Taps (film)

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For the 2006 short, see Taps (2006 film).
Taps movie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Harold Becker
Produced by Howard B. Jaffe
Stanley R. Jaffe
Written by Robert Mark Kamen
James Lineberger
Darryl Ponicsan
Based on Father Sky 
by Devery Freeman
Music by Maurice Jarre
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • December 18, 1981 (1981-12-18)
Running time
126 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $14 million[1]
Box office $35,003,235

Taps is a 1981 drama film starring George C. Scott and Timothy Hutton, with Ronny Cox, Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, and Evan Handler in supporting roles. Hutton was nominated for a Golden Globe award in 1982. The film was directed by Harold Becker from a screenplay by Robert Mark Kamen, James Lineberger, and Darryl Ponicsan, based on Devery Freeman's 1979 novel Father Sky. The original music score was composed by Maurice Jarre.

The film follows a group of military school students who decide to take over their school in order to save it from closing.

This was Cruise's second film role, following a brief appearance in Endless Love, released in 1981 just a few months before Taps.


On the eve of the graduation parade at Bunker Hill Military Academy, Cadet Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton) meets privately with the academy commander, retired Brigadier General Harlan Bache (George C. Scott), who promotes him to Cadet Major, the highest cadet rank in the academy. The next day General Bache announces that the school's board of trustees has decided to sell the school to real estate developers but that they will remain open for one more year to allow the Seniors to graduate and the remaining cadets to find other schools. This gives many cadets hope that the school can be saved.

A dance is held at the academy after commencement. Local teenagers outside the gates harass some cadets and a brawl breaks out. When General Bache attempts to end the fight, his service pistol is seized by one of the local boys during the struggle; the boy pulls the trigger discharging the weapon, killing one of the local boys. Although the magazine was removed a round was still in the chamber. Bache is held responsible and after he is arrested has a heart attack which leaves him in critical condition at the hospital. The board decides to close the school immediately.

Moreland meets with his officers and they unanimously decide to take control of the campus. When the Dean of Students arrives with the local Sheriff to empty the armory they find that the weapons are already gone. They are confronted by an armed cadre of cadets led by Major Moreland, who demands to meet with General Bache and negotiate with the board of trustees to keep the school open. The Dean and Sheriff are escorted off the academy and armed cadets secure the perimeter.

Meanwhile another group of cadets have been sent to a local food supply warehouse to restock their provisions but one of their trucks breaks down on the way back. As Cadet Captain Dwyer (Sean Penn) attempts to fix the engine a group of local boys threaten them and surround the truck until hotheaded Cadet Captain David Shawn (Tom Cruise) opens fire with his M16, shooting several bursts into the air. The locals scatter and the cadets abandon the stalled truck, fleeing the scene in the second truck and ramming a police car in the process.

The police surround the campus and a delegation of parents is admitted along with the trustees, to include Moreland's father, who is a master sergeant in the U.S. Army. The elder Moreland speaks privately with his son and bluntly orders him to grow up and end this standoff, but fails to sway his son. To demonstrate to the police and parents that none of the boys are being held against their will, Moreland assembles the cadets and offers them a chance to walk out. All of them choose to stay. The siege grows more tense when the National Guard arrives. The commander, Colonel Kerby, negotiates with Moreland, saying he admires Bunker Hill Military Academy and does not wish to see it closed down either, but his loyalty is to the state legislature, which has been inundated with calls from concerned families, as well as locals scared out of their wits by the standoff. Despite Colonel Kerby's more diplomatic approach than MSG Moreland, he too fails to sway Moreland.

At the next morning the officers muster to report that some cadets have fled the campus. Moreland assembles the entire battalion and again offers cadets the opportunity to leave. Led by Moreland’s friend, Lieutenant Edward West at least half of the remaining cadets drop their weapons and leave. When the electricity and water is turned off, one of the cadets is severely burned as they attempt to restart the school's old gasoline powered generator. They permit an ambulance to enter and take the injured boy to a hospital and afterwards, Moreland offers to stand down if the order comes from General Bache. Kerby replies that Bache had died the previous night. The cadets, deeply hurt by Bache's death, hold a military memorial service in his honor with a riderless horse and a half-mast flag, and even Colonel Kerby and the guardsmen pay respect to Bache's passing by saluting near the gates.

The next night an M48 Patton tank rolls up to the main gate. One of the younger cadets, on sentry duty, panics and runs out to surrender. He drops his weapon which fires upon hitting the ground. Although the guardsmen recognize the boy is fleeing and get him to safety, others return fire which kills another boy.

The boy's death weakens Moreland’s resolve considerably and he decides to end the occupation. He calls all the cadets to muster and orders them to surrender. But the rebellious David Shawn starts shooting and the campus is overrun by the authorities as a firefight ensues. Moreland runs to Shawn's room to stop him, but both young men are killed by suppressing fire and the siege ends abruptly. A montage of scenes from the Academy's proud past flash across the screen in the aftermath.



This movie was filmed on location at Valley Forge Military Academy and College (VFMAC) in Wayne, Pennsylvania during the summer recess. VFMAC is also known as the Military College of Pennsylvania. Most of the filming took place at Wheeler Hall and the now demolished Clothier Hall. The brick and iron gate featured in the film was constructed just for the movie and was torn down after filming wrapped. Many of the actual students of VFMAC were used as extras. The uniforms shown in the movie were accurate VFMAC uniforms of that period, with modifications. The film was originally going to be filmed at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, Georgia. Producers changed their minds after a tour of the campus and deciding that it "didn't have enough walls." RMA officials countered by saying that allowing production would have caused too much disruption of the cadets' daily lives. The second proposal of filming locations was at Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana. The school denied the request upon hearing the ending of the story. The third proposal of filming locations was at Hargrave Military Academy (HMA) in Chatham, Virginia. Again, school officials turned down the request after learning of the film's plot and after discovering that producers wanted to erect a wall around the front of the campus.[citation needed]


Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 80% of the 15 sampled critics gave the film a positive review and that it got an average score of 6.1 out of 10.[2] Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film 3 stars (out of four), comparing the film to the classic novel Lord of the Flies (1954).[3]

The film earned North American rentals of $20.5 million.[4]


  1. ^ Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p259
  2. ^ "Taps (1981)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved June 27, 2011. 
  3. ^ Ebert, Roger (January 1, 1981). "Taps review". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on June 27, 2011. Retrieved June 27, 2011. 
  4. ^ Solomon p 235.

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