On Guard! The Story of SAGE

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On Guard! The Story of SAGE is a short film from ca. 1956 released on 16mm. It is held in the Prelinger Archives collection.

"Protection comes high...sky high. Today we must be on guard in the sky when it comes to protecting our resources...the national resources that are so precious to us." Cut to a shot of children playing at the school playground.

There is nothing unusual about On Guard! it's an ordinary film, one of many thousands produced by military contractors to boast of their participation in the defense of our nation. And just this very ordinariness is what makes it interesting, because it proves how central military and defense consciousness was to mid-century culture, and speaks to the magnitude of the effort to enlist technology in fighting the Cold War. It's also a highly ephemeral film, since the technology it reveals became quickly outdated as intercontinental ballistic missiles replaced bombers as vehicles for the delivery of nuclear weapons. On Guard! introduces the SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment), a heavily computerized early warning system designed to guard against enemy aircraft. For its time, this was novel technology room-sized computers and giant "Displayscopes" and the film seeks to humanize it to a technologically unsophisticated public. "You are listening to the heartbeat of the SAGE computer. Every instrument in this room is constantly monitoring, testing, pulse-taking, controlling." Cutting back to images of children playing and a little girl sleeping with her doll, it asks "what better reason for an electronic defense?" and tells us that "the future of America is secure." Interesting for its glimpses of huge mainframe computers maintained by well-tailored women and white-shirted men, On Guard! reminds us of the close relations between the computer industry and defense establishment throughout this century. ENIAC, the first stored-program digital computer, was created as part of a World War II defense project. Much of IBM's research and development activity has been supported by the Department of Defense. And, as many of us know, the Internet was developed with funding from DOD's Advanced Research Products Agency.

Contains several great old computer shots.

00:00 LS missile in the middle of a valley, mountains in the background One missile is fired, camera follows it into the sky B/W planes in formation CU kids on playground

00:53 CU color, school bell on outside brick wall School children run, get in line to march inside CU Air Force plane (bombers) in sky Mushroom cloud from nuclear explosion (B&W) MCU facade, IBM building, people walking into building Men working, SAGE computer Model of IBM, nucleus is sage computer CU SAGE, magnetic drums, tapes and cores Radar, Texas Tower, ships, aircraft

02:37 CU Air Force man at desk CU of computer data card CU hand inserting packet of data cards, pushing button Computer sorts cards CU model of IBM

03:20 HEADQUARTERS NEW YORK AIR DEFENSE SECTOR MLS Direction Center, square white building, no identification CU display scope, yellow disk center VS blurry footage of computer printer in action, woman monitoring it VS/LS room with SAGE computer

04:18 2 men standing together, camera pans down to ledger they are looking at Camera pans down to DISPLAY SCOPE MLS dark of man with headphones monitoring display scope (huge old CRT video terminal with large circular yellow screen)

04:42 Model of interior of IBM - across SAGE MCU dark, men in display scope room CU sideview of man with headphones and mouthpiece, sitting in front of display scope CU images in display scope CU finger pushing buttons CU display scope MCU dark of men in headphones and mouthpieces in front of display scope B/W MCU Air Force plane in sky B/W MCU three missiles, they are fired Back to men in front of display scopes

06:06 MCU white building, no identification CU IBM-brand electric clock, says 11:55 Airplane flying Three Air Force men lined up in front of display scopes CU from behind of man in front of display scope (radar type) CU clock, 11:56 B/W Air Force men, one answers the phone, they take off running out of the door towards Air Force fighter planes B/W CU from behind of helmeted pilot as plastic bubble closes and seals him into plane B/W flying fighter CU IBM-brand electric clock, 12:00

06:48 Three school children skipping out of school towards car and mother Mother and child at car, little girl and mother look up to see three Air Force fighter planes VS Air Force planes in sky CU corner of computer

07:21 Camera pans men at drawing boards, white lines over picture B/W pilot pouring "coffee" into cup VS B/W plane taking off, one with parachute in back opened CU computer maintenance

08:08 Men at drawing boards Girl and mother play with doll beds on living room floor VS CU electronic assembly units, computer parts CU computer part with "rain" falling on it (durability testing) CU hands put computer unit in water tank MLS men in parkas opening heavy metal door, walk into the room, door closes, man in white coat looks door behind them CU ceiling lights being turned on CU rain spraying CU mechanical machine, switching switches back and forth (durability) CU electronic units CU vibration test on computer unit CU taxiing airplane CU hand taking out electronic board and putting it in somewhere else CU hand inserting tube CU hand pushing ADVANCE button CU man leaving room, door reads RESTRICTED AREA KEEP DOORS CLOSED, men coming in the same door CU cardboard boxes CU man with tube working on electronics CU construction site for plant in Owego, New York

10:46 Scale model of B52, nose of the plane, showing "brain equipment", radar dish just below the nose Model - computer, display scope, etc. CU fighter in the air VS/CU pilot in helmet and gear CU hand working on plane (interior) Dark CU woman putting light bulb in lamp, puts shade on and turns on light CU sleeping girl MCU parents watching sleeping girl

Sleeping girl

On Guard! The Story of SAGE
Produced byIBM Corporation, Military Products Division
IBM Corporation, Military Products Division
Distributed byIBM Corporation, Military Products Division
Release date
ca. 1956
Running time
ewid: 3416 | Fresh | || dopt: {{{dopt}}}