An In-Depth Look at the Movie “Charro!”
“Charro!” was Elvis Presley's twenty-ninth movie and the only one in which he did not sing. His singing voice is heard only over the credits performing the title song. The song “Charro!” was written by Billy Strange and Mac Davis and released as the B-side of the single “Memories” from Elvis' 1968 TV special.
“Charro!” the song was recorded on October 15, 1968 at the Samuel Goldwyn Studio in Hollywood. The session was conducted by Hugo Montenegro, who was known for his work on the theme to another western movie, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”, starring Clint Eastwood.
Playing drums for this session was Carl O'Brien, who, in his youth, had been a Disney Mouseketeer known as Cubby.
“Charro!” the movie was shot in July and August of 1968 at the Apacheland Movie Ranch in Apache Junction, Arizona near the Superstition Mountains, site of many paranormal stories including the famous “Lost Dutchman Gold Mine”.
The western was set in 1870 and based on a story written by Frederick Louis Fox. Elvis plays Jess Wade, a reformed gunslinger who is framed by his former associates for the theft of a cannon used in Mexico's fight for independence. The prized Mexican relic had been plated with gold and was very valuable. In Spanish the word “charro” means “rough, coarse, and unpolished”.
In keeping with this theme Elvis as Jess Wade sports a full beard and Charro is Wade's nickname.
The movie was written, directed and produced by Charles Marquis Warren, who had a long career in western movies. He is credited with writing such films as “Streets of Laredo”, “Oh! Susanna”, and “Springfield Rifle” and writing for such TV series as “Gunsmoke” and “Rawhide”. Many times he would direct and produce material he had written.
Elvis' leading lady was Ina Balin, who worked in such films as “The Black Orchid”, “The Young Doctors” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told”. She was an advocate for the orphans of Vietnam, helping hundreds to evacuate. She adopted three Vietnamese girls in 1976. Balin died in 1990.
The late Victor French played the villain Vince Hackett. His many roles included his working with Michael Landon on television as a regular on “Little House on the Prairie” series and co-star on the “Highway to Heaven” series. He also starred in the series “Carter Country”. French took a turn at directing on various TV series including “Fame”, “Father Murphy”, “Dallas” and “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”. He was the son of a stunt man and made his debut with a small role in the television series “Lassie”.
Elvis Presley's twenty-ninth movie was “Charro!”, a western filmed in Arizona during the late summer of 1968. At the time, Elvis had just finished taping his 1968 television special, “Elvis”, which would air in December. He was looking great and grew a full beard for this rugged role.
Elvis' entourage, as well as his manager Colonel Parker, got into the spirit and also grew beards. The working title of the film was “Come Hell, Come Sundown”.
Barbara Werle played Sara Ramsey, the sherriff's wife. This was not Werle's first time to work with Elvis - she had had roles in the Elvis films “Tickle Me” and “Harum Scarum”. This longtime character actress played many roles in both film and television productions. Among her credits are the films “The Battle of the Bulge” and “The Rare Breed” and television series such as “The Virginian”, “Ironside”, and “Laredo”.
Paul Brinegar played the town barber Opie Keetch. Although he had a long career as a character actor in shows like “Perry Mason”, “Guns of Will Sonnett”, “Petrocelli” and “Matt Houston”, he might be best remembered for his role of Wishbone in the TV series “Rawhide” with Clint Eastwood.
A number of other veteran character actors played roles in this film. The role of Billy Roy Hackett was played by Solomon Sturges, son of celebrated film director Preston Sturges.
Billy Strange, whose early career was as as session guitarist in Hollywood, wrote the song “Charro!”. This was not his first time to work with Elvis. Among his gigs had been to play on the soundtrack sessions for the Elvis films “It Happened At The World's Fair”, “Viva Las Vegas” and “Roustabout”. Strange became a writer and producer. He often collaborated with Mac Davis, with whom he co-wrote the songs “A Little Less Conversation”, “Nothingville”, “Memories” and “Clean Up Your Own Backyard”, all of which were recorded by Elvis. Strange produced the soundtrack session for the Elvis movie “Live a Little, Love A Little”.
Costumes for “Charro!” were by Robert Fuca, whose work also included the earlier Elvis film “It Happened At The World's Fair”. Among his other film credits are “Mutiny on the Bounty”, “How The West Was Won”, “The Music Man” and “Planet of the Apes”. His television credits include the series “Mod Squad” and “Hawaiian Eye”.
Rodd Redwing played Lige, a member of the Hackett gang. Mr. Redwing was well known as a Hollywood “fast draw artist” and often taught other actors, including Elvis, how to handle guns for their acting roles. He also made leather gun holsters. Redwing made the one that Elvis used in this film. It is tooled inside with an inscription to Elvis. From time to time, the holster has been on display in exhibits at Graceland along with the costume Elvis wore in the film.
Promotions for this film included twenty-five Southwestern cities which held “Charro Girl” contests, with finalists appearing in Dallas and Austin. In Austin, “Charro! Day” was hosted by the then Governor Preston Smith. Likewise, the governors of Oklahoma and Louisiana declared “Charro! Day” in honor of previews in their states. A number of actors from the film traveled to appearances at these sneak previews. The film opened nationwide on March 13, 1969.