Friday, December 29, 1972: Kronos (1957) / Ambush In Leopard Street (1962)

Synopsis:  Late one night in the California desert, a man drives his pickup truck along a lonely stretch of highway.  Suddenly, his radio is filled with static and his truck stalls.  He gets out and lifts the hood, then notices a strange white sphere racing toward him. When the sphere hits him it vanishes, and he calmly lowers the hood of his vehicle, gets into the truck, and heads back the way he came.

Soon the driver arrives at a scientific research facility called LabCentral.  There he knocks out the security guard and barges into the office of the lab’s director, Dr. Hubbell Elliot (John Emery). In an instant, the white sphere transfers from the truck driver to Dr. Elliot.  The driver collapses, dead; now Dr. Elliot seems not to be himself.  He immediately goes to a locked cabinet and peruses a file that lists the locations and yields of all the world’s atomic power plants.

Elsewhere in the building, three other LabCentral employees are working late: Dr. Leslie Gaskell (Jeff Morrow) is tracking the path of an asteroid, with the help of his beautiful assistant / #1 squeeze Vera Hunter (Barbara Lawrence); Dr. Arnold Culver (George O’Hanlon) is using a mammoth computer nicknamed “Susie” to compute the asteroid’s orbit.  But something hinkey is going on: Gaskell is certain the asteroid’s course is changing for no apparent reason.  And before long Susie bears this out: the asteroid is now heading directly for Earth.

When told of this, Dr. Elliot shrugs, suggesting that Susie might have made a mistake; in any case, there is nothing anyone can do about it.  Gaskell finds Elliot’s attitude perplexing.  He implores Elliot to contact the government immediately — missiles loaded with nuclear warheads must be fired at the asteroid while it’s still in space.  If the object isn’t destroyed, Gaskell says, its impact could cause enormous damage.

Reluctantly, Elliot agrees.  Soon a trio of missiles are launched at the asteroid.  All three strike their target.  At the same moment Dr. Elliot collapses to the floor, unconscious.  But to Gaskell’s astonishment, the asteroid is left completely intact and its course is unchanged.  The object splashes into the sea,  a few miles off the west coast of Mexico.  On a hunch, Gaskell and Culver travel to Mexico to see if they can determine the asteroid’s makeup.  Gaskell is surprised but eventually delighted when Vera shows up as well.

Back in the States, Dr. Elliot, moving in and out of a trance-like state, is being treated by a psychiatrist.  In his lucid moments, he tells the shrink that an alien intelligence has gained control of him, and is forcing him to betray the human race.  The alien race is trying to absorb all the Earth’s energy, and will succeed if given time. 

The following morning, the scientists in Mexico awake to discover that in the same place in the ocean where the object landed, a 300-foot robot now stands….

 Comments: Even though it’s well-regarded by genre connoisseurs, Kronos remains a somewhat obscure title. Having seen it several times, I’m pretty confident that I can see why. Despite the relatively robust production values, Kronos always keeps the audience at arm’s length, and it never picks you up by the scruff of the neck and shakes you the way its contemporaries The War of the Worlds and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers do.

The very premise of the movie is a bit convoluted. Kronos is billed as a world-destroying robot, but it isn’t; in fact it just wanders around and absorbs energy from atomic power plants, in order to soften Earth up for an eventual invasion. Meanwhile, the aliens’ mind-controlled minions try to block all efforts to resist it.

By contrast, the aliens in WOTW and EvTFS had a simpler plan: show up with superior firepower and blow stuff up.

We never really connect with Jeff Morrow’s Dr. Gaskell either, even though he’s the same sort of athletic hero-scientist we’ve seen before. He’s the lead character in the movie, yet you still get the feeling that he’s a stuffed shirt and Vera would do better with someone else.

In fact, Vera seems like she’d rather be anywhere but in this production. She was played by Barbara Lawrence, who had a fairly brief but prolific career — she did most of her work in westerns. She’s pretty good here, but her character is little more than the dutiful girlfriend, not even pretending to be interested in the world-shattering events happening all around her. To her credit, she’s supposed to be the person with whom the viewer relates – the ordinary person who gets along patiently with the eggheads as they puzzle over their slide rules and equations.

