If "The Execution" impresses audiences as a less-than- inspiring made-for-TV movie -- and some critics predict it will -- it won't be because of a lack of earnestness on the part of its players.

At a New York press conference, both Valerie Harper and Loretta Swit talked enthusiastically of the importance and power of the movie, which airs Monday on NBC. Harper was calm and reserved. Swit choked back tears.

They and their costars, Sandy Dennis, Jessica Walter and Barbara Barrie, play survivors of a concentration camp who believe they have identified a former Nazi camp doctor who prescribed torture for them in large doses. They plot to kill him.

"It's based on a lot of fact," noted Swit.

"It's fiction," amended Harper.

"It's dramatically spectacular," continued Swit, whose character draws the short straw and stalks the suspect, played by Rip Torn. "I have several chances to kill him and don't do it," she said, her voice beginning to break. "He asks why I don't shoot, and I tell him it's 'because I'm not a butcher like you' . . . The story is about justice, suffering and guilt and female bonding."

Swit noted that she has visited Nazi concentration campsites and has deep feelings about the holocaust because of her Polish background.

Harper added that the players spent time with camp survivors in preparing to do the film and that the movie's theme promoted female bonding offscreen as well as on. "You come to know each other," she said, "in new ways."