’Hanlon)

Dr. Culver is a single guy, a programmer, a lover of Mexican food – and has a computer for a girlfriend. Thus he is possibly the movie’s most accurate prediction of the future. (Listen carefully to Dr. Culver, and he might sound very familiar. George O’Hanlon’s most enduring legacy is as the voice of George Jetson. A role he reprised in 1990’s Jetsons: The Movie.)

SUSIE Computer SUSIE

SUSIE is a classic 1950’s mega-computer, and Dr. Culver’s “girlfriend.” I have to admit, she has nice lines.

Kronos Robot Kronos

Alien energy-absorbing technology meets the International Style of architecture. Can mankind be saved?

Morris Ankrum Dr. Albert Stern (Morris Ankrum)

It’s Morris! What 50’s sci-fi movie would be complete without him as the tough, no nonsense general who heads up earth’s brave defense against whatever was attacking it that week. He performed this heroic service in such gems as:
Red Planet Mars (1952) – as Secretary of Defense Sparks
Invaders from Mars (1953) – as Col. Fielding
Earth vs. Flying Saucers (1956) – as Brig. General John Hanley
Beginning of the End (1957) – as General John Hanson
The Giant Claw (1957) – as Lt. General Edward Considine
Kronos let’s Ankrum show off his range. Here he plays a medical, not a military man, and it’s a little disconcerting to see him out of uniform. He’s still tough and no nonsense though!

THE STORY:

We open in outer space when a classic, and quite decent UFO ejects a small ball of bright energy. Down it flies towards the innocent and unsuspecting planet earth, and to a lonely road that winds through the nighttime desert. Here we meet an average American guy minding his own business and whistling to the radio as he drives his average American pickup truck – until the engine mysteriously shuts off. Getting out to have a look under the hood he has an unearthly encounter with that ball of energy, and the next thing we know he’s driving to the off-limits and probably hush-hush LabCentral. Overpowering the guard he makes his way to the office of head scientist Hubbell Eliot. Moments later the guards rush in to make sure the good doctor is OK, only to find the intruder dead. Eliot seems strangely unconcerned and merely orders the guards to take the body away.

Office Building

Dr. Eliot wants the dead body to stop cluttering up his very cool mid-century modern office. Who can blame him? And note the lamp over his desk. Then look at the image below…..Coincidence???

Flying Saucer

Unaware of the commotion going on down the hall, Dr. Leslie Gaskell is caught up in an excitement all his own – checking on the co-ordinates of M-47. It’s a new “asteroid” he’s just discovered and has yet to name. Pressed by Dr. Culver we get some scintillatingly risqué banter:

Culver:
She’s a beauty alright. Have you named her yet?
Gaskell:
I don’t think I know her well enough to call her by name. After all, I haven’t even computed her ecliptic yet!

Rim shot! But Gaskell has more than a name to worry about, take a look at M-47!

Flying Saucer

Cue ominous music.

Just when you start to wonder if Gaskell isn’t the sharpest pencil in the cup he redeems himself by noting that the glowing, metallic looking saucer-shaped “asteroid” has “slightly” changed its course. And indeed we see it do a zig-zag before shooting off the screen. Culver doesn’t notice these extreme maneuvers (!) but Gaskell is so excited he delays his movie date with Vera to make some additional measurements. She’s a scientist too, though not a Ph.D. mind you. Yet waiting along with the guys for the most current results she pouts, “SUSIE gets a lot more affection than I do.” Culver tries to cheer her up by explaining what SUSIE means: Synchro Unifying Sinometric Integrating Equitensor.

Scientists in Mexico

Synchro Unifying Sinometric Integrating Equitensor.
(And yes, there WILL be a quiz after the review.)

Eliot, meanwhile, has been doing something mysterious in the “Insulation Chamber” and SUSIE soon goes on the blink. “I can’t figure it out.” an upset Culver exclaims, “The interlace in the diode loop went right out of sync for no reason.” To which Vera purrs, “Seems like your girlfriend is getting temperamental.” (Me-aow!)

