The Executioner (1963 film)

The Executioner (Spanish: El Verdugo) is a 1963 Spanish black comedy film directed by Luis García Berlanga. It is widely considered one of the masterpieces of Spanish cinema.

The Executioner
Directed byLuis García Berlanga
Produced byNaga Films
Zebra Films
Screenplay byLuis García Berlanga
Rafael Azcona
Ennio Flaiano
Story byLuis García Berlanga
Rafael Azcona
StarringNino Manfredi
Pepe Isbert
Emma Penella
José Luis López Vázquez
Music byMiguel Asins Arbó
CinematographyTonino Delli Colli
Edited byAlfonso Santacana
Release date
  • 1963 (1963)
Running time
90 minutes


The story starts with an old executioner in Spain in the early 60's approaching retirement age. As his profession is quite rare, he 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 and soon get married.


The Executioner was the eighth feature film written and directed by Luis García Berlanga in collaboration with his longtime associate, Rafael Azcona. The story pivots upon the fate of a pleasant, if somewhat timid, young undertaker whose dream is to go to Germany and become a mechanic. This dream is thwarted when he happens to meet the executioner in a prison where both of them are plying their trade. In spite of the aversion that the young man (and everyone else) feels for the executioner, he not only ends up marrying the executioner's daughter, but even takes over his father-in-law's business.

The Executioner 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, to 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.


  • Nino Manfredi as José Luis Rodríguez, the undertaker
  • Emma Penella as Carmen, the daughter of Amadeo
  • José Isbert as Amadeo, the executioner (as Jose Isbert)
  • José Luis López Vázquez as Antonio Rodríguez, the older brother of José Luis
  • Ángel Álvarez as Álvarez, an undertaker, Rodríguez's colleague (as Angel Alvarez)
  • Guido Alberti as director of the prison
  • Julia Caba Alba as Mujer visitante de la obra nº 2
  • María Luisa Ponte as Estefanía (as Maria Luisa Ponte)
  • María Isbert as Ignacia (as Maria Isbert)
  • Erasmo Pascual
  • Xan das Bolas as Guarda de la obra
  • José Orjas (as Jose Orjas)
  • José María Prada (as Jose Maria Prada)
  • Félix Fernández as Monaguillo nº 2 (as Felix Fernandez)
  • Antonio Ferrandis


Director Luis García Berlanga won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Venice Film Festival for the film. At that moment, Francoist Spain was under international pressure because of the death sentence for the Communist leader Julián Grimau. The Spanish ambassador to Italy protested the projection of this "Communist" film.

Box office and reception

The film took an estimated gross of ESP 4,107,300 in Spain and there were some 32,907 in cinemas across the country.

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