Above on the left is Charlton Heston as "Harry Steele"in 1954 and on the right Harrison Ford as "Indiana Jones" in 1981.
"The Secret of the Incas" was directed by Jerry Hopper. Hopper's first motion picture was Gene Barry's 1952 "Atomic Ciity" and among his other work were 1953's "Pony Express" starring Charlton Heston, Rhonda Fleming and Forrest Tucker, 1955's "The Private War of Major Benson" starring Charlton Heston and Julie Adams, 1956's "The Sharkfighters" starring Victor Mature and then in 1957 Hopper moved to the new medium of television for the rest of his 30 year career.
The screenplay was written by two men. Sydney Boehm wrote the 1951 Science Fiction Classic "When Worlds Collide", 1955's "Six Bridges to Cross" about the Brinks Robbery starring Tony Curtis, Jane Russell's 1956 "The Revolt of Mamie Stover" and the Stuart Whitman, Carol Lyndley and Roddy McDowall "Shock Treatment": in 1964 among other screenplays.
Boehm's co-screenplay writer was Ranald MacDougall. His work included the 1945 Errol Flynn film "Objective Burma", the same years "Mildred Pierce" starring Joan Crawford, Charlton Heston and Eleanor Parker's "The Naked Jungle" in 1954 and 1956's "The Mountain" starring Spencer Tracy, Robert Wagner and Claire Trevor.
"The Secret of the Incas" had an excellent cast for 1954.
As I said Charlton Heston was adventurer "Harry Steele". Besides the three motion pictures I've already mentioned. Heston had been seen in Cecil B. DeMille's 1952 "The Greatest Show on Earth", the same years "Ruby Gentry" with Jennifer Jones and Karl Malden and 1953's "The President's Lady" as "President Andrew Jackson" co-starring Susan Hayward.
Robert Young was "Stanley Moorhead". Young was four months away from the first of 197 episodes of television's "Father Knows Best" with co-star Jane Wyatt.
Thomas Mitchell portrayed "Ed Morgan". The Oscar, Emmy and Tony Award winning actor had just started his 39 episode television series "Mayor of the Town". Two years earlier he appeared in "High Noon" starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly.
Nicole Maurey was "Elena Antonescu". The French actress appeared primarily in French motion pictures except for a few films such as Bing Crosby's 1953 "Little Boy Lost" still made in France, 1959's "The Scapegoat" starring Alec Gunness and Bette Davis and the Science Fiction classic from 1963 "The Day of the Triffids".
Michael Pate was "Pachacutec" wearing a lot of facial make-up. Australian character actor Pate was seen in the 1951 thriller "The Strange Door" starring Charles Laughton and Boris Karloff, 1952's "The Black Castle" starring Karloff and Richard Greene and in 1953 he was the Apache Chief "Vittorio" in John Wayne's 3-D Western classic "Hondo". In 1954 on Live American Television Michael Pate was "Felix Leiter" in Ian Fleming's "Casino Royale" and was a Spanish Noblemen turned Western Vampire Gunfighter, all in black, in 1959's "Curse of the Undead".
My article on Michael Pate and character actor Woody Strode may be read at:
Ymac Sumac was "Kori-Tika". Sumac was a Peruvian coloratura soprano and an internationally renown singer of "Exotic Music".
A small character comparison:
Charlton Heston's "Harry Steele" was no "Professor of Archaeology", but an unscrupulous tour guide out for a quick buck from American tourists and especially the ladies. He wants to get out of Cusco, Peru, and back to the United States, but needs both money and a plane. However, he has a detailed knowledge of archaeology as it pertains to Peru from living, for an unstated reason, 14 years in the country. "Harry Steele" is the antithesis of "Indiana Jones" created 27 years later.
