Taps (1981) is an antiwar drama, with George C. Scott in a small (almost cameo) role as headmaster of a private military academy, whose board of trustees give the school one more year before it is to be closed. The newly appointed cadet major, overzealously dedicated to keeping the academy open, makes several of the story's tragic mistakes.
As cadets escorts their dates to a school dance, Cadet Major Moreland confronts a group of unruly town boys, foolishly letting them provoke him into a fight, instead of simply notifying school staff or calling the police himself. The headmaster, General Bache, who had absent-mindedly loaded his pistorl while dressing for the dance, gets into the scuffle which erupts - also instead of simply ordering his cadets inside the gates and calling the police. One of the town boys grabs the general's pistol and it discharges, killing a boy. The ringleader of the boys blames the general, who accepts the blame, is arrested, and ultimately dies of a heart attack.
Moreland caps his effrontery by refusing to yield when the trustees decide to close the school. His cadet captains support him in this, at first, but a series of escalating incidents inevitably follows. Automatic weapons fire in the town, a truck ramming a police car, and law enforcement laying siege to the school grounds (or at least one gate of it).
Tim Hutton's performance as the cadet major is continually upstaged by Tom Cruise and Sean Penn. Cruise plays a control freak with a company of red beret wearing cadets. He gets himself and Moreland killed at the end by disobeying orders and opening fire on the National Guard just as Moreland has ordered the boys to surrender. Sean Penn, the best actor in the film, plays the loyal friend of Moreland who questions the lengths they are going to.
Critic Roger Ebert wrote, "TAPS is basically a character study, a portrait of the personalities engaged in the showdown. And, like LORD OF THE FLIES, it observes that adolescent males can easily translate the idealistic lessons they have been taught into a rationale for acting in ways that are rigid, dogmatic, and self-justifying.