El Verdugo (or English language:The Executioner, English title: Not on your Life) is a 1963 black comedy Spanish film directed by Luis García Berlanga. It is widely considered one of the masterpieces of Spanish cinema.
The story starts with the main character (an old executioner in Spain in the early 60's) approaching retirement age. As his profession is quite rare", he (a very gentle and nice man, caring, and proud of traditions) begins to worry about who might take his place when he retires. He has a daughter, but, unfortunately, she seems doomed to perpetual "spinsterhood": as soon as any prospective groom learns about her dad and her dad's "trade", he runs away from her, scared. However, a new character enters: the local undertaker, a young handsome man who has exactly the same problem... No girl wants him given his profession. So, you have the woman whom almost nobody would marry and the man whom almost nobody would marry. Obviously, they are meant for each other. But here the old executioner has something to say: He does not object to her daughter marrying the young undertaker; he seems a decent man, but only on condition that if the groom agrees to take the executioner's job when he will retire. And, anyway, as the old executioner says to the worried young man.... "Don't worry, they sentence people, but, in the last moment, they're going to pardon them.
El Verdugo is a farce or domestic comedy filled with macabre touches and scenes of black humor in which the taboos associated with death are transgressed. Even the actual mode of execution is the subject of morbid jokes as the executioner, who garrots his victims, measures the neck size of his future son-in-law. The film is punctuated with these bits of gallows humor as well as with comic reversals that take the audience by surprise. A fine example of this occurs at the end of the movie when the young executioner is carried kicking and screaming like the victim into the prison where he will perform his first execution.
Berlanga's irreverent treatment of death is symptomatic of a tendency found in all of his movies send up pomposity and pretensions, and to deflate generally accepted values and beliefs. In one sense, the film is about two outcasts, the undertaker and the executioner's daughter, both of whom are avoided by everyone. When they join together, it is with the hope of having a better life, but as Berlanga demonstrates, these hopes cannot be realized. Like other protagonists in Berlanga's film, the undertaker becomes caught up in a destiny which he did not choose. He is a victim of innocent concessions made along the way that ultimately lead him to be sentenced to his fate of becoming the executioner. He is the true victim, the one who is strangled in a web of circumstances beyond his control, caught up in the system of justice and retribution that is all encompassing. In the context of Franco's Spain, the ideological dimensions of this message are that as the executioner tells his son-in-law, where there's a law, someone has to pleasantly or not enforce it.
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