Charro! is a 1969 American western film starring Elvis Presley shot on location at Apacheland Movie Ranch and Old Tucson Studios in Arizona. Uniquely, Presley did not sing on-screen, and the film featured no songs at all except for the main title theme, which was played over the opening credits. It was also the only movie in which Presley wore a beard. The film was novelized by Harry Whittington.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Charles Marquis Warren|
|Produced by||Charles Marquis Warren|
|Screenplay by||Charles Marquis Warren|
|Story by||Frederick Louis Fox|
|Music by||Hugo Montenegro|
|Edited by||Al Clark|
|Distributed by||National General Pictures|
|Box office||$1.5 million (US/ Canada rentals)|
Ina Balin, Victor French, Barbara Werle, and Solomon Sturges co-starred. It was the final film for director Charles Marquis Warren who also produced and wrote it. It was also the only Presley film distributed by National General Pictures. The film made a profit but was not a runaway success, and remains one of Presley's least-seen films despite being regarded among his best in terms of a 'straight' (non-musical) acting performance.
Jess Wade, a former member of a gang of outlaws led by Vince Hackett, was led to believe that an old flame, Tracy Winters, wanted to meet him in a seedy Mexican saloon. Jess saw Billy Roy Hackett, Vince's younger brother, summoning Vince and the other members of the gang into the saloon, and realized he was being set up. Jess ordered the bar patrons to leave before a shootout ensued. Making a break for the door, Jess was stopped by Gunner, another gang member, and was forced to relinquish his gun and to go with them to their hideout in the mountains. Vince later told him that the gang had stolen a gold-plated cannon that was used by Emperor Maximilian in his ill-fated fight against popular Mexican leader Benito Juárez. Vince informed him that, according to a wanted poster, Jess was in the gang who stole the cannon and had sustained a neck wound as a result of being shot by one of the guards. Ordering his men to subdue Jess on the ground, Vince used a branding iron to burn his neck. They took his horse, leaving him stranded. He captured a wild horse in the desert and saddle-broke it. The gang's motive was to force a ransom from the town they stole the cannon from, but the gang also used the cannon to hold the townspeople at bay. Only Wade can save the people from his former gang.
- Elvis Presley as Jess Wade
- Ina Balin as Tracey Winters
- Victor French as Vince Hackett
- Barbara Werle as Sara Ramsey
- Solomon Sturges as Billy Roy Hackett
- Lynn Kellogg as Marcie
- Paul Brinegar as Opie Keetch
- Harry Landers as Heff
- Tony Young as Lt. Rivera
- James Almanzar as Sheriff Ramsey
- James Sikking as Gunner
The role of Jess Wade was originally offered to Clint Eastwood, who turned it down. The budget for the movie was estimated at $1.5 million. Working titles for the film included Jack Valentine, Johnny Hang, and Come Hell or Come Sundown. Presley signed up to the project with high hopes after reading the serious, song-free script, but was left disappointed when he arrived for his first day of shooting on July 22, 1968 to find that the script he had originally signed up for had been changed beyond recognition.
The original opening scene, which was to feature female nudity, was dropped in favor of a more gentle bar scene. The story of Charro, which was written by Frederick Louis Fox, contained many violent scenes that were dropped from the film altogether. Harry Whittington based his novelization Charro on Fox's story, and included the scenes that Warren deemed too violent for the film. A scene which featured Ina Balin nude climbing from a bath was also removed. Location scenes were shot at Apache Junction and the Apacheland Movie Ranch in Arizona.
The film, although a hit, was not received as well as Presley's previous films. Fans were put off by the lack of songs, and critics were generally unimpressed with the film as a whole. Despite this, the film made a good profit and Presley received $850,000 for his work.
Roger Greenspun of The New York Times wrote of Presley's performance, "He treats his part rather as a minor embarrassment, and he seems determined not to push himself in a role that could have used a stronger personality to fill the lapses in the story and the wide open spaces in the dialogue." Variety wrote that "Presley strolls through a tedious role that would have driven many another actor up the wall ... Even more at fault than Presley, who has occasionally responded in the past to the demands of a good director, is Charles Marquis Warren, who takes credit (or blame?) for the script, the direction, and even part of the production." Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote that in the film Presley "sings nary a note, which is too bad. A song or two, though arguably inappropriate, would have helped to relieve the tedium of this trite low-budget Western that has quick-sale-to-TV stamped all over it." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "the least kinesthetic Western I've ever seen," which "seems to have conceived for the small screen. A plot that might suffice for 30 minutes of restless entertainment has been stretched to a somnambulent 98 minutes." Allan Eyles of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "Unfortunately, Charro is fatally undermined by the slack staging of its action highlights and by a plot riddled with irrational behaviour and dialogue ... As if to compensate for the film's lack of impact, Hugo Montenegro's lively but over-attentive score does too much underlining of mood and character."
In June 1968, Presley had already completed the sequences and recorded the songs for what would be his comeback television special and its attendant album, Elvis, that put his musical talents back on display after the long slog of the soundtrack years. During the special, Presley erroneously states that he had made twenty nine '"pictures" up to that time. The actual tally was twenty eight at taping. Charro would be the twenty ninth. At the time the special was aired in December, Presley had completed his thirtieth film, The Trouble with Girls (and How to Get into It).
His confidence and enthusiasm restored, Presley turned to his musical obligations for Charro! Appropriately for a Western, the studio hired Hugo Montenegro to produce the film's two songs, the recording session taking place at Samuel Goldwyn Studio in Hollywood, California on October 15, 1968. The title song appeared in the movie during the opening credits, released commercially on February 25, 1969, as the b-side to RCA 47-9731 "Memories," which had also appeared on the TV special and album. A second song recorded for but not used in the film, "Let's Forget About the Stars" appeared on the budget album Let's Be Friends in 1970. This song is erroneously referred to in some sources as an outtake from the soundtrack of the later Presley film Change of Habit.
Film music track listingEdit
Charro! was released on Video CD in 1996. Charro! was released to DVD in the summer of 2007. It marked the very first time that an uncut release of the film was presented to the retail market, and in its original wide-screen letterbox format. This DVD version underwent an extensive re-mastering process to restore the original 35mm film-print quality. Previous VHS issues of the film, notably the 1990 Warner Home Video release, were of an inferior standard, mainly due to poor picture quality and minor edits throughout the movie. An oddity concerning Charro! is the film's classification. Despite containing violence and partial nudity (the latter a scene in which Ina Balin's character is shown exiting a bath tub), it was released with an MPAA G rating, even though other Presley films from the 1968-69 period carry PG ratings. These latter releases are somewhat less 'adult' than Charro!.
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- Thomas, Kevin (March 26, 1969). "'Charro!' Playing a Citywide Engagement". Los Angeles Times Part IV, p. 19.
- Arnold, Gary (May 24, 1969). "Elvis Trots Out a Horse Opera". The Washington Post. F7.
- "Charro". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 38 (450): 139. July 1971.
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- Jorgensen, op. cit., p. 260.
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- "CD Films/Music". Sega Saturn Magazine. No. 10. Emap International Limited. August 1996. p. 95.