The Corporal Story is a 1956 silent gag film from Jet Propulsion Laboratory, one of the partners of the U.S. Army in the development of the MGM-5 Corporal missile, the first long-range guided missile. While the captions are comical, there is good footage of what appears to be actual test launches of the missile—although the footage of failed launch attempts only enhances the humorous spin of the film. The film opens with footage of an explosion and the charred remains of the missile and its launch pad. The film shows a view from atop a hill of a simple compound dubbed “the Laboratory” (01:24). “Test Run No. 14” (02:13) features men walking into a control room, where the countdown to a test launch only leads to the production of steam. A rocket prototype with three liquid rockets used for landing is tested on a sled track (03:55). A missile is launched and zig-zags through the air for a short distance before crashing into the earth (04:42). A modified Corporal is launched and flies straight at first (05:12), but then it loses its stable trajectory and crashes. A man stands over the crashed missile as if standing over a killed trophy animal. A rocket propulsion system is tested but the launch tower quickly goes up in flames (06:10). The film says that with the introduction of more engineers comes more secretaries; it shows women walking down some steps and heading to apparent administration buildings (07:54). Footage from the point of view of a car takes viewers driving through some facility or base (08:30). A missile is lowered onto a launch pad (09:10), then it stands unassisted by a launch tower, but nothing appears to happen during the attempted launch. Finally, the missile’s rockets fire up, but the missile does not leave the launch pad (11:26). When the missile finally does take off, it almost immediately crashes and bursts into flames (12:59). An observer is comically charred during the sequence, ending the film.

The MGM-5 Corporal missile was a nuclear-armed tactical surface-to-surface missile. It was the first guided weapon authorized by the United States to carry a nuclear warhead. A guided tactical ballistic missile, the Corporal could deliver either a nuclear fission or high-explosive warhead up to a range of 75 nautical miles (139 km). Developed by the United States Army in partnership with Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, Gilfillan Brothers Inc., Douglas Aircraft Company and Caltech’s pioneering Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Corporal was designed as a tactical nuclear missile for use in the event of Cold War hostilities in Western Europe. The first U.S. Army Corporal battalion was deployed in Europe in 1955. Six U.S. battalions were deployed and remained in the field until 1964, when the system was replaced by the solid-fueled MGM-29 Sergeant missile system. The Corporal was the third in a series of JPL rockets for the US Army whose names correspond to the progression in Army enlisted ranks, starting with Recruit and Private before ultimately leading to Sergeant.

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