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 (Elvis Presley), a former member of a gang of outlaws led by Vince Hackett (Victor French), is standing at a bar waiting on an old flame, Tracey Winters (Ina Balin). Vince's younger brother Billy Roy (Solomon Sturges) enters the saloon and spots Jess. Before a shoot-out ensues Jess orders the bar's patrons to leave. Jess then makes a break for the door but is stopped by Gunner (James Sikking) and forced to relinquish his gun.
The gang take Jess with them to their hideout in the mountains. Vince shows Jess that the gang have stolen a gold-plated cannon that was used by Emperor Maximilian in his ill-fated fight against popular Mexican leader Benito Juárez. Vince intends to sell the gun for $100,000 to other gangs. In revenge for Jess deserting the gang, Vince informs him that he has been set-up and that the Federales believe he was behind the robbery. He shows off a wanted poster that identifies Jess. Vince explains that during the robbery another gang member called Norm was fatally wounded in the neck and that Vince has let it be known that it was Jess rather than Norm so that Jess would take the blame. Vince orders the gang to subdue Jess and using a hot poker he burns Jess on his neck. The gang beat Jess unconscious and then leave him with just his saddle before riding off. Jess manages to catch up with the gang later that night, Vince gives Jess some food but informs him that he's now a wanted man (being chased by the Mexican government as well as the US cavalry).
Jess manages to track down a wild stallion, breaks it and saddles it. Jess makes his way to a local town where he greets Sheriff Dan Ramsey (James Almanzar). Dan explains that he's received a wanted poster and knows all about the robbery. Jess tells Dan he is innocent and goes into detail about Vince's plot which Dan believes. Jess leaves the Sheriff's office and sneaks into the local hotel where he finds his former lover Tracey Winters. The two embrace but then Tracey tells Jess she knows all about the theft of the cannon. Jess tries futilely to explain that Vince has set him up, Tracey gives him his pistol and holster and begs Jess to let Vince go. Tracey threatens Jess that if anything should happen, she'll expose him to the local town as a wanted man.
Meanwhile, Billy Roy Hackett arrives into town and accosts Marcie (Lynn Kellogg), but she walks away from him. Billy Roy enters the saloon and starts to talk with the barman before Tracey intervenes. Jess seeing Billy Roy attempts to diffuse the situation. Sheriff Dan arrives after being summoned by Marcie. Billy Roy pretends to acquiesce to Jess and Dan's request for him to leave but takes Tracey at gunpoint. He then shoots Dan but Jess knocks him unconscious and drags him out of the saloon. Jess ensures Dan is looked after by the town doctor and barber Opie (Paul Brinegar) and ensures Billy Roy is safely jailed.
Dan swears Jess in as his deputy and asks that he keep the town safe, while he recuperates. Jess returns to the jail where the townspeople are threatening to lynch Billy Roy. To defuse things, Jess knocks Billy Roy out and then arms the men and instructs them to defend their stores. When challenged Jess shows the men he has been deputised by Dan and they grudgingly acquiesce to his instructions.
At the gangs camp, Vince awakes to find that Billy Roy has snuck off from the town. He beats several gang members for letting Billy Roy sneak away before heading to town. Meanwhile, Jess checks in on Dan and Opie tells him that Dan will recover. Tracey angrily approaches Jess and tells him he should have men on lookout for the gang, Jess agrees it's a good plan and Tracey storms off. As she walks across the street with Marcie, she spots that Jess already has every man on their roofs defending their property in advance of the gangs arrival.
Vince arrives into the town and heads for the saloon inquiring after Billy Roy. Tracey informs Vince that Billy Roy has been jailed for shooting Dan and there are multiple witnesses. Vince leaves the saloon and heads for the jail where he demands the release of Billy Roy. Jess counters that Vince should return the cannon and clear his name. Vince issues an ultimatum that if Jess doesn't release Billy Roy before sundown he'll unleash the cannon against the town. Jess brings Vince out onto the main street where he shows him the armed townspeople. Vince glances at his watch as he shows he's called the Mexican cavalry in. He then threatens to expose Jess to the Mexican Lieutenant Rivera (Tony Young). Jess in turn threatens to shoot Billy Roy and Vince backs down agreeing to get rid of the cavalry. He approaches Lt Rivera and promises to bring them to the cannon in exchange for a $10,000 reward.
Jess goes to Dan with Vince's proposal. The wounded Sheriff denies Jess' request to free Billy Roy. Jess agrees to not release Billy Roy. Dan's wife Sara (Barbara Werle) chases after Jess and pleads with Jess not to heed Dan's instruction and let Billy Roy go. Jess explains to Sara that he gave Dan his word and cannot break it.
Meanwhile, outside the town, the gang create an ambush for Lt Rivera and his men. They train the cannon on the troop as they cross at the river. Vince crosses first and just as Lt Rivera and his men enter the river the gang fire the cannon. Lt Rivera's men are massacred but he survives, as he goes to confront Vince, Vince coldly guns him down. Vince informs the gang that they are to bring the cannon to the town so they can force Jess to release Billy Roy. When one of the gang stands up to Vince and calls the plan crazy, Vince guns him down and the gang quickly comply.
Billy Roy in the jail starts to mock Jess from his cell as Vince arrives back into town. Vince demands his brother's release while Jess tries to antagonise him into a shoot-out. Just then the gang begin a bombardment with the cannon destroying the church. Sara screams as another explosion destroys their house and runs in to find Dan dead. She rushes back blaming Jess for Dan's death and grabs the wanted notice exposing Jess in front of the entire town. The town start to turn on Jess demanding for him to release Billy Roy. Jess explains to them that once Billy Roy is released Vince cannot let anyone else live as they can expose him as the real thief. Vince rides out and the townsfolk demand Billy Roy be released. Tracey approaches Jess and tells Jess she can see he has changed and they embrace. He asks her to get somewhere safe.
Jess grabs Billy Roy as the townsfolk led by Sara break into the jail. Sara accuses Jess as working against the town and being in with the gang all along. As the cannon goes off again Tracey announces to the town that Jess is still on their side. She attempts to rally the town behind Jess. As the gang are about to start the final bombardment Jess sets a trap for the gang.
He ties Billy Roy to a tree and has him call-out to the gang. The gang attempt to sneak up on Jess and when that fails they try and shoot Jess with the cannon. In the shoot out the cannon falls off the wagon and rolls against the tree crushing Billy Roy. Jess picks off the remaining gang members and captures a distraught Vince. He informs him that he intends to take Vince and the cannon back to Mexico.
In the final scene in the town Sara is shown to forgive Jess. Opie and the townsfolk gather and thank Jess for his actions. Tracey runs after Jess who informs her that while he doesn't intend to return to the town, he'll send for her.
- 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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- Jorgensen, op. cit., p. 260.
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- "CD Films/Music". Sega Saturn Magazine. No. 10. Emap International Limited. August 1996. p. 95.