George O’Hanlon is clearly intended as Gaskell’s foil and a bit of comic relief. He is also the designated Acolyte of the Computer Cult, a role similar to that of Dr. Zeitman in Gog (1953). This sort of character didn’t last much beyond the late 1950s, though it would resurface briefly in Colossus: The Forbin Project  (1970). The lab-coat-clad high priest is the only one allowed within the sanctum sanctorum of the mainframe computer, the only one able to communicate with it and deliver its pronouncements to the outside world.

Kronos is fairly lively, though, and a passable sci-fi picture; Kurt Neumann wasn’t good at directing actors, nor was he able to effectively build suspense. But this was probably his best film, and well worth a look if you haven’t seen it.
Ambush On Leopard Street

Synopsis: Small-time criminal Harry (Michael Brennan) has been tipped off to a potential big score, far bigger than anything he’s ever been involved in. A half a million pounds’ worth of cut diamonds are due to be shipped across London by a boutique jeweler as part of a commission. Harry teams up with old cronies Nimmo (Bruce Seton) and Danny (Lawrence Crain), and outside man Kegs (Norman Rodway). Together they draw up a plan to ambush the van carrying the diamonds at its most vulnerable point  — while it’s on the narrow, secluded Leopard Street.

Harry knows the cargo and he knows the route. The only thing he doesn’t know is exactly when the shipment will be moved. In order to find out, Harry recruits his brother-in-law Johnny, a good-looking kid with an insouciant charm and a clean record. Harry plans to arrange a chance meeting between Johnny and Jean (Jean Harvey), a lonely secretary who works for the jeweler.  Johnny’s task is to start up a romance, and get her to spill the beans about the date of the shipment.

Harry’s wife Cath is angry at him for dragging her kid brother into his seedy business, but Harry insists that the payoff will be enough to set the kid up for whatever in life he wants to do. Anyway, he promises, this is his last job.

Johnny is successful in winning over the romantically gun-shy Jean, but as the two grow closer he begins to have second thoughts. Is he really starting to fall for her? And if so, can he go through with the deception?

Meanwhile, Nimmo gets beat up by thugs working for Big George, a gangster further up the food chain. Big George has decided he’s going to take the diamonds from under Harry’s nose, and he’s not above kidnapping Harry’s daughter in order to make sure he gets his way….

Comments: Horror Incorporated’s second screening of Ambush In Leopard Street is a little less welcome than the first, because we already know what it is: a low-budget British heist picture. What’s this title even doing here? Well, we shouldn’t be too critical; even the original Shock! package tossed in a couple of crime dramas to round out its 52-week rotation. In any case, it’s the second feature, and we’re used to seeing a lot of dross there.
Because Horror Incorporated runs so late at night, the second feature has always been a bit of a crap shoot. By the time the second feature comes up it’s 1:30 am or thereabouts, and we’re usually on the fence whether to keep watching anyway. Nonetheless, it was usually a good idea to stay tuned just to see what the second feature was — perhaps more out of curiosity than anything else.
This modest thriller at least has an early britnoir vibe to it. Unfortunately, it’s very low-octane stuff. Much of the film’s running time is devoted to meetings between nondescript people in nondescript locales. The action scenes are a bit of a letdown — even the van getting jacked is a bit lacking in suspense — but this movie tries hard and benefits from a winning performance by Michael Brennan as an aging low-level mob crony who sees one last shot at a big haul. He’s reminiscent of James Mitchum in The Friends of Eddie Coyle a decade later. I won’t go so far as to say the movie was ahead of its time — it too clearly apes the heist movies of the 1950s to make that claim — but it’s at least moderately interesting. And that was good enough for a Horror Incorporated second feature.

One comment

  1. KRONOS always looks a bit overrated to me, somewhat deserving of its continuing obscurity, though it certainly tops Jeff Morrow’s THE GIANT CLAW (faint praise indeed). Apart from THUNDERBALL, I remember Michael Brennan from the Tigon melodrama DOOMWATCH, with Ian Bannen and George Sanders.


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