The Execution of Private Slovik

The Execution of Private Slovik
Genre Biography
Written by William Bradford Huie
Lamont Johnson
Richard Levinson
William Link
Directed by Lamont Johnson
Starring Martin Sheen
Mariclare Costello
Ned Beatty
Gary Busey
Charlie Sheen
Music by Hal Mooney
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
Executive producer(s) Richard Levinson
William Link
Producer(s) Richard Dubelman
Production location(s) Montréal
RMS Queen Mary - 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach, California
Cinematography Bill Butler
Editor(s) Frank Morriss
Running time 120 minutes
Production company(s) Universal Television
Distributor NBC
Budget $180,000
Original network NBC
Original release March 13, 1974

The Execution of Private Slovik is a nonfiction book by William Bradford Huie, published in 1954,[1] and an American made-for-television movie that aired on NBC on March 13, 1974. The film was written for the screen by Richard Levinson, William Link and by Lamont Johnson who was the director, the film stars Martin Sheen,[2] and also features Charlie Sheen in his second film in a small role.[3]


The book and the film tell the story of Private Eddie Slovik, the only American soldier to be executed for desertion since the American Civil War. The film starred Martin Sheen as Private Slovik, a performance for which he received an Emmy Award nomination for Best Lead Actor in a Drama. Sheen said he did not think actors should be compared, and made it clear he would refuse the award. Many critics and viewers consider this to be one of Sheen's finest performances. Among the other Emmy Award nominations, the film was named for "Outstanding Special". The film also won a Peabody Award.


In 1960 Frank Sinatra announced that he would produce a film adaptation of The Execution of Private Slovik, with the screenplay to be written by Albert Maltz, who was one of the Hollywood 10 blacklisted after they refused to testify to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the McCarthy era. This announcement evoked tremendous outrage, with Sinatra accused of being a Communist sympathizer. As Sinatra was campaigning for John F. Kennedy for President, the Kennedy campaign became concerned and ultimately prevailed upon Sinatra to cancel the project.[4]

In 1949, a Pentagon source revealed to Huie a European graveyard containing the remains of unidentified American soldiers. Huie's investigation identified Slovik's name and grave. Huie's account of Slovik is an example of his style of reporting and his tendency to anger Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had authorized the execution as commander of the Allied Forces, and who tried to stop publication of the book. Award-winning filmmaker Richard Dubelman acquired the film rights from Sinatra. Some years later, Dubelman persuaded Universal Studios to help him produce it as a television movie.


Television critic Matt Zoller Seitz in his 2016 book co-written with Alan Sepinwall titled TV (The Book) named The Execution of Private Slovik as the third greatest American TV-movie of all time, behind Duel (1971) and The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (1993). Seitz praised Martin Sheen's performance as "one of his finest" and stating that the film is "as close to a perfect character study as network TV has produced, quietly outraged yet somehow resolutely unsentimental".[5]

Historical accuracy

The military service record of Eddie Slovik, which is now a public archival record available from the Military Personnel Records Center, provides a detailed account of the actual execution of Slovik which took place in 1945 and it was upon this that most of the film was based. The execution in the film, including the missed shots by the firing squad which led to Slovik dying slowly on the firing post over a course of five minutes, are deemed totally accurate as compared to the actual execution. A slight dramatic license does occur in the final scene, as there is no evidence that the priest attending Slovik's execution shouted "give it another volley if you like it so much" after the doctor indicated Slovik was still alive.[6]

  • The 1963 World War II film The Victors includes a scene depicting the Christmas Eve execution of a GI deserter modeled after Slovik, accompanied by a Sinatra Christmas recording.
  • In Kurt Vonnegut's 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy Pilgrim finds an abandoned copy of Huie's book about Slovik and reads through it while in a waiting room.
  • The Canadian novel Execution and its adaptations tell a similar tale, based on the execution of Canadian soldier Harold Pringle for desertion in World War II.

See also


  1. "The Execution of Private Slovik" by William Bradford Huie, ISBN 1594160031
  2. Erickson, Hal. "The Execution of Private Slovik (1974)". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Archived from the original on 29 October 2007. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  3. Rutenberg, Jim (4 February 2002). "Charlie Sheen's Redemption Helps a Studio In Its Struggles". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 14 September 2017.
  4. Scott Allen Nollen, The Cinema of Sinatra, pp. 214-216 ISBN 1-887664-51-3
  5. Sepinwall, Alan; Seitz, Matt Zoller (September 2016). TV (The Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time (1st ed.). New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing. p. 373. ISBN 9781455588190.
  6. Archival service record of Eddie Slovik, National Personnel Records Center.
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