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c. 1969

When Elvis (and his beard) stepped in for Clint Eastwood

"A different kind of role. A different kind of man."

Imagine for a moment it’s 1968, and you’ve been tasked by your Hollywood paymasters to produce a Spaghetti Western. Gritty script? Check. It’s called Charro. But then comes the bad news: Clint Eastwood, your first choice to play the anti-hero lead, has given you a firm ‘no.’ Who else could you get to step into Eastwood’s brooding, dangerous, and very sexy boots?

Hey, how about Elvis Presley? 

Not entirely convinced? OK, but what if Elvis had a beard? And maybe chewed a cigar like Eastwood. Now we’re talking, right? Actually, so was The King — Charro was the only one of Elvis’ 30-odd feature films in which he didn’t break into song. (Sure, Elvis sang the theme, but that doesn’t really count.) 

One serious movie

Much marketing was made of the fact that Elvis’ character hadn’t serenaded anyone spontaneously, seemingly a sign that this was one serious movie.

Elvis had signed up based on the script alone, which he liked a lot. Unfortunately, when he rolled up to Apacheland Movie Ranch in Arizona for the first day of filming on July 22, 1968, he was handed a rewrite that had morphed and stretched the original out of all recognition.

And the script had no songs — but also no nudity or violence. A naked woman was originally present in the opening scene… that got the chop. Also, the film had centered around scenes of a bloody showdown between Elvis and an outlaw gang — that too ended up on the cutting-room floor.

Did Charro work? Well, kinda. I mean, it made a profit — but this was no Eastwood film, either financially or artistically. The critics drew their Colt 45s and shot it down. “He treats his part rather as a minor embarrassment” blasted the New York Times“Presley strolls through a tedious role” was the bullet from Variety‘s gun.

But the fatal hit came from the LA Times“A song or two would have helped to relieve the tedium of this trite low-budget Western that has quick-sale-to-TV stamped all over it.”

No one even really seemed to notice Elvis’s facial hair. And, in fact, he would make only two further films ever again — a comedy, and a musical drama. His potential as the next Eastwood was well and truly shelved.

Not that that was a huge blow for The King. For Charro, Elvis was paid $850,000, the equivalent of almost $6,ooo,ooo today.

A color shot from Charro
Getty Images
Elvis holds a gun to an outlaw
GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty Images
A Charro poster
LMPC/Getty Image
“On his hip he wore vengeance”
LMPC/Getty Images
Charro in Japan
LMPC/Getty Images
“A different kind of role”
LMPC/Getty Images
Chewing a cigar like Clint
Getty Images
Elvis enters a saloon
Getty Images
Ina Balin and Elvis Presley in Charro
Getty Images
Elvis is in the building
Getty Images

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