Welcome to our weekly field guide to 1950s horror and sci-fi movies and the creatures that inhabit them. This week: humanity battles a huge Danish-modern lighting fixture in Kronos.
Director: Kurt Neumann
Cast: Jeff Morrow, Barbara Lawrence, John Emery
US theatrical: April 1957
Alternative title: I, Robot, Am Gonna Kick Your Ass
Good opening sequence sets the pace early and doesn't let up.
Committed acting by a solid crew of B-movie vets.
Special effects are weak.
Robots are intrinsically less fun than living monsters—no teeth or claws.
Resolution involves a burst of "scientific" mumbo-jumbo reminiscent of too many Star Trek episodes ("If we reverse polarity, we can neutralize the phase shift accelerator!" or something like that).
SYNOPSIS: When an asteroid approaches the earth at high speed, military and scientific authorities decide they'd better blow it up using atomic bombs. Unfortunately, the asteroid brushes aside this attempt like the Chicago Bears shrugging off the New England Patriots in the 1985 Super Bowl. (Remember that?) The asteroid narrowly avoids crunching New York City before crashing into the Gulf of Mexico—apparently it was moving really fast—and that's where the authorities are content to let the matter rest.
Happily for the future of humanity, Dr. Leslie Gaskell isn't so complacent. Unable to understand why his boss, Dr. Elliot, is so nonchalant about the whole thing, Gaskell splits for Mexico with girlfriend Vera and sidekick Arnie. What none of them knows is that Dr. Elliot has been possessed by an evil alien intelligence since about four minutes into the movie, and he's doing his darnedest to make sure the the mysterious alien invader successfully takes over the world. And you thought he was just stressed about going bald. Meanwhile down in Mexico, things take a decided turn for the worse when an enormous art-deco refrigerator comes bubbling up out of the water. It soon reveals itself as a power-hungry robot looking for sources of juice—we're not talking grapefruits and oranges here—and it goes gallivanting across the dusty Mexican desert in search of power plants to suck dry.
In one of the dumber stunts ever attempted by astronomers—who are usually kind of smart, as a rule—Gaskell and company fly a helicopter to the top of this skyscraper-sized icebox and land on its head, smack in between a couple dubious-looking antennae. Soon, though, they are encouraged to leave, right around the time the robot starts trashing any man-made structure it sees. Before long its dastardly aims become evident: to seek out and absorb any energy sources it can find, presumably at the behest of the evil race of alien freeloaders who constructed and sent it. As the film plods—excuse me, races—towards it shattering climax, two concerns up the anxiety ante: the army is planning to drop an H-bomb on the thing, which will only make it stronger; and, as the robot chugs along to its next power-generating destination, Los Angeles lies directly in its path. The metropolis is ripe for destruction! (Okay, this might not be such a tragedy, but the people in the movie seem to think it is. I guess they all have summer houses in California.)
Best line of dialogue: "Do you think you’ll be able to respect a husband who's pulled the scientific boner of all time?" (All together, ladies: "Hell yeah!")
What gets reduced to scrap: a power-generating plant in Mexico; a squadron of WWII-era fighter planes (they look like P-51 Mustangs to me, but what do I know); some power lines; a lot of Mexican guys wearing sombreros; a bomber; a scientist; various unnamed Mexican towns and much of the countryside; the biggest refrigerator you ever saw.
What gets saved: Next month's utility bills.
Moral of the story: Unplug major appliances when not in use.
This reminds me of… 1954's Target Earth and Devil Girl from Mars, which both feature killer robots from space. But for my money the creepiest machine on film is Colossus, the super-computer that gets grandiose in Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970). This Cold War thriller is dated in some ways, but in others it's still ahead of its time.
It's important to be well informed: When newspaper headlines flash across the screen at various points throughout the movie, check out the smaller stories underneath. Taxes, transit fares… hey, life goes on. (My favorite: "Priests Battle Seminary Blaze.")
Somehow their careers survived: Besides This Island Earth (1955), The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), and The Giant Claw (1957), Jeff Morrow (Dr. Leslie Gaskell) appeared in 1971 creature feature Octaman. He also had a role in The Robe, 1953's unintentionally hilarious story of what happens to Jesus's robe after his crucifixion, starring Richard Burton and Victor Mature. The humor comes not from the story but from Mature's attempts to portray religious ecstasy. Barbara Lawrence (Vera) was part of the large cast of 1955 musical Oklahoma!, while Kronos was the last movie for John Emery (Dr Elliot). His career included Rocketship X-M (1950) and RKO's first color film, 1945 pirate flick The Spanish Main.
BOTTOM LINE: A superior cast and good pace overcome the technical defects to make this creaky thriller an engaging enough ride.
NEXT WEEK: The Woman Eater (1957)