The film co-starred Ina Balin, Victor French, Barbara Werle, and Solomon Sturges and was the final for director Charles Marquis Warren who also produced and wrote the film. It was also the only Presley film released to theaters 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 it being regarded among his best in terms of a 'straight' (non-musical) acting performance.
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
Jess Wade, a former member of a gang of outlaws led by Vince Hackett, is tricked into believing that an old flame of his and Vince's, Tracy Winters, wanted to meet him in a seedy Mexican saloon. Jess later sees Billy Roy Hackett, Vince's younger brother, summoning Vince and the other members of the gang into the saloon. Jess, realizing he was set up, orders the bar patrons to leave as a shoot out later ensues. After making a break for the door Jess is later stopped by another gang member, Gunner, and is trapped. Forcing Jess to relinquish his gun and to go with them to their hideout in the mountains, Vince later tells 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 Juarez. After explaining to him about them stealing the cannon, Vince tells Jess that he let the word get out that, although a now-deceased member of the gang named Norm was the one who helped steal the cannon that it was Jess who stole it and had sustained a neck wound as a result of being shot by one of the guards, according to a wanted poster out on him. Ordering his men to subdue Jess on the ground, Vince takes a branding iron and burns a wound to his neck. Taking Jess' horse, Vince and the gang later leave Jess and take off. Jess does manage to capture a wild horse in the desert and break it in. The gang's motive is to force a ransom from the town they stole the cannon from, but the gang also uses the cannon to hold the townspeople at bay. Only Wade can save the people from his former gang.
The role of Jess Wade was originally turned down by Clint Eastwood. 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 the point of 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 novel Charro on the Fox's story, and included the scenes that Warren deemed to 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.
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.
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!.Elvis - The Hollywood Collection (Kissin' Cousins/Girl Happy/Tickle Me/Stay Away, Joe/Live a Little, Love a Little/Charro!) Review by Stuart Galbraith IV at DVD Talk, September 11, 2007.