The Lords of Discipline (1983)

the lords of discipline

“I’d rather get my teeth kicked in than memorize the periodic table any day.”

The Scoop: 1983 R, directed by Franc Roddam and starring David Keith, Michael Biehn, and Judge Reinhold

Summary Capsule: Cadets at a military school that ISN’T the Citadel struggle with things like hazing, racism and whether to drink their mint juleps out on the veranda. Not necessarily in that order.

Sue’s rating: Sir! NO SIR!

Sue’s review: The Lords of Discipline was, I assume, built on the foundation of Taps. The only problem is that they made it out of really shoddy materials and the contractor should probably be sued. Let me explain.

Set at a deep south military academy that looks somewhat like the Citadel, a cadet who looks somewhat like Patrick Swayze (David Keith) is instructed by a colonel (who looks somewhat like an unshaven Patton on a really bad day) to protect a new student who is in a situation which can be compared more than somewhat to a very large, very deep and very steaming pile of meadow muffins. (He is the first African American ever admitted to the school.)

Now one would assume, certainly I assumed, that this movie would therefore be about a very brave kid beating the odds and another brave kid who becomes a reluctant hero in the best military school movie tradition. Maybe a little clichéd, but worthy. A worthy story. Maybe that’s even the way it was intended to be.

If that’s the case, it didn’t even make it out of the starting gate. In fact, and to my amazement, the entire racial bigotry hook becomes a non-issue because the crux of the problem in the eyes of Swayze-Lite isn’t that an African-American cadet is victimized. The problem is that he believes that certain upper classmen (a secret elite group known as “The Ten”) are overstepping their bounds by picking on and terrorizing certain “unworthy” new cadets off-campus and beyond the traditional hazing parameters recognized by school officials. Does that seem screwed up to you? Yeah, me too. It ain’t cinematic gold and that’s darn tootin’.

Actually most of the movie is nothing more than a primer on hazing and sadism. The most compelling question that entered my mind (and I do love a movie that makes me think) is just how the heck Judge Reinhold and Bill Paxton went on from this movie to have any sort of acting careers. Taps, the “other” military school movie of the era made people sit up and notice Tom Cruise and Sean Penn. The Lords of Discipline was bad enough that you can’t really envision any of the main actors going on to do anything more exciting than flipping burgers.

Despite my hopes that the plot would improve, or at least start trying to be a little more logical, The Lords Of Discipline left me feeling as though I’d just wasted 102 minutes of my life. (Okay, maybe a little less since I spent part of it eating popcorn.) Believe me, I want to say something nice about the acting, or the dialogue, or the story. After all, I’m a nice person. Ask anyone! Well, almost anyone. Never mind. But still, after a lot of consideration, the very best I can offer is that it wasn’t Grave of the Fireflies. The fact that I tolerated it enough to watch it through to the end is not exactly high praise or a ringing endorsement.

Have you ever had the feeling you were being watched?
Have you ever had the feeling you were being watched?


  • The Lords of Discipline is (I gather loosely) based on a novel of the same name by Pat Conroy
  • The Citadel refused to allow its grounds to be used for filming, partially because they felt Conroy’s novel was highly derogatory to the school, and also because the Commandant of the Valley Forge Military Academy had been unhappy with the experience of having a movie (Taps) shot at his own school.
  • Since The Ten are supposed to be (duh) the top ten cadets in their class, why is it so hard to identify them?
  • MacClean might be a cadet, but he looks like he’s at least 30 years old. (Which is my bad. David Keith was only 29 at the time.)
  • “Wild” Bill Paxton in the closing credits. Uhm… o-kay.
  • I don’t care what state you’re from. Singing “Dixie” to comfort bereaved parents seems a little… inappropriate.
  • Judge Reinhold is… the Gate Keeper. Sort of.
  • Lovely as it may be, “Moon River” is not exactly the best background song for an intense conversation about a dangerous in-school conspiracy.
  • I’ll admit, the courtroom scene was actually pretty good, and at least part of the judgement surprised me.
  • If the Ten are the top guys, why is the disciplinary court run by cadets who are not in the Ten?
  • Gasoline and open flame… These guys are supposed to be smart?

Groovy Quotes

Mark: I’d rather get my teeth kicked in than memorize the periodic table any day.

Repeated line from “The Ten”: You’re going on the ride. You’re going down the hole. And even if you get out alive, you’ll wish you were dead.

Colonet “Bear”: The general wants to see you.
McClean: …but I don’t even have any demerits yet!

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Taps
  • The Presidio
  • A Few Good Men

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