Nicole Maurey's "Elena Antonescu" is a women with a dark past wanting to get to the United States. She has escaped Communist Romania with only the clothes on her back. "Elena" has made her way to Paris, France, and worked in what she describes as a Night Club with two floors. One with bedrooms in use and the other for dancing. "Elena" tells "Harry" she was a dancer, but implies something else to "Stanley Moorhead". Remember this was 1954 at the height of the "House Committee on Un-American Activities" and "Black Listing". So even hard women had to be toned down to fit the morality being imposed on the United States motion picture industry at the time.
Compare her to Karen Allen's "Marian Ravenwood". Who was the daughter of "Indiana Jones'" mentor "Abner Ravenwood" and owned a bar in a rough section of Nepal. Along with being an ex-lover of "Jones" she was a women you didn't want to mess with.
Maurey and Heston above and Ford and Allen below.
Before I go into the actual screenplay I want to give my reader a brief backstory about the Inca God "Apu-punachau" and the representations of his spirit created by pre-Columbian Inca Craftsman. These religious representations used in 1954's "The Secret of the Incas" would be substituted with the Hebrew "Ark of the Covenant" in 1981's "Raiders of the Lost Ark". Just as "Harry Steele" is substituted for "Dr. Walton 'Indiana' Jones, Jr." and "Ed Morgan" for "Dr. Rene Belloq".
Since the 12th Century "Apu-punachau" was believed, by the Incas, to be their original ancestor and was also known as "Inti" the Sun God. Below are two of the many ways "Apu-punachau" was represented as a "Golden Sunburst" with a face upon it.
In 1571 a large solid gold and jeweled Sunburst disk of "Inti" was actually stolen by Spanish Conquistadors and supposedly sent to the Pope via Spain. However, according to the story it became lost and may never have arrived in Rome at all.
Screenplay writers Sydney Boehm and Ranald MacDougall used that original legend revolving around the stolen Sunburst as a basis for their treasure hunt adventure. The two writers changed one detail by not having the Spanish Conquistadors remove the Sunburst from Machu Piccbu". It now remains hidden somewhere within what becomes the archaeological site in the motion picture.
The following is a photo of Machu Piccbu in 2009.
WARNING: If you plan to watch "The Secret of the Incas". Which is available on DVD and as of this writing on Youtube, Do not read the following detailed plot description.
The movie opens as a truck, whose bed is full of people, is heading for the city of Cusco, but first must cross a railroad intersection. On the railroad track also heading towards Cusco is a self propelled single, bus like, train car. The two will meet at the railway crossing as both come to a forced stop, because of a burro on the exact intersection of the railroad track and road that "Harry Steele" must move for either to proceed.
In the truck's cab is "Elena Antonescu" and this is the first time the audience gets a glance of her.
The comparison of the two motion pictures above is just a small scene film buffs point too. On the left is Harrison Ford in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and on the left is Charlton Heston in "The Secret of the Incas".
At the entrance of the Cusco airport "Harry" bids good-bye to his group of American tourists and collects payment from each of the departing tourists.
Look closely at the women on the far right of the above photo "Oh 1970's television trivia buffs".
It's Marion Ross 30 years before she became "Richie Cunningham's" mother on televisions "Happy Days".
"Harry Steele" next goes to the airport office that doubles as its landing and take off control room. He speaks to the man running it and asks, if their are any passengers on the plane that is just arriving? "Harry" then meets, at the same spot he left his first group, these new tourists and announces that he is their "Guide Provided by the Hotel". Which of course not one of them knew about.
The little bit of comic relief in the picture comes at the beginning of the movie and is provided by comedian actress Glenda Farrell as "Mrs. Winston:". Who makes 1950's style sexual innuendos to Heston in front of her inattentive husband.
Farrell had third billing in 1931's "Little Caesar" starring an unknown Edgar G. Robinson. She had second billing in the Paul Muni 1932 "I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang", third billing in Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill's 1933 "The Mystery of the Wax Museum". Which was remade in 1953 as the 3-D "House of Wax", but was best known for a series of films showcasing her comedic timing as newspaper reporter "Torchy Blaine", between 1937 and 1939.
