Tag Archives: Harold Becker

Taps (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Cadets take over academy.

At the conclusion of another school year at Bunker Hill Military Academy, General Harlan Bache (George C. Scott) announces, to his shocked cadets during the commencement proceedings, that their school has been sold to real estate developers and will be closed in 1 year. Then that evening tragedy strikes forcing the board of trustees to close the school immediately. The students lead by Brian Moreland (Timothy Hutton) who had just been promoted to Cadet Major decide to take matters into their own hands by taking over the school with force and refusing to leave it unless guarantees are made to keep it open.

The film is based on the novel ‘Father Sky’ by Devery Freeman and the first half has excellent potential. The drama is intense and on-target and brings up a myriad of interesting conundrums dealing with the thin line between loyalty versus rebellion and how at different times both can be good and bad. It also deftly examines how bad things can come from the best of intentions.

Unfortunately all the action takes place in the first hour leaving the second half woefully undernourished with nothing happening. Everyone stands around expounding until all the tension that had been so nicely built-up at the beginning gets sapped away leaving boredom in its wake. The film also tries too hard to make its point becoming overwrought and preachy in the process. The dialogue between the characters loses its conversational quality and instead starts to sound like mini speeches.

The acting by the soon-to-be-stars is good and includes Sean Penn in his film debut as well as Tom Cruise in a breakout role that originally he rejected because he was only hired to be a background character, but his presence during rehearsals so impressed director Harold Becker that he decided to give him a bigger part and he  leaves a lasting impression particularly at the very end. Hutton, who was just coming off his Academy Award winning work from Ordinary People is effective too despite his thin frame and the scene he has where he discusses the situation with the cadets’ distressed parents are his best moment.

Scott on the other hand comes off as old and tired, granted that was the type of character he was playing, but it still isn’t a showy role for an otherwise famous actor and in fact he only appears in the film’s first act. The scene dealing with him trying to break up a ruckus between a group of students and cadets is poorly edited. One shot has his gun being taken out of its holster by another student only to magically reappear in Scott’s hands in a later shot, which comes off looking like a jump cut.

From a simply logical perspective it becomes abundantly evident right from the beginning that these kids have gotten in way over their heads with no endgame and nothing is worse than seating through a plodding plot that you know won’t end well.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: December 9, 1981

Runtime: 2 Hours 6 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Harold Becker

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

The Ragman’s Daughter (1972)

the ragmans daughter

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Reminiscing about old times.

Tony, who is a middle-aged man (Patrick O’Connell) working a boring job at a cheese factory and stuck in an equally dull marriage with two kids, reminisces about his younger years when he met a beautiful woman named Doris (Victoria Tennant) and they committed petty thievery while also riding around on his motorbike. The film then intercuts between scenes of him when he’s younger, which is played by Simon Rouse in his film debut, and his life now where he struggles to make ends meet.

This film marks the directorial debut of Harold Becker as well as the acting debut of the lovely Tennant. It also marked the last of the British ‘kitchen-sink’ dramas that focused on the hardships and struggles of the working class. The story is a strange mix of gritty reality and romantic fantasy that has a few good moments, but as a whole doesn’t really work and if there is one thing that holds it all together its Kenny Clayton’s soothing and distinctive melodic score.

Part of the problem is that not enough happens. Tony is able to break into shops with too much ease and the way he is able to crack open a safe in less than a minute would make even a professional safe cracker jealous. Their robberies needed to have a little more tension or comedy to help keep it interesting instead of sliding into a pace that meanders so leisurely that it eventually becomes boring.

Tennant’s character is another issue. She is incredibly gorgeous and looks ripe for a magazine cover as a fashion model, which made me wonder why she would so quickly fall head-over-heels for Tony who has no money or job and is average looking at best. To some degree I could understand her need to break free from her oppressive and strict parents, but a beautiful woman like that would have many other potential suitors in her life and not simply dependent on Tony as being her only outlet.

Spoiler Alert!

The final twenty-minutes improves as Tony ends up getting caught and going to jail, which helps add some genuine drama. However, when he finally gets out he learns that Doris died tragically in a motorbike accident, which seemed unnecessarily severe. A much better ending would’ve had them reuniting for just one day and although now married to other people still managing to share some sort of special bond.

End of Spoiler Alert!

The film, which had a very limited release, has some potential, but suffers from a visual approach that at times looks too much like a shampoo commercial and a premise that doesn’t have enough action elements to keep it compelling.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 11, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Harold Becker

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD (Through Netflix)