The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

February 8, 2013

Revisiting 1981’s ‘Taps’ best to watch George C. Scott


Star Beacon

— When you haven’t watched a movie for 30 years, you tend to forget a lot of the plot.

I revisited “Taps” the other day. Not really on purpose. The good folks at Netflix sent me the DVD. Maybe they made a mistake, maybe I put it in my queue and forgot about it. Netflix does offer the movie streaming, meaning the disc wasn’t really wasn’t necessary.

The streaming turned out to be a good thing, because 20 minutes into the disc, there was a crackle and the sound went out. So I pulled it up on streaming and continued watching without missing a beat.

This isn’t compelling cinema. It’s more of a curiosity because of who is in it. George C. Scott reprises his “Patton” demeanor as General Harlan Bache, the commander of this junior high West Point called Bunker Hill.

It’s 114 years old and at the film’s beginning, the students and staff are calling out the names of alumni who gave their lives to their country.

It’s the end of the term and the new cadet major is Brian Moreland, played by a youthful Timothy Hutton. Two other cadets are played by Sean Penn and Mr. Divorce himself, Tom Cruise, then a mere 19.

Now the Hutton character reveres the Scott character. They eat dinner. They retire to brandy and cigars. The Hutton character hates cigars, but who cares? It’s cigars with George C. Scott!

Now from the beginning, it appears the Scott character is, well, a bit off. Drinking brandy and talking the glories of war with a bunch kids? A civilian, he says, is someone who hits a little white ball around. The military has honor.

Hutton is in awe. He tells the other guys, some who are maybe 10 or 12, that it’s gonna be a great year.

Mmmmm, maybe not. Because Scott announces to the school later that the academy is being torn down at the end of the school year.

Worse yet, at what appears to be a prom, some of the townies start a fight with the military guys and when Patton tries to stop it, a kid tries to grab his gun, which is loaded. There is a scuffle and one of the townies is killed.

Can it get any worse? Oh yeah, because the Scott character has a heart attack and is in critical condition. The academy, even though it is for teens and preteens, is filled with guns, ammunition, even handgrenades. So the kids take over the academy, put up barricades and present a list of demands.

They hunker down for a fight. They hunker down for honor.

The movie is more than two hours long. Guns are fired. Kids die. People go berserk.

 Ronny Cox, best known as the fatality in “Deliverance,” does a wonderful job as Col. Kerby, a secondary character who tries to diffuse the situation before anyone gets hurt.

It is difficult to think of a way this can have a satisfactory yet somewhat realistic ending.

There are plenty of weak spots in a movie which tries to determine if it is making an anti-war statement or is just providing two hours of entertainment.

If you want to revisit this 1981 movie, it might be better to look at it as a way to determine how Cruise and Hutton and Penn have evolved over the years.

Unless you want to see little kids getting shot up for no discernible reason.

Read more viper columns at