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As winter term begins at the College House boarding school for boys, students settle themselves into assigned dormitory rooms. House prefects ("Whips") quickly assert their puritanical authority by subjecting the new arrivals to humiliating rituals. Although this tyrannical behavior is accepted by the administration as part of school tradition, some students refuse to yield to the system. Mick Travers, a nonconformist upperclassman, covers his wall with magazine photos and maintains that "violence and revolution are the only pure acts"; his two rebellious companions are Johnny and Wallace, the latter a superb gymnast desired by some of the school's homosexual students. During a rugby match, Mick and Johnny sneak away to town, steal a motorcycle, and spend the afternoon with a young waitress. When they return to school, the Head of House, Rowntree, punishes them for their disrespect by flogging them brutally in the gymnasium. Now provoked into open rebellion, Mick shoots and bayonets the chaplain during a field exercise, but the headmaster conceals his displeasure and offers the boys a chance to redeem themselves by clearing away junk that has accumulated under the stage of the College Hall. They find a pile of arms and ammunition in the rubble and store them until "Speech Day" arrives; then, as alumnus General Denson addresses a hall filled with faculty, students, and visiting guests, the rebels set a fire under the floor boards. As the audience pours out into the quad, Mick and his allies, including the waitress, greet them with a hail of fire from the roof; when the headmaster steps forward shouting "trust me," the girl shoots him through the head. General Denson leads a counter-attack as Mick and his friends continue firing.