El Verdugo

El Verdugo
The executioner (1963)
   El verdugo has always had a privileged position in the Spanish cinema canon. Even with some 15 minutes of cuts from the finished 1963 version (some of these have now been reinstated), consensus regards Luis G. Ber-langa's masterpiece as a key anti-Franco film that managed to bypass the censor against all odds and express a critique of certain aspects of the regime. As the film starts, José Luis (Nino Manfredi), an under-taker, is on duty in a Madrid prison. He is there with his colleague to receive the corpse of a sentenced prisoner. As he leaves with the coffin, Amadeo, the talkative executioner (Pepe Isbert), asks them for a lift to the city. José Luis is reluctant, as he dislikes the idea of being too close to a man with such a gruesome job. José Luis visits the executioner in the latter's airless, cluttered flat, where he meets his voluptuous daughter Carmen (Emma Penella). A relationship develops between them, and soon they are attending picnics with Amadeo. One day, as the young couple are together in bed, they are caught by Amadeo. When Carmen announces she's pregnant, he is forced to marry her and, later, to inherit Amadeo's job as executioner.
   The first section of the film shows the character gradually becoming trapped in a spider's web, with sex, marriage, and a new flat as bait. As long as he is not called on to perform his duties, his life improves and he achieves marital happiness, but this situation does not last. In the final sequence, he returns from his first execution, swearing he will never do it again and vowing to resign, but Amadeo shakes his head and remarks that he uttered exactly the same words after his first job. Previously, in a famous shot, José Luis is accompanied to the room where the sentence is to be carried out, following the condemned man, and he seems to be more distressed and in need of help than the latter. According to Berlanga, this image is the origin of the whole film: two groups of people, one supporting the victim, the other the executioner, crossing a great white hall toward a small black door; progressively, the group supporting the victim becomes smaller as the executioner needs more and more support. "This image," he said, "suggested to me that not only the condemned could 'degenerate' . . . but the executioner himself would crumble down when he has to kill. Two groups dragging two persons who are to be executioner and victim, that is the film's key image."

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.

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