Fortunately for the earth, whatever Eliot did in the “Insulation Chamber” wasn’t very effective, and before long Gaskell and Culver are in his office with new readings that show a 4.9 mile wide planetoid will strike within 16 hours. Pressing a strangely apathetic Eliot, they get him to contact the military and we are soon awash in stock footage showing U.S. testing of captured V2 rockets. And here I’d like to tip my hat to the movie, because the V2 stands in for a missile meant to hit an asteroid in the upper atmosphere – and not an interplanetary spaceship. Much more plausible, and it’s these little touches that really count with me.

Plausible, but alas, ineffective. For although the way-before-it’s-time missile defense system manages to hit the target, the “asteroid” stays on course to strike the earth. With an ominous roar it races across the North American sky, only to crash into the ocean off the Mexican coast. Meanwhile Eliot, lurking creepily in the hallway collapses in a faint.

Everyone breathes a sigh of relief, except Gaskell. Picking up on the “asteroid’s” strange behavior he becomes convinced it is controlled by an intelligence. And with Eliot in the hospital he’s free to brow-beat, I mean inspire, his colleagues to travel down to Mexico for a look before the thing under the ocean “makes a move of it’s own.”

Down “Me-hi-ko” way we enjoy the “calm before the storm” with Gaskell, Culver and Vera as they ride around in a helicopter, burn their tongues on home-cooked Mexican food, and prance about the beach in unfortunate shorts. As a bonus we get a “From Here to Eternity” moment near the surf as Vera finally manages to pry Gaskell’s attention away from the extraterrestrial menace lurking off the coast. And wouldn’t you know it, the blasted thing picks just that moment to radiate a huge glowing dome of energy that’s visible from the shore. Poor Vera just can’t get a break.

Bad shorts

What the well-dressed scientist of 1957 wears down to a Mexican beach.

Meanwhile, back in a hospital in the good ol’ U.S. of A., Eliot is under the care of Dr. Stern (Morris!) – who is mystified by the case. Eliot babbles about being controlled by some alien intelligence after Stern tries electro-shock therapy, so Stern does the rational thing and has him sedated. – Later Eliot seems to calm down, and he stops spouting paranoid nonsense. That’s a relief. Only once he “calms down” all of his brain readings get really weird. It’s a neat plot twist. When Eliot’s brain waves are normal he babbles on about a fantastic invasion from space. When his brain waves are weirdly off the chart he acts normal. What to make of it? Think Dr. Stern, think!

Back in Mexico it’s the morning after the glowing energy bubble appeared, and as the sun raises everyone notices that a 10-story tall metallic structure has appeared on the beach. Flying out in the helicopter to investigate, our intrepid three land on top and experience weird energy vibrations before the surface under their feet splits apart to reveal the great machine’s unearthly interior. (“Jump Vera!” Gaskell shouts encouragingly.)

inside robot

Now that the special effects have started in earnest, I’d like to take a moment and credit Kronos writer, special effects meister (he also worked on Rocketship X-M, and The Atomic Submarine), and sometime production designer (Forbidden Planet!) Irving Block. This man of many hats and his five (5!) credited partners obviously worked hard to make the effects look good. Today they look quaint and dated, of course, but they were made in 1957 for little money. Which leads me to the budget. According to my gi-normous Overlook (Sci-Fi) Film Encyclopedia (it’s actually made of paper!) Kronos cost $160,000 to make. I then found something on the Internet called The Inflation Calculator, and discovered that this translates into $1,205,500 as of 2009. (The calculator hasn’t reached 2010 yet.) That’s pretty low-budget for a theatrical release movie. But it got me to thinking I’d like some more context, and I become curious what a really low-budget movie cost back then. So I did some checking and found that according to Wikipedia Plan 9 From Outer Space, which was shot in 1956, cost $60,000. That comes to $468,336 in 2009, by the way. Wow. That’s more than I would have guessed!

Going the other way I looked up the cost of David Lean’s epic The Bridge On The River Kwai, which won the best picture Oscar in 1957. It cost $3 million ($22,603,129 in 2009), and this almost shockingly low figure says a lot about how the economics of movie-making would change, and change soon. Just a couple of years later came Ben-Hur. In 1959 it cost $15 million, which in 2009 would have been $109,171,076. And of course in the actual 2009 we had Avatar, which cost something like $230 million. (If you’re interested, that would have been $30,526,746 in 1957.) It’s interesting to note that Ben-Hur had thousands of live human extras in period costumes and dozens of huge, life-size sets, while Avatar was mostly created on a computer screen.

