Charro! (1969)



Dir: Charles Marquis Warren - cast: Elvis Presley, Victor French, Ina Balin, Solomon Sturges, James Sikking, Paul Brinegar, Barbara Werle, Harry Landers, James Almanzar, Tony Young

Some of us will watch this movie because they're Elvis fans, others will probably watch it out of curiosity. According to Wiki it's the only role that didn't feature Elvis singing on-screen (he sings the title-song though) and also the only time he appears with a beard in any of his films. I'm not a true Elvis fan (although I don't dislike him either) and haven't seen all of his films, so I can't say if this is true.

The stubbly beard is probably a reference to Clint Eastwood's No Name, the famous character from Sergio Leone's Dollar Trilogy. According to Elvis Encyclopedia by Victor Adam the role was in fact offered to Eastwood first. Jeff Wade (Elvis) is invited by a former friend, the no-good Vince Hackett, to a border town, not knowing that Hackett wants to frame him for the theft of a gold-encrusted Mexican cannon. Rumors have been spread that the thief was a dark-haired young man with a visible neck-scar, so when Wade is disarmed by Hackett's men, they burn a scar in his neck with a branding iron.  Wade must now hide for the law on both sides of the border, but an old friend, the sheriff of a small border town, gives him the chance to redeem himself and get even with the Hackett gang.

Elvis liked westerns but by 1969 he had become tired of wasting his talents to subpar movies and he looks a little absent-minded in some scenes. He made Charro! (1) between the hard work on his famous '68 ComebackShow and his return to stage one year later, and his mind was clearly on other things. This doesn't mean that Charro! is a bad movie. It has a promising start, with this rather brutal branding scene, and a few good moments along the ride; the supporting cast is very fine, with  Victor French and Solomon Sturges (Preston Sturges' son) turning in energetic performances as the Hackett brothers. The main problem is the script; the story has little momentum and just seems to lurch towards a finale in which the bandits siege a town with their cannon, in order to free the gang leader's younger brother, thrown in jail by deputy Wade. After a few explosions things are settled in a shootout - set at night - in the hills outside of town, where the bandits have positioned the cannon.

Elvis and Sturges have a funny scene together in which Elvis makes some remarks about a bump on the other one's head; when Sturges' says he has no bump on his head, Elvis smacks his head to the prison bars, saying: "Now you have." Ina Balin is eye-candy and unfortunately a nudity scene (2) was cut from the theatrical version in order to avoid an R-rating (and still missing from most versions). Several violent scenes were also dropped to this effect. 

Director Charles Marquis Warren is not one of the great western directors, but he's quite an illustrious name in the world of TV westerns. He created Rawhide and adapted the radio series Gunsmoke for TV. No wonder Charro! of has a definite made-for-TV look and feel. Another remnant of his work for television, is the presence of Paul Brinegar, known to most of us as the cranky cook Wishbone from Rawhide


Notes: 
* (1) The title Charro! is a little erratic. Charro refers to a Mexican horsemen or cowboys, notably those who participate in rodeos. Elvis' character is not Mexican.  
* (2) Here's a photo link. The writer of the article thinks a double was used for Balin. I've studied the pics over and over again, but I'm not sure. 


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