The audience now meets the 1950's villain of the story "Ed Morgan". "Morgan" owns a nightclub and has been in Cusco for years going back to before "Harry Steele" arrived. He might have been a small time gangster during World War 2, or a deserter, but this is never established. In this quiet Peruvian tourist city he seems to be the only crime boss, if that is even the proper moniker. He is a very old man now with grandeur dreams of Inca treasure, but is still somewhat deadly.
"Ed" tells "Harry" he was told, by a contact in Lima, of a girl coming into town the needs help and wants him to take care of her. "Morgan" then asks "Steele", if he has the missing piece of an exhibit in the museum that leads to the Inca Sunburst? "Harry" denies this and says he has no idea what "Ed" is talking about. The dialogue implies that "Harry Steele" once worked for "Ed Morgan", or they were partners in some schemes in the past. After "Harry" leaves and returns to his hotel room somebody shoots at him.
"Harry" breaks into the shooter's room, knocks him to the floor demanding who ordered the shooting, and finds out that it was "Ed Morgan". Before he leaves "Harry" breaks the shooter's rifle in half and takes the shooter's payment from "Ed". Next, "Steele" goes to "Morgan" and confronts him and is told "Ed" only wanted to scare "Harry" into remembering who was the boss. Once more "Ed Morgan" demands to know, if "Harry"has the stone and wants 50 percent of the Million Dollars the Sunburst is worth. One million 1954 dollars in 2019, as I write this article, is equal currently to nine million, four hundred and forty-four thousand, four hundred and ninety-six dollars.
Arriving in Cusco "Elena" takes her luggage, leaves the truck, but sees some police officers and immediately goes in another direction and starts to take back streets.
"Harry" is showing Cusco to his tourists and takes them into the museum. Four things will now happen.
First, "Elena" seeing other police officers and noticing the tourists entering the museum decides to follow the group. Second, "Harry" asks the assistant museum curator to take over the tour and he goes to a model of Machu Piccbu and pulls out the stone "Ed Morgan" was asking him about.
The third thing is that "Harry" spots "Elena" with her suitcase watching the door for the police, but even after their eyes meet. He doesn't say anything and walks away. The fourth is the assistant museum curator opening a safe and showing the tourists the small Sunburst and "Harry" relating the legend of the large Sunburst of solid gold covered in jewels.
Back in the hotel "Harry Steele" is sitting at the bar as "Elena" enters and asks about him. After being told he's in the bar area. She walks up to a man "Elena" thinks must be "Harry", but gets that straightened out, sarcastically, by the real "Harry Steele"..
"Elena" informs "Harry" that she needs his help to get to the United States. Just that idea is laughable to him and becomes even more so. When "Harry" discovers "Elena" has only $50 American to her name and no identify paperwork of any kind to cross the borders.
Things change when "Harry" discovers "Elena" might have been involved with a member of the Romanian consulate in Lima. A man who is attempting to get her to return to the Communist controlled county, but more important to "Harry" is that he has a airplane. The adventurer lets the refugee think he can at least get her to Mexico and arranges a hotel room. Next, "Harry" contacts the Romanian and says he wants a finders fee for locating "Elena", but really he wants the Romanian to fly down to Cusco. So he can steal his airplane and go after the Sunburst. "Elena" is just a means to an end, or so he thinks at the time.
At the airport "Harry" meets the Romanian "Anton Marcu", played by Leon Askin, and before he will tells "Marcu" were to find "Elena". "Harry" demands the reward the two discussed over the phone. In the Hotel's bar "Harry", "Elena" and "Anton" sit at a table drinking. "Marcu" is talking to "Elena" about returning with him to Lima and the dialogue gives the audience the impression there was more between them than is being said. "Harry" meanwhile keeps putting loaded drinks in front of "Marcu" to get him as drunk as possible.