So anyways, Kronos cost $160,000 in 1957. I hope that’s clear.

Back at the hospital Dr. Stern reviews the outlandish claims made by Eliot during his “lucid” moments. Namely, that a great energy “accumulator has landed on this earth under the direction and control of his incubus. Unless stopped somehow, others will land and suck the earth dry of all electrical and atomic energy resources.” Dr. Stern can’t bring himself to believe this, until…..but we won’t go into that.

He’s not the only one who’s slow on the uptake. Reports of a giant alien robot landing on the Mexican coast have reached the U.S., complete with an artist’s rendition. (This was before satellite uplinks, cell phones, email, and even home video cameras, after all. Another way to think of it is that the people in this movie were closer in time to the dinosaurs than they are to us.) The preposterous image of the “Kronos” amuses the smug, period anchorman.

anchorman

That’s right,smile, you fool, smile!

Gaskell, however, is ahead of the curve. Even before the 10 story robot appeared he mused, “I never looked at the night sky without an awareness that there’s more out there then we can ever hope to understand. Things we might sense, if we weren’t too stupid to admit their existence.” Gaskell’s willingness to insult the intelligence of the human race is one of his more endearing qualities. At least to me. And I’d like to take another short, geeky detour. Here are some things out in space we had yet to understand by 1957:

Quasars: The first real breakthrough in understanding these
didn’t come till 1962 through the work of Cyril Hazard and
John Bolton.

Cosmic microwave background radiation:
This leftover radiation from the Big Bang was first
observed by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson in 1964.

Dark Matter: First hypothesized by Fritz Zwicky in 1933, confirmation
didn’t come till 1975 with the work of Vera Rubin and
Kent Ford.

Dark Energy: Proposed by Michael Turner in 1998, to explain
the increasing rate of expansion of the Universe.

Kronos: As of May, 2010, no independent verification. Of course-
that doesn’t prove that it DOESN’T exist.

Back to Gaskell and his gloomy meditations, which prove more and more on the nose as Kronos lumbers off towards the Nevarez Electro power plant. There he, Vera and Culver witness the destruction of the power plant, as well as a squadron of fighter planes from the Mexican air force. Racing back to the States they find Dr. Eliot back at work in the neat looking Insulation Chamber. Gaskell is horrified to learn that Eliot has approved a U.S. plan to drop an atomic bomb on the Kronos. “I am convinced the giant sucks up energy like a sponge. Feeds on it. Is a walking storehouse of energy.” He explains. “And you propose to feed it the most concentrated dose of pure energy that man has ever been able to devise!” But Eliot is unmoved, and we cut to a sleek, silver B-47 bomber taking off from a desert air force base. Loaded with an atomic bomb it flies towards the Kronos in a desperate bid to prevent it from entering the United States. At the same time Vera searches for Gaskell with some important news from the hospital – only to run into Eliot instead.

And here I’ll end the review, as I hope you’ll check Kronos out sometime, and I don’t want to give away all the sensational thrills to come.

energy storm

“YOU’LL HAVE TO BE SHOCK PROOF – TO WITHSTAND THE EMOTIONAL ASSAULT…OF SCIENCE FICTION’S BIGGEST THRILL SENSATION!”

Sean Ledden (May 2010)

Afterthoughts

Kronos is a beguiling blend of period silliness mixed with serious ideas. The aliens are here because their own planet has become depleted of energy, and “What has happened to them may well happen here, if we continue using our resources at the present rate,” one character predicts. No one listened to this dour warning back in the oil-booming 50’s, but perhaps that’s starting to change as the end of the oil supply starts to creep up on us. I mentioned Avatar earlier in the review for it’s huge budget, but it’s also relevant here because of its theme. There we are the aliens from an energy-depleted planet ravaging someone else’s home world.

Read more about Kronos at

IMDB

13 comments to Kronos (1957)

  • deadlyspawndirector

    Okay Sean, I’ll bite. A fun and cogent review – and it peaks the interest in terms of design. I’ll give it another look now that I am myself “relatively plausible and adult.”

