Secret of the Incas (1954)
A globe-trotting archaeologist wearing an aviator jacket and fedora searches for an ancient pre-Columbian gold relic hidden away in the ruins of a Peruvian temple. Sound familiar? Another Indiana Jones adventure? Nope, this one also comes from Paramount Studios, but it starred Charlton Heston as mercenary adventurer Harry Steele. It’s the nearly forgotten adventure film Secret of the Incas (1954), which no doubt influenced George Lucas’ Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
Secret of the Incas features beautiful on-location shooting in the Peruvian Andes, and has a strong cast with Heston, Thomas Mitchell (as shyster Ed Morgan), and Robert Young (as archaeologist Stanley Moorehead). Young was good in films of this nature, but I always associate him with the TV shows Father Knows Best (1954-1960) and later as Marcus Welby, M.D.
The lead girl is French actress Nicole Maurey (as Elena Antonescu). You may recognize Maurey also in The Day of the Triffids (1962). She looks good opposite Heston’s ruggedness. Here he’s playing a character similar to the circus manager Brad Braden in De Mille’s The Greatest Show on Earth (1952). I like Charlton Heston. Like Robert Mitchum, you know what you’re getting in their films.
The film also features Yma Sumac, a Peruvian artist known for her incredible 4 1/2 octave vocal range (she contributed to The Big Lebowski, 1998 soundtrack). Her voice got on my nerves, but there is no denying the uniqueness of her talents.
The coolest set piece of this film is the final sequence within the Incan Temple of the Sun. This will no doubt draw comparisons to the opening teaser and the map room scenes in Raiders.
Some of the similarities between Secret of the Incas and Raiders of the Lost Ark include:
– Harry and Indy both sport fedoras and aviator-style leather jackets,
– Harry and Indy both enter a temple carrying a canvas bag,
– Both men are resourceful tough guys,
– Both men are well-versed in the study of antiquities,
– Both films feature a search for a gold artifact,
– The artifacts are secretly hidden, and
– Require puzzle pieces to solve the mystery of their locations,
– Both films jump around with double-crosses and nefarious characters,
– Both films feature hard-boiled female leads,
– Both films have an exciting airplane escape sequence, and
– The guy ends of with the girl.
Secret of the Incas is relatively difficult to find*. My copy is a bootleg DVD-R derived from a 16mm print. This would make a terrific double bill with Raiders or Heston’s The Naked Jungle (1954)!
And yes, that’s Marion Ross (Mrs. Cunningham) as a tourist who gets conned by Harry in the beginning of the film!
*I guess this is offered by Netflix Streaming and is on YouTube.