After "Harry' has two of the hotel employees take the staggering "Marcu" to his room. He tells "Elena" that he expects her to get the airplane keys from "Marcu's" pants. She seems shocked, but he knows better and tells her the plane is the only way out of Cusco for "Elena". "Elena" asks what room "Anton's" in and is told the one next to hers.
A short time later "Elena" returns with the keys and "Harry" asks her for them. She refuses to turn them over and tells him the keys are her insurance to Mexico. The two head for the airport and there they must get around three armed guards.
In the above lobby card. "Harry" has told "Elena" he will create a distraction as she runs for the plane and opens the doors up. He throws something through a window and then runs, himself, from the guards towards the airplane. With "Harry Steele" at the controls and the guards following in a jeep shooting at them. The Communist Refugee and the Fortune Hunting Adventurer are now on their way to find the large jewel encrusted solid gold Sunburst of legend, if it actually exists.
"Elena" is surprised that with eight hours flying time of aviation gasoline "Harry" lands the plane. He explains the authorities will be looking for them and know their flying range. Adding that logic would dictate they're heading for Mexico and reminds "Elena" he had mentioned other business he needs to do. Again adding that she now needs to change clothes for a long walk, before they can return and fly to Mexico.
Now starts a trek through the jungle and up a mountainside to Machu Piccbu. They can't make it the same day and stop. It is here that the audience finally has a bit of a romantic interlude between "Harry" and "Elena". That cuts to the following morning, leaving, in typical 1950's style, what might have occurred between them to the minds of the audience.
When "Elena" and "Harry" finally reach the mountain peak and look down at Machu Piccbu.
"Harry" is shocked to see white tents and an obvious archaeological dig in progress. He immediately wants to get his and "Elena"s stories straight. "Harry" was hired by "Elena" to fly a plane, but they ran out of aviation gas and can they borrow some? Surprisingly, no one at the dig questions why they didn't have enough gas in the plane to go from one town to the next?
Once at the dig they immediately meet "Pachacutec" followed by "Stanley Mooorhead", introduce themselves and tell their story. The four are standing outside of the entrance to the tomb that legend says the large Sunburst is contained. The tomb is to be opened in two days and it is expected that hundreds of Peruvian locals will arrive the next day,
"Harry" inquirers of "Moorhead" isn't this the tomb the legendary Sunburst is suppose to be in? "Stanley" tells "Harry" he doesn't believe its real and is only a legend. While "Pachacutec", being Inca, thinks otherwise.
The two also meet "Moorhead's" assistant "Phillip Lang", played by William Henry, and "Colonel Emilio Cardoza" played by Edward Colmans. "Cardoza" represents the Peruvian Government at the dig and ads an interesting problem for "Harry Steele"..
"Elena" had cut herself on a jungle plant during the trek and "Moorhead" has her taken to the medical tent for first aide.Where "Elena" at first mistakes "Dr. Moorhead" as a medical doctor and is told he had a doctorate in archaeology. Treating the cut "Moorhead" is assisted by "Kori-Tika" who is the only one suspicious of the two's timely arrival.
After having her injury attended too. "Elena" is given an opportunity to take a bath and change her clothing. While "Harry" checks out the site and her.
During the night "Harry Steele" inspects the artifacts so far recovered and takes special notice of a copper disk shaped like a sun with a handle on it. The treasure hunter pockets it. He next meets "Elena" who obviously is falling in love with him and asks "Harry", if there might not be something he valued more than the Sunburst and treasure? "Harry" doesn't give her a straight answer and walks away.
While "Stanley Moorhead" not only thinks he's in love with "Elena", but asks her to marry him. He is her ticket to Boston and the United States, but "Elena" knows from "Stanley's" comments that he is really a lonely man and she is very exotic to him. So both "Stanley" and the audience learn a little of her history. From the time of setting up her escape from Romania to her arrival in Peru. "Elena" has done things only a women could do to get what she wanted and there are other things won't even mention. It doesn't bother "Moorhead" who wants her for his wife, but "Elena" wants "Harry". Even if he doesn't realize it yet.