  • Guts3d

    Kronos: As of May, 2010, no independent verification. Of course-
    that doesn’t prove that it DOESN’T exist. <— Can one prove a negative? I love this type of logic, it is like saying "Ninja roof snakes exist, even though no one has seen one, since they are Ninjas, you wouldn't!

    Brief but great review, Sean! I'll check Amazon later today. Hopefully, I'll be able to find it in a multi-pack of DVD's.

  • Sean

    You doubt the existence of Ninja roof snakes?!?! – Disturbing. But I’m glad to hear you’ll give Kronos a look-see.

  • A few random observations…

    The striking thing I remember about this movie was as I was sitting in Independence Day, I was recollecting this very film.

    Also reminds one a bit of Star Trek’s Borg race as Kronos wants to assimilate all Earth’s energy.

    Interesting that Stephen Hawking himself only last month reminded everyone that we shouldn’t be seeking out new life, new civilizations until we’re strong enough to face the face that some of them, like Kronos’ creators, aren’t going to be very nice.

    Of course, why Kronos would land on Earth to absorb its energy as opposed to simply collecting it from the Universe’s abundant energy sources (our own Sol included) is right up there with the greatest “Stupid Reasons to Conquer Earth” (yep, even among “Because you’re stupid, STUPID, STUPID!!!”).

    Thanks for the review. No need to cut it off early, though. Just put a spoiler tag and finish the thing!

  • Sean

    Thanks for the interesting comments. As to the review form, it was a reaction to comments from some non “B-Movie-People” friends I had brow-beaten into reading my pieces. “Gee, you went through the WHOLE movie!” they stammered. So I tried another format. But if it leads to dissatisfaction on the part of readers like you, that’s not good. So I’m thinking I’ll try a 2-part story review with an “intermission” next time. It will be my own small way of trying to create a sci-fi (movie review) utopia!

  • Oooh, now that would be good. An intermission! Followed by the rest of the review. Works for me, and makes anyone who doesn’t want to read the review in its entirety happy too. 🙂

  • Event_Horizon

    This was one of my favorite cheesy movies but it wasn’t after I actually bought the DVD that there were elements that were used in a more recent movie I kind of hated – Independence Day. (the ooh-rah America/jingoism was annoying)

    Mothership hangs out by the moon.
    Scientist possessed by alien mind control.
    Lander ships cruise around the earth and are unstoppable…except..
    For a contrived and inplausible reason. (“shorting the terminals of the battery” vs. writing a virus using a bloody apple laptop..as though the alien o/s could be reverse engineered that quickly)

    Whenver I drive east on I290 and see the Willis (Sears) Tower I think that the Kronus energy gathering machine has parked downtown.

  • Paul R Wilson

    This film, watched by me several times on TV, now resides in my video collection in full cineamascope as a video casette. I still have a few uncertainities about what happened at points. (closed captioning would have reduced such a bit) It has been quite inspiring to me. Just as Lovecraft’s THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE changed my life ! A true classic !

  • GW

    I remember seeing this flick a few too many times as a kid and teenager, so it’s always been a fave. I actually did a piece of Kronos fan art yesterday out of the blue: http://megadas.deviantart.com/art/Kronos-1957-World-Tour-209429343?q=gallery%3Amegadas%2F30126326&qo=13

    g.

  • Guts3d

    If any starfaring race needed power, why not set up a few dozen solar collectors in orbit around the local sun? Convert said power to microwaves, beam to a collector in a Lagrange orbit above the power hungry planet, and viola, you have gigawatts upon gigawatts of free, non polluting, inexhaustible energy?

  • Sean Ledden

    Because they are eeevviillll!

    Oh, and the fan art was neat!

  • Joe

    I seem to recall a scene from that movie showing Kronos stomping on some guys who were dressed like the 3 Amigos.

  • Night-Gaunt

    It seemed that the Kronos machine, named after a Titan who ate his own children, was a stomper. Literally stamping everything in its juggernaut path. Now even if the device was going to somehow siphon our EM production the aliens have so much free energy in the universe to tap. JUst the nearest star would do, but then there would have been no movie. Why didn’t they go to Jupiter which generates more energy than it receives from our Sun? I know these are to be enjoyed not pondered.

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