Firing Squad (Film)
Execution was written in 1958 by PPCLI veteran Colin McDougall (1917–1984). The book, McDougall's only published novel, won the 1958 Governor General's Award for English language fiction.
Based in part on McDougall's experience as an officer with the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in the Italian Campaign, the novel follows the fictional Canadian 2nd Rifles through Sicily and into Italy and the Battle of the Hitler Line.
Execution focuses on several characters, including Brigadier Ian Kildare who wears a balmoral and has a piper accompany him into battle; he is an old military romantic, and gives orders for his men to shoot Italian deserters. The main character - presumably a stand-in for McDougall - is an infantry subaltern named John Adam, and he and his men reluctantly kill two Italian deserters.
According to a review at wikipedia.com:
Adam and his platoon are granted an opportunity for redemption when Rifleman Jones, a mentally slow soldier apparently inspired by real life soldier Harold Pringle, receives a death sentence for his part in the murder of an American soldier, after Jones absented himself from the unit and joined a gang of deserters in Italy.
The execution of Jones is to be done for political reasons, and there is no direct evidence tying Jones to the murder, and Adam is placed in charge of the execution squad.
Interpretation of the Novel
The novel espouses McDougall's thesis that although the Canadians inhabit a brutal and unforgiving world, they are not intrinsically immoral. War makes men act brutally and inhumanely, but at their root is an essential goodness that even war cannot subsume completely. As Warren Cariou shows in his afterword to the New Canadian Library edition of Execution, the novel is not a realist novel, but an existential meditation on the ethics of war. Like Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny or Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, both of which were key models for McDougall, Execution is a novel that combines visceral depictions of combat with philosophical questions about the blurred boundaries between good and evil.
Other important themes include the abuse of military power, especially in one scene involving Allied generals planning an attack against the Germans that is bound to fail, and the isolation and alienation of front-line soldiers from mainstream society.
The second execution scene establishes Jonesy as a Christ-like figure, and his death is a symbolic atonement for the Canadians' "sin" of murdering the two Italians. Jonesy's execution is based in part on the real-life execution of Private Harold Joseph Pringle of The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, who was the only Canadian soldier executed for desertion in the Second World War. His story is told in Andrew Clark's book, A Keen Soldier (2002).
Epidose 87 of "Four Star Playhouse" featured a story called The Firing Squad and was televised originally on 6 October 1955 (Episode 1 of Season 4).
The play was directed by Robert Florey, and writing credits went to Frederick Brady (for adaptation) and Colin McDougall (for story).
Episode Credited cast:
A made for television movie was made using the novel for inspiration, also entitled Execution. The film differed from the book significantly, taking place in France in the winter of 1944 (oddly enough, during the timeframe depicted, the Canadians in Northwest Europe were concentrated in the Nijmegen Salient in The Netherlands). A fictional unit, the Alberta Fusiliers, is depicted, as part of a fictional formation - presumably a "Sixth Division" wearing black formation patches.
Like the book, the film seems inspired by the real life story of Private Pringle, yet focuses not on the alleged criminal but on the other men of his unit. Unlike the book, there are no combat scenes, as the action takes place during the winter stalemate, and in fact given the French location, lack of front line positions, and other evidence given in dialogue, the soldiers in the film are located well behind the front line.
The main characters include a Canadian Provost Corps officer sent by higher headquarters to oversee the execution, the infantry officer who had lost his nerve in the fighting in Normandy and wanted to gain redemption by carrying out the execution, and the men of the firing squad including a stereotypical French-Canadian sergeant and an equally stereotyped halfwit with the comically unlikely name of "Smedley".
The movie was a typical low-budget Canadian affair, with a small dirt road in back-woods Ontario masquerading as Maple Leaf Route, and little sense of scale in terms of equipment, locations, or number of characters on screen.
Private Jones is not introduced until the last quarter of the film, and is portrayed as mentally fit.
The Internet Movie Database has the following information:
Peloton d'exécution, Le (1991) (TV) Directed by Michel Andrieu
Cast overview, first billed only:
Review from Internet Movie Database