Director/Producer – Kurt Neumann, Screenplay – Lawrence Louis Goldman, Story – Irving Block, Photography (b&w) – Karl Struss, Music – Paul Sawtell & Bert Shefter, Special Effects – Irving Block, Louis DeWitt, Jack Rabin, William Reinhold, Menrad von Mulldorfer & Gene Warren, Production Design – Theobold Holsopple. Production Company – Regal Films, Inc
Jeff Morrow (Dr Les Gaskell), Barbara Lawrence (Vera Hunter), John Emery (Dr Eliot Hubbell), George O’Hanlon (Professor Arnie Culver), Morris Ankrum (Dr Albert Stern)
A glowing ball of energy comes down to Earth and takes over the mind of a man on a highway. The man carries the energy to the astronomical research centre LabCentral where it takes over the mind of the director Dr Eliot Hubbell. A UFO appears in orbit and comes down over the Gulf of Mexico. LabCentral’s Dr Les Gaskell leads a team down to investigate. They are witness as a giant block-like metallic construct emerges from the crash site. It starts stomping across the countryside, destroying power plants and absorbing their energy. Gaskell names the machine Kronos after one of the Titans from Greek myth. Gaskell realises that Kronos is an energy accumulator sent by aliens from a dying planet with the intent of sucking the Earth’s energy supplies dry to replenish their own.
The Alien Invasion genre was at a particular height during the 1950s with hits like The Thing from Another World (1951), Invaders from Mars (1953), It Came from Outer Space (1953) and The War of the Worlds (1953), along with many imitators. A subset of this was the Body Snatchers film, featuring aliens that take over the minds or duplicating the bodies of regular humans but for the emotions, which began with It Came and Invaders from Mars and reached a peak the year before this with Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).
There is a highly original idea to Kronos. The image of a giant matte black cubic construct marching across the countryside devouring energy is a potent one that resonates with all manner of images of technology rampant and Machines Amok. It is an entirely original screen monster – one that would look amazing if some modern filmmaker did a big-budget CGI remake.
On the other hand, the film is somewhat hampered by the effects work of the era. The model effects don’t always create an effective picture of the menace – the model of the Kronos is just not big enough to be of effectively threatening in size. There are some good scenes with it stomping across the countryside and its giant stilt feet coming down to crush people – and these look even better in the widescreen dvd restoration. There is a variably effective scene where Jeff Morrow and his team land a helicopter on the side of Kronos and are granted a glimpse of the alien machinery inside. In a later scene, we see the machine absorb the energy of an atomic bomb.
This is interspersed with the drama back at the lab. A body snatchers element is awkwardly grafted onto this. Lab head John Emery is periodically taken over and his eyes are lit up by a light shining on them – which would appear to represent his controlling the Kronos – in between killing various people who threaten him. Invasion of the Body Snatchers had come out fourteen months earlier and it is as though the filmmakers were trying to exploit the trend, even though the story could easily have done without a subplot about a mind-controlled human. The opening scene where a man driving through the desert is taken over by the alien energy seems to come with a conscious echo of similar scenes in It Came from Outer Space.
The lab scenes have the prosaic dullness common to most 1950s films and it is only the periodic return to the scenes of the Kronos on the attack that keeps interest going. In these scenes, the film does boast Jeff Morrow, a leading man in a number of other genre films of the era – This Island Earth (1955), The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) and The Giant Claw (1957). The other interesting name in the cast is that of George O’Hanlon, who plays Morrow’s bespectacled assistant, who later became the voice of George Jetson in tv’s The Jetsons (1962-3).
Kurt Neumann’s other genre films are:– several of the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan films – Tarzan and the Amazons (1945), Tarzan and the Leopard Man (1946) and Tarzan and the Huntress (1947) and one with Lex Barker Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953); Rocketship X-M (1950), the first space exploration film of the 1950s Golden Age; the Arabian Nights fantasy Son of Ali Baba (1952); the mad scientist cheapie She Devil (1957); and the classic monster movie The Fly (1958).