Charro! (1969)

charroelvisA singer and a performer, Elvis Presley has few rivals in terms of entertainers. He has sold millions of records and made over 30 films during his career. Of all his films though, one stands out from the rest as an oddity, and that’s 1969’s Charro! For starters, it’s a western, Presley doesn’t sing, and he even sports a beard. Oh, the horror! Not a classic, but a guilty pleasure of mine just the same.

Having separated from his gang for well over a year, Jess Wade (Presley) has struggled trying to go straight but does not want to return to his outlaw ways. His old gang, led by Vince Hackett (Victor French), isn’t too pleased with his departure either and has framed Wade. Vince and the gang stole a gold-plated, silver-lined cannon from Mexico City that fired the ‘victory shot’ against Maximillian, but they set it up to look like Jess organized and led the robbery. Framed to look like someone else with a nasty neck wound — courtesy of a brand in Vince’s hand — Jess must now look to clear his name and exact some revenge on Vince and the boys.

Doesn’t sound much like an Elvis movie full of songs and huge dance numbers, does it? Not in the least, and that’s probably why Charro! isn’t remembered as one of Presley’s best. For just its novelty alone in terms of the vast departure it takes from his musicals, this is a movie worth watching. Elvis does sing, but only over the opening credits, and not actually in the story. Listen to it HERE. Catchy, ain’t it? By 1969, Presley was trying to mount a comeback of sorts, and this western tries to reflect the changing times. The effort was hamstrung to a point because apparently a fair share of violence and nudity were cut before it was released. Still, though it is nothing groundbreaking, I’ve always enjoyed this one.

According to Wikipedia (so take this for what it’s worth), the role Presley took was originally offered to Clint Eastwood. With the Man with No Name playing the main character, this would have been one more late 1960s western. With Presley here, there’s something oddly charming. As a dramatic actor, he will never be considered a great thespian, but as the revenge-seeking gunslinger? He’s not that bad. A tad on the wooden side at times, Presley does a pretty good job with the part and handles much of his own stunts in this Charles Marquis Warren-directed western. In the tough luck department, he also has the love interest, Tracey, a well-to-do saloon and dance hall owner, played by the gorgeous Ina Balin. That must have been pretty tough.

On the whole, the movie has a lot going for it despite the average reviews and generally forgotten status. It was 1969 when it was released, and the effect of the spaghetti western was in full swing. It wasn’t enough to have good guys vs. bad guys anymore. We needed anti-heroes and despicable villains who weren’t concerned about innocents being killed. Composer Hugo Montenegro‘s score is a gem, part spaghetti western, some borrowed from his The Undefeated score the same year, and other tunes using a heavy Mexican theme. The combination covers a lot of ground, but it works well. The violence — even if it was cut and/or edited — is not graphic, but it’s harsh, nasty stuff anyways. The look of the movie helps too from the sweat, scruff, stubble and dust on all the characters. It doesn’t take much to make a western fan like me happy, and Charro! doesn’t disappoint.

Other than Mr. Presley himself, the cast does not exactly jump off the screen in terms of star power. The future Mr. Edwards in Little House on the Prairie, Victor French is a particularly nasty villain. He’s subtle in his evil qualities, letting the emotions fly in quick outbursts as the leader of a gang that would turn on him in a second. Balin isn’t given much to do but show cleavage and look pretty unfortunately, but wouldn’t you know it? She nails the part. Solomon Sturges hams it up as Billy Roy, Vince’s possibly unhinged, sometimes maniacal brother while James Sikking has some fun as Gunner, a former Confederate artillery officer in Vince’s gang. Tony Young has a small part as Lt. Rivera, a Mexican federale on the trail of the stolen cannon. There’s some potential with Vince’s gang, but they’re left in the background with little to do, background players without much name recognition.

So there it is, Elvis with a beard, no guitar, and little singing in a part different from basically any other part he had. Nothing flashy, but in 1969 when westerns were all over the place, Charro! tries to keep up with the change and ends up being a fast-paced, entertaining final product. If no one else agrees, so be it. I like it. If you’re a Spanish speaker, the movie is available at Youtube HERE.

Charro! <—trailer (1969): ***/****

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