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Patrick Schoenmaker

Indiana Jones' Influences
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The Secret of the Incas

Released by Paramount Pictures - 1954

Directed by: Jerry Hopper
Story by: Boehm Maximum
Screenplay by: Sydney Boehm & Ranald MacDougall
Produced by: Mel Epstein

Charlton Heston .... Harry Steele
Robert Young .... Stanley Moorehead
Nicole Maurey .... Elena Antonescu
Thomas Mitchell .... Ed Morgan
Glenda Farrell .... Mrs. Winston
Michael Pate .... Pachacutec


If there is one movie that truly inspired Indiana Jones, look no further than Secret of the Incas. This low budget adventure romp has more right to that accolade than any other film or serial in the adventure genre. The film stars a young Charlton Heston as Harry Steele, a seedy fortune hunter who is determined to find the Sunburst, an ancient Inca treasure hidden somewhere in the bowels of the ruins of Machu Picchu.

Heston as Harry Steele.

Normally a swindling, womanizing tour guide in a local village, Steele finds his day to day trade thrown for a curve when an "old friend" named Morgan tells him that an archaeological expedition recently unearthed a stone map from the ruined city of Machu Picchu. Morgan tells Harry that a missing piece, which would point to the location of the legendary Sunburst, is broken from the artifact. Sometime in the past, Harry found that piece and Morgan and Harry both know it.

Morgan wants the solid gold Sunburst for personal gain, but Harry has his own plans as well. During a trip to the local museum, Harry places the stone fragment on the stone map and learns the location of the Sunburst. When a young woman comes into town seeking passage to the United States, Harry takes interest, for the man pursuing her has his own airplane. Harry makes a deal with the young woman, Elena, to help her get to the states in exchange for the keys to her pursuer's airplane.

Harry and Elena steal the airplane and fly to Machu Picchu where an