- Movie Rating -

Taps (1981)

| December 18, 1981

I have a sneaking suspicion that Taps was written by people who were either 60s radicals or had dreams of being part of that movement.  Something in the material doesn’t seem very modern, it feels like it may have been around for a while possibly since the early 70s.  It has that kind of revolutionary glow about it.  I don’t know this for sure, but this was the vibe that I got.

Taps is one of those movies that pits idealistic young people in their late teens and early 20s against hardbound authority figures who just want them to shut up and follow orders.  That the movie takes place at a military school, and is about the control to keep it open, is perhaps a sign of the times.  Idealism clashes with the need to hold on to a piece of history, a symbol of the country’s heritage in an age when a 200-year-old institution can easily be torn down and replaced with a garish shopping plaza.

In this case it is Bunker Hill Academy, which the school’s chief administrator General Harlan Bache (George C. Scott echoing Patton) informs the cadets that within the next year, their school is to be torn down and the land sold off to real estate developers who want to build condominiums – the year lease is to allow the graduating class to finish their education there.  This is dismaying to the current graduating class, led by Cadet Major Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton) who wonder what the board is thinking.

Later that night, a group of kids from town get into a brawl with the cadets, steal Bache’s pistol and in the ensuing fight, one of the townies is shot dead.  With that tragedy in the headlines, the board of trustees decide to close the school immediately and Moreland and his fellow students take over the school with live ammo, machine gun mounts and guard posts and refuse to leave the grounds unless Bunker Hill Academy is saved.

The police and the National Guard occupy the grounds outside while communicating with those barricaded inside the school and tensions get hot.  Within the school, questions of order and morality come into play among the students.  Are they doing the right thing and how long do they think they can make this scheme work.

On an emotional level Taps does work, but on a logical level it kind of falls apart.  The school is, by appearances, woefully understaffed, which is never really mentioned.  Why are the smaller grade-school cadets are given a role in defending the school with live ammunition?  Why are the authorities on the outside so hardbound and stubborn in their negotiations?  And why (and this was my biggest head-scratcher) are the school’s board of trustees so blind to the school’s historical tradition.  We are told that it has stood for most of the country’s history but we are never really made to understand why the administration is buckling to pressure to sell the land.  Doesn’t tradition mean anything?  Wouldn’t the land developers recognize this?

I ask these questions while understanding that they are not the point.  The screenwriters want to deal in idealism and let logic fall where it may.  Taps is meant to be an emotional experience, not an actioner with a lock-step plot.  On the emotional level, I did find it rather moving but I had to get through a lot of logical issues to get there.  Maybe the point being (or wanting to be) a 60s radical is to see what you want and deal with the logistics later.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1981) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized