Taps (film)

Taps is a 1981 American 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. It was filmed at Valley Forge Military Academy and College.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byHarold Becker
Produced byHoward B. Jaffe
Stanley R. Jaffe
Written byRobert Mark Kamen
James Lineberger
Darryl Ponicsan
Based onFather Sky
by Devery Freeman
Music byMaurice Jarre
CinematographyOwen Roizman
Edited byMaury Winetrobe
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • December 18, 1981 (1981-12-18)
Running time
126 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$14 million[1]
Box office$35,856,053

The film follows a group of military school students who decide to take over their school to save it from closing. It was Penn's first film role, and Cruise's second and his first major role following a brief appearance in Endless Love a few months earlier.


Bunker Hill Military Academy has just concluded another school year. Cadet Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton), a 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 cadet at West Point (Moreland's intended college), as well as a graduate of BHMA prior to that, and how he dreads his forthcoming retirement. Moreland is congratulated first by his best friend Cadet Captain Alex Dwyer (Sean Penn), as well as by Cadet Captain David Shawn (Tom Cruise) and Cadet Lieutenant Edward West (Evan Handler). Shawn leads a celebration in the hallway. The commencement proceeds, with a parade and a pass in review.

Following the ceremonies, General Bache announces that BHMA's board of trustees is selling the school to real estate developers. The school will remain open for one 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 can be saved. Bache also hopes that the institute can be saved, as he remarks to Moreland, "We are here, and the condos are not".

The graduation ceremony is followed by a ball that evening. Outside the gates, a brawl erupts when several local teenagers harass the cadets, which escalates into one local assaulting a sentry. General Bache tries to break up the fight, but his service pistol is seized by one of the teens and the weapon discharges, killing a second teen. Although the magazine had been removed, a round was still in the chamber. Bache is arrested and charged with manslaughter. However, the trauma of the event combined with the arrest triggered a heart attack and Bache is hospitalized in critical condition. The board of trustees closes BHMA immediately.

Since Bache is ill, Moreland meets with the officers of the cadet corps and they take control of Bunker Hill. The Dean of Students (Jess Osuna) arrives with the local Sheriff (James Handy) 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 and 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 warehouse for the purpose of restocking BHMA's provisions, but one of the trucks breaks down on the way back. As Dwyer is fixing the engine, 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. The cadets abandon the stalled truck, fleeing the scene in the second truck, ramming a police car that was blocking their path.

The police surround the campus, but Shawn oversees a defense of the wall which turns into a standoff. A delegation of parents and trustees is admitted. The parents include Moreland's father (Wayne Tippit), a master sergeant in the US Army, who bluntly orders his son to end the standoff. He fails to sway Moreland. 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. They all choose to stay. The siege grows more tense when the National Guard, led by Colonel Kerby (Ronny Cox), arrives. Kerby admires the academy and does not wish to see it closed. He even offers to help Moreland fight for the academy, provided that they do it through legal means and not by force of arms. He warns Moreland that his loyalty is to the state legislature, which has been inundated with calls from concerned families and from locals who are scared by the standoff. Despite the Colonel's diplomatic approach, he fails to sway Moreland.

The next morning, it is discovered that eleven cadets have fled. Moreland assembles the battalion, to whom he again offers the opportunity to leave. Led by Lt. West, a number of the cadets discard their weapons and leave. Shortly thereafter, the Academy's water and electricity are shut off. Cadet Pierce (Giancarlo Esposito) is burned while restarting the school's gasoline-powered generator. An ambulance is permitted to enter and take the injured Pierce away. Colonel Kerby once again tries to reason with Moreland, and Moreland agrees, provided he be brought to the hospital and Bache orders him to stand down. Kerby says that Bache died the night before. The cadets hold a military memorial service in his honor, to include a riderless horse. Even Kerby and the Guardsmen stand at attention at the front gates.

The next night, a tank approaches the main gate. Two young cadets, Derek (John P. Navin Jr.) and Charlie (Brendan Ward), are on sentry duty. Derek, the younger of the two, panics and rushes to surrender. Charlie tries to stop him. Derek drops his rifle, which goes off as it hits the ground. The Guardsmen open fire. Derek safely reaches the gate, but Charlie is killed.

Charlie's death weakens Moreland's resolve and Dwyer persuades him to end the occupation. They muster the cadets and order them to stand down. Everyone complies except Shawn, who opens fire from the barracks with an M60 machine gun. As the Guardsmen return fire, Dwyer and Moreland rush inside to stop Shawn. When Moreland attempts to stop Shawn, a volley of bullets hits the building and kills both of them. Dwyer carries Moreland's body out of the barracks as Kerby, the National Guardsmen, and the remaining Cadets look on.



Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 67% of the 24 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]

Home video release

The film was released on DVD in March 5, 2002 and also was released on Blu-ray in May 3, 2011.

See also


  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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