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This is a film that will leave you crying, angry and filled with righteous
indignation, as it should.
Of the thousands of GI's who deserted during WW2, only one, Eddie Slovik, paid the ultimate price. His story is one of sheer bad luck on an appalling scale. Having done time for a minor offence (it was Grand Theft Auto), Slovik is determined to put the past behind him and start afresh. He gets a job, finds a wife and settles down, happy in the knowledge that his prison record means he's a 4F when it comes to military service. But when the army changes the rules and he registers as 1A, he finds himself in a situation he's emotionally unable to cope with.
Eddie Slovik should never have been on the front line. He was terrified of guns and at boot camp they had to cheat to get him through the rifle range. Right from the start it was clear this was not the sort of man any soldier would want defending his rear, since he was incapable of doing it. Despite this, he was sent into Europe after the D-Day landings. Separated from his platoon he found a niche for himself as a forager for a Canadian unit and there, frankly, he should have stayed. When ordered back to his own unit, which was on the front line, he deserted, having made his situation plain. It's a downhill run from there.
The film uses actual letters written by Slovik and comments from people who knew him to fill out the background of this tragic story. Sheer bad timing, combined with a belief that no one would see the sentence through (since it had never been down before) contributes to the film's heartbreaking conclusion.
Martin Sheen's performance is stunning. He manages to capture the pathos, fear, confusion and final terrified resignation of the man in the face of the inevitable. Slovik is the victim of fate and circumstance; the little guy, totally unprepared for the world in which he finds himself, more than willing to apply those skills he does possess to the war effort, but incapable of fulfilling what the army demands of him. While you can appreciate the army's need to make a point, you are left with the unalterable conclusion that here they picked the wrong man.
This film left me feeling extremely angry, and it's a rare one that does that. It also made me want to find out more about the circumstances surrounding the events and I was pleasantly surprised to find the film, by and large, stuck to historical fact.
I was there when Slovik was murdered. I heard very few GIs condemning Slovik. Eisenhower received universal criticism for his cowardly decision. Making an example of someone seldom has the desired effect. I was a M/Sgt but saw the dire consequences of Commisioned Officers' decisions costing many lives unnecessarily. None of them were ever court martialled for that.. Slovik's not fighting cost less lives than Officers' mistakes. I try to remember only the Good things of that War as few as they are. I watched the movie only a short while and it brought back so many bad memories I couldn't watch the rest. Since then, I don't watch war movies, the Real thing can never be portrayed via the Media.
Even now, 25+ years later I remember this movie. It made an impact on
I've only seen it twice, but it still hurts me to remember it. As the execution is played out, you hear Bing Crosby sing "Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas". Every time I hear that song, the memory of that movie floods me with terrible, sad feelings.
I saw this made for TV film when it originally came out. Martin Sheens star
was rising and the network that broadcast it hyped it pretty well but didn't
over do it. It has a number of documentary type scenes in it which keeps
the whole story of Slovik on track . The story was going to be made into a
film a number of years earlier with Steve McQueen in the title role but some
political pressure blocked it. The fact is Eddie Slovik wasn't the only
American soldier executed in WWII. He was the only one executed for
desertion. All these years later his execution clearly was something that
shouldn't have taken place. The officers who made the decision to shoot him
were more than likely worrying not about his life but about their life and
military career. Even though the viewer knows that Pvt Slovik will be
executed the scene in which he is led out, tied up, hooded, last rites
given then shot is very moving. Ned Beatty turns in a good performance as
an Army Chaplain. Another film that has an Army execution scene in it that
will grip the viewer is `The Victors' Check that one out as well.
This has been one of my favorite films since it was first broadcast back
'74. I read William Bradford Huie's book, from which the film is based,
I also recommend it highly.
This should be required viewing for anyone who claims to be a WWII buff, like myself. It helps you see some of the truth of military life that isn't in the purvue of such excellent works as Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and that other "other side of the WWII Army" movie, Catch-22.
Who do we have to harass to get this released on DVD??
I read the book in 1970 or so when I was in the Army, I thought the
movie was pretty well balanced. The book starts with Huie visiting the
"Dishonored Dead" section of the US Oise-Aisne Cemetery in France where
Slovik was initially buried-his remains were repatriated in 1987. The
author keeps asking why only one death sentence carried out and why
Slovik, why if the purpose was to make an example of him was the
execution carried out in secrecy. From there he goes into Slovik's
troubled youth, his criminal record which initially protected him from
the draft. But as the Drill Sergeant tells him and his fellow recruits
in Basic, "You guys are the bottom of the barrel. But now the heat's
one, Uncle Same needs bodies, and the bottom of that barrel is starting
to look mighty good." Armies-and the governments they serve-have a
funny way of lowering their standards as wars drag on. The official
name of the Draft in the USA was (and is) Selective Service, by 1943
they were a lot less selective. Slovik was a good example of what WWII
GIs called "The Sad Sack" (in my day, 1967-1971, a "dud", in
civilianese we might say a loser.
One poster said Slovik gambled and lost, a very apt description. He repeatedly declared he would desert if given the chance, he was given a chance to redeem himself, he refused-I can clearly recall the scene where he tells the JAG officer "I want my court martial." Eisenhower hoped he could equal Pershing's record of no executions for desertion, but as the author notes he had a lot of other things on his plate. The author notes the court martial was made up of rear echelon officers, he notes the presence of some combat arms officers would have been better but they were otherwise engaged. I recall the scene where the president of the court reads the written secret ballots, realizes the vote is unanimous for death, tells the others "Let's have another cigarette and think about this."
