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The Executioner (1963)

 





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The Executioner (1963, Sp.) (aka El Verdugo, or Not on Your Life)

In Luis García Berlanga's macabre black comedy (with gallows humor) and family drama - a subversive critique of the Spanish bureaucracy, institutional violence, and capital punishment:

  • the trio of characters brought together under unusual circumstances: José Luis Rodríguez (Nino Manfredi) - an apprentice 'undertaker' (the driver for the coroner’s office), Amadeo (Jose Isbert) - an elderly, about-to-retire, unassuming state prison executioner, and Carmen (Emma Penella) - Amadeo's marriage-aged daughter
  • in the opening scene following a prison execution, as Jose helped the coroner carry the victim's coffin, he evaluated the appearance of the executioner he briefly glimpsed leaving and signing papers: "Actually, he looks like a normal person. If we met in a cafe, I'd never suspect"
  • the budding romance between Jose and Carmen, who both felt a kinship of rejection due to their positions in life: (Carmen: "When guys find out I'm the executioner's daughter, they take off running." Jose: "Is that all? Same here! Women run at the word 'undertaker.' We have the same disease!")
  • the bargain: if Jose agreed to take over Amadeo's 'family business' after his retirement - his executioner job, then Jose would be allowed to marry the already-pregnant Carmen; then, as a retired civil servant, Amadeo would still qualify to move into a government-provided, luxury high-rise apartment
  • Amadeo's amusing although dark comments about execution methods in Spain - arguing that garroting (strangulation) was better than the gallows, the electric chair or the guillotine: "People who say the garrotte is inhuman make me laugh. Is the guillotine better? Should we bury a man in pieces?"
  • the sequence of cowardly Jose Luis reluctantly filling out paperwork to become the executioner, as he licked a melting strawberry ice cream cone
  • Jose's reluctant take-over of Amadeo's occupation as Madrid's official executioner - reading the dreaded newspaper's crime section each day, stalling, and hoping and praying for last-minute pardons or a prisoner's sickness to avoid his official responsibilities
  • in the conclusion (a parody of a pleasant honeymoon) set in Majorca (or Mallorca - a sunny vacation destination), Jose begged with the prison warden (who offered champagne) to be relieved of his duties: ("He said if this moment arrived, I could resign...I can't be an executioner. I want to resign!"); however, Jose (with his legs buckling) was forcibly dragged through a white courtyard by prison guards behind his first victim (a condemned convict) to perform his killing duty - there was a reversal of roles (the executioner was seemingly now the one condemned); a priest counseled Jose: "It is best that you kill him now, my son; his soul is ready for heaven. If we send to Madrid for another executioner, two or three days will elapse and he may fall from grace"

The Victim's Coffin After Execution

Jose and Carmen's Romance

Retiring Executioner Amadeo, Carmen's Father

Jose: "I can't be an executioner. I want to resign!"

Jose Dragged in Courtyard to Fulfill His Duties

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