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 $35,856,053

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.


Bunker Hill Military Academy has just concluded another school year. Cadet Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton), an academic junior, meets privately with the academy commandant, retired Brigadier General Harlan Bache (George C. Scott). Bache promotes Moreland to Cadet Major, the paramount rank at BHMA. Bache also reflects on the time when he was a West Point cadet (Moreland's intended college), as well as a graduate of BHMA prior to that, and how he dreads civilian life with his forthcoming retirement. Moreland is congratulated first by his best friend Cadet Captain Alex Dwyer (Sean Penn), as well as his other friends: Cadet Captain David Shawn (Tom Cruise) and Cadet Lieutenant Edward West (Evan Handler). Shawn leads a celebration in the hallway. The commencement is celebrated by a parade and pass and review. Following the ceremonies, General Bache announces that BHMA's board of trustees is selling the school to real estate developers; however, they will remain open for one more year in order to allow the seniors to graduate and give the underclassmen time to apply to other schools. The delay gives many cadets hope that BHMA - which many of them consider home - can be saved. Bache also expresses his hope that the institute can be saved, as he wryly remarks to Moreland "We are here, and the condos are not".

The graduation ceremony is also honored with a ball that evening. Outside the gates, a brawl erupts when several "townies" (local teenagers) harass the cadets, which escalates into one local actually assaulting a sentry. General Bache sees this and tries to play peacemaker by breaking up the fighting boys, however his service pistol is seized by one of the townies. During their scuffle, the weapon discharges - killing a second townie. Although the magazine was removed, a round was still in the chamber. Bache is arrested and has charges prepared against him for manslaughter. However, the trauma of the event combined with the arrest triggered a heart attack which results in Bache's hospitalization in critical condition. The board of trustees closes BHMA immediately.

Moreland meets with the officers of the cadet corps. Since Bache is ill, they take control of Bunker Hill. The Dean of Students arrives with the local Sheriff to empty the armory. They find the weapons in the hands of an armed cadre led by Major Moreland...who demands to meet with General Bache, as well as the trustees so that BHMA will be kept open. The Dean and Sheriff are escorted off the campus by armed cadets, who secure the perimeter.

More cadets are sent to a local food-warehouse for the purpose of restocking BHMA's provisions. One of their trucks breaks down on the way back. As Dwyer is fixing the engine, more townies surround the truck, demanding vengeance for the death of their friend. Shawn fires several bursts from his M16 into the air, dispersing the mob. As local natives gather around, the cadets abandon their stalled truck. They flee the scene in their second truck, ramming a police car that was blocking their path.

The police surround BHMA's campus, but Shawn oversees a defense of the wall which turns into a standoff. A delegation of parents is admitted along with the trustees. Said parents include Moreland's father, a master sergeant in the US Army. Sergeant Moreland speaks privately with his son, bluntly ordering him to end this standoff. He fails to sway Brian by insulting him. To show 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, led by Colonel Kerby (Ronny Cox), arrives. Kerby negotiates with Moreland; the Colonel admires Bunker Hill Military Academy, and does not wish to see it closed down either. Yet Kerby's loyalty is to the state legislature - which has been inundated with calls from concerned families - and from locals who are scared out of their wits by the standoff. Despite the Colonel's relatively diplomatic approach, he fails to sway Moreland.

The next morning, it is discovered that eleven cadets have fled the campus. Moreland assembles the battalion, to whom he again offers the opportunity to leave rather than desert. Led by Lieutenant West, a number of the remaining cadets discard their weapons and leave BHMA. Shortly thereafter, the Academy's water is cut off and tensions get so bad that Moreland starts a fistfight with Dwyer before the electricity goes out. Cadet Pierce is severely burned while restarting the school's old gasoline-powered generator. An ambulance is permitted to enter and take the injured Pierce away for treatment. Colonel Kerby once again tries to reason with Moreland, and Moreland agrees, provided he be brought to the hospital and if Bache orders him to stand down. Kerby says that is out of the question, as Bache died the night before. The cadets, deeply hurt by their commandant's death, hold a military memorial service in his honor complete with a riderless horse and a half-staff flag. Even Kerby and his Guardsmen salute Bache's memory near the gates.

The next night, an M48 Patton tank approaches BHMA's main gate. Two young cadets, Derek and Charlie, are on sentry duty. Derek, the younger of the two sentries, panics and rushes to surrender. Charlie tries to stop him. Derek drops his rifle, which goes off as it hits the ground. The Guardsmen panic as well, opening fire. Derek safely reaches the gate, but Charlie is gunned down.

Charlie's death weakens Moreland’s resolve, reducing him to tears. Dwyer persuades Moreland to end the occupation and says "let's say we won the war, let's go home". They muster their fellow cadets and order them to stand down. Everybody complies except the rebellious Shawn, who fires an M60 Machine Gun at Colonel Kerby's Guardsmen from the barracks. An M48 Patton, followed by an M113 APC, breaks down the main gate of BHMA. As the M113 fires its .50 caliber machine gun at the barracks, Dwyer and Moreland rush inside to stop Shawn - who just grins maniacally and proclaims, "It's beautiful!" When Moreland attempts to forcibly commandeer the M60 MG, both he and Shawn are riddled with gunfire from outside. The siege is over. Dwyer, in tears, carries his best friend Moreland's body out of the barracks as Kerby, the National Guardsmen, and the remaining Cadets look on.

The film ends with a montage of photos and film footage from Bunker Hill Military Academy's proud past.



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 dismantled after filming finished. Many of the actual students of VFMAC were used as extras. The uniforms shown in the movie were 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", and RMA officials decided 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 learning that producers wanted to erect a wall around the front of the campus.[citation needed]


Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 75% of the 16 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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