The following morning the Peruvians start to arrive and mixed within the group is "Ed Morgan".
"Morgan" tells "Harry" he still wants in on the Sunburst, or he will reveal what the other is really after. "Harry" comes up with a story to explain "Morgan's" sudden appearance. Earlier he had removed a part of the only short wave radio in camp. "Harry" claims to have attempted to get a radio message out about needing aviation gasoline, but wasn't sure if it got through. Apparently "Ed" did receive it, but could not reply and brought it to the airplane's location. Where he spotted the other Incas heading for Machu Piccbu and surmised that "Harry" and "Elena"might have gone there.
The Incas, "Harry", "Elena" and "Ed" walk over to the entrance to the tomb. They are not permitted entrance at this time and wait as the other enter and find the mummy. Everyone else can now enter the unsealed tomb and "Harry" and "Ed" anxiously enter the burial chamber. .
Inside they discover a very large Sunburst on the main wall of the tomb, but its only carved out of stone. The legend of the gold and jeweled Sunburst apparently was nothing more than the legend "Dr. Stanley Moorhead" told "Harry Steele" it was.
That night the Peruvians celebrate the discovery of the King's mummy, if not the legendary Sunburst and "Kori-Tika" sings.
After everyone has gone to sleep and "Harry" hearing "Ed" snoring away, in the room they share, gets up and heads for the tomb. The audience, of course, knows "Morgan" has been faking sleep. "Harry" enters the tomb and starts searching the walls. He finds an indentation on one of the walls and the copper disk fits exactly in place causing a light to be thrown on another wall.
Below on the left is the map room scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" indicating the location of the "Ark of the Covenant". On the left the somewhat similarly lighted scene from "The Secret of the Incas" indicating the location of the Sunburst.
Going to the indicated wall "Harry Steele" locates a false front and the Sunburst.
After pulling the Sunburst out of the wall. "Harry" turns and is confronted by "Ed" holding a gun on him. "Morgan" grabs the Sunburst knocking "Harry" to the ground as others enter the tomb after hearing the commotion. "Morgan" has no qualms shooting them as he runs out of the tomb. "Ed Morgan" is now being pursued by "Harry Steele" and some other Inca men. While everyone else, including "Elena", believe "Harry" took the Sunburst.
"Morgan" is trapped on the edge of a cliff by "Steele", but he holds a revolver on "Harry". While "Ed" waxes nostalgically about being at the end of his life and wanting one big score. "Harry" takes the opportunity and makes a grab for the Sunburst causing "Ed Morgan" to fall over to his death.
To everyone's surprise "Harry Steele" brings back the Sunburst and hands it to "Pachacutec". Who goes out and on top of a hill holds it up for all the Incas assembled to see.
The film ends with "Harry" and "Elena" leaving Machu Piccbu together.
Did Steven Spielberg and George Lucas actually use 1954's "The Secret of the Incas", or was this pure coincidence ? Not according to costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis, the wife of producer and director John Landis, in a September 14, 2005 interview on the website "The Raider Net". She is quoted as saying:
We did watch this film together as a crew several times, and I always thought it strange that the filmmakers did not credit it later as the inspiration for the series.
In her mind "The Secret of the Incas" was
almost a shot for shot Raiders of the Lost ArkHaving the motion picture I know her last statement isn't completely accurate, but I have shown it to different people. Who have come to the conclusion that there is a lot of 1981's "Raiders of the Lost Ark" in 1954's "The Secret of the Incas".
On last point:
Paramount Pictures wanted to re-release "The Secret of the Incas" a month, or two before the premier of "Raiders of the Lost Ark", but it is said that both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas convinced them to keep the movie shelved. To my knowledge it has never been re-released to motion picture theaters.