Worth watching, very true to the source, this is one you watch and you draw your own conclusions.
I am 45 years old and I watched this 'Movie Of The Week' on TV when it
was new. As I grew older I saw it again and would notice certain things
that I didn't see when I was younger. The TV Movies, now called TV
Mini-series were so much better in the early to mid 1970s, I think.
Now, I would find it very hard to watch because many people believe Pvt. Slovik should not have been executed considering the overall circumstances and also because of so many other experiences over my years. This film helped shaped my heartfelt opposition to the death penalty. I'm happy to say that I have always respected the work of Martin Sheen and his sons over the years.
John Martin, Fort Worth, Texas
It's been many years since I last saw "The Execution of Private
Slovik," and I look forward to its release (someday soon, please!) on
DVD. In particular, I recall a terrific performance by Ned Beatty.
Those who condemn this film as an anti-military screed should reconsider. The tenor of most war films of the early 1970s was undoubtedly influenced by a national revulsion with the war in Vietnam (which, unfortunately, was taken out far too often on the Americans who fought there). But the impetus to get beyond the "triumphalism" of most American war films of the '40s, '50s, and '60s would eventually lead to "Platoon," "Saving Private Ryan," and "Blackhawk Down," films that respected fighting men by demonstrating more effectively the hell that they endure. "The Execution of Private Slovik" was an excellent effort to get beyond the myth of "The Good War" and demonstrate that war inevitably degrades and damages all who are involved.
As to whether Eddie Slovik deserved his fate: Slovik was an emotionally troubled young man who never should have been put into combat in the first place, but as the U.S. casualties began to mount in the ETO in the fall of 1944, his requests for non-combat duty were rejected and he was sent to a rifle company as a replacement. He was a "coward" in the traditional sense of the word, but he was only one of more than 21,000 U.S. servicemen convicted of desertion during WWII. Of the 49 who were condemned to death for desertion, Slovik was the only one actually executed; all the others had their sentences commuted to prison time. (Another 141 U.S. servicemen was executed by the U.S. government during the war, all for the crimes of murder and rape.) If justice is supposed to be fair and impartial, it certainly appears that Slovik was singled out as an example to deter other would-be deserters. Why Slovik? One of the officers who sat on his court-martial would write years later that his execution was "an historic injustice."
See: http://www.americanheritage.com /articles/magazine/ah/1987/6/1987_6_97.shtml
My father was an infantryman in the Philippines and was injured in combat a few weeks after Slovik was executed. I'm glad my father and millions of other Americans overcame their fear and did their duty, but Slovik didn't deserve death for his "cowardice." Punishment, yes; dishonor, perhaps. But not a firing squad.
Note: The execution of Slovik (though the soldier is never named) also was depicted, briefly, in an earlier antiwar film, "The Victors," directed by Carl Foreman and released in 1963. The scene is played without dialog; in a savagely ironic gesture, the execution is played out while Frank Sinatra croons "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" on the soundtrack. Even more ironically, Sinatra himself once owned the film rights to William Bradford Huie's book, "The Execution of Private Slovik," but he sold them to another person before Richard Levinson and William Link obtained the rights to make this film. "The Victors" is an excellent film in its own right -- until it comes out on DVD, catch it if you can!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Since only one US serviceman has been executed for desertion since the
Civil War, "The Execution of Private Slovik" stands out as a unique
piece of history. But Private Slovik wasn't the only US Serviceman
executed during World War II, just the only one executed for
"desertion." Over a hundred GIs were executed after D-Day for a variety
of offenses during the final year of the war, and many of them were
Black soldiers. Their story has yet to be told. This movie concentrates
on Eddie Slovik, a manipulative and somewhat dim-witted private who
believes that the worst thing that can happen to him is a short prison
sentence at Fort Leavenworth. Unfortunately for him, desertion during
the brutal Battle of the Bulge was becoming a big problem for the US
Army command, and Slovik's "open and shut" case gave the brass just the
"example" they were looking for.
Martin Sheen does fine work here in one of his more memorable roles. He portrays the nervous and misguided Slovik as someone who has convinced himself that his earlier career in petty crime is the basis for all his troubles. Ned Beatty matches him with a sterling performance as the chaplain assigned to remain with Slovik during his ordeal. The movie stays close to the facts and tries its best to steer clear of any easy judgments. It's obvious that Slovik would've received a lighter sentence in a civilian court, but Army justice in 1945 was harsh, swift and unforgiving. In reality, Slovik had few friends and the firing squad, made up of his former comrades-in-arms, didn't flinch when the order to "FIRE!" rang out. They firmly believed that Slovik got what he deserved. Viewers may be split on that verdict. Significantly, it was future US president General Dwight D. Eisenhower who gave the final approval for Slovik's execution. According to all reliable historians, Ike didn't lose any sleep over the decision.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is about the question if it's justifiable to kill somebody
for refusing to fight in a war. The movie's answer is no, and it shows
which (wrong) decisions and motives could lead to the murder of Slovik.
I very much liked the last 30 minutes of the movie, where they show this endless idiotic ritual of the execution. It's very much like "everyone individually says NO, but together they all say YES".
To me, as a Russian, it's quite interesting to see the attitude to the WW2 of the Americans. It's obvious that the war wasn't a question of life or death (otherwise a lot more soldiers would have to be shot for being deserters). Slovik is just another small guy who has his own life in distant and peaceful America, and he is forced into fighting someone's war. The US army could afford having such guys around.
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