Despite all the brass knowing the insanity of the attack, Mireau orders that a hundred men be executed as ‘cowards.’ But Broulard says only three are needed, as ‘examples,’ one from each company. Roget picks Paris to silence him about his own cowardice and bungled reconnaissance. Private Pierre Arnaud (Joe Turkel), is chosen by lot, despite being a courageous soldier, who made the charge. The third man is Private Maurice Ferol (Carey) - a great name, who is picked because he is a ‘social undesirable.’ This leads to the great courtroom scenes, wherein Dax fulminates and stews in classic Douglas style, especially when he is refused to allow in evidence that could win the case. The scene was later the basis for a famous parody scene in The Planet Of The Apes. Worst of all is that the whole trial is done in secret, with no stenographic record of it kept. The men are found guilty.
When Dax finds out why Roget chose Paris, he makes Roget the officer in charge of the executions so that, like the generals who committed the courtroom folly, the deaths of the three men will haunt him forever, as well. After inflicting this on Roget, Dax is visited by the artillery commander who had refused Mireau’s order to fire on his own men, and tells him of Mireau’s ‘crime.’ Dax then goes to see Broulard, at a banquet. He tells him of Mireau’s actions, along with sworn statements. Broulard waffles, but the execution goes on as planned, unlike in conventional war melodramas.
We return to the condemned men. Ferol is droll and resigned, never more so than after he squashes the cockroach that Arnaud is decrying will outlive him, and saying, ‘Now you got the edge on him.’ Arnaud is enraged and tries to attack a visiting priest, whereas Paris punches Arnaud out, which ends up with him having a concussion. As the three men are led to their deaths, Ferol wails like a coward, Arnaud is tied to a post in a stretcher, and Paris refuses a blindfold from Roget, who apologizes. Paris shoots him a devastating look of disgust and derision. The execution occurs.
The next morning, Dax is ordered to Broulard’s for breakfast, where he sees Mireau joyous over how well the executions went. Broulard then matter of factly announces that he knows that Mireau ordered artillery fire against his men and there will be a public investigation. Mireau is shocked, feels he is being scapegoated for his superior’s actions (which he is) and declares only he is blameless in the affair (which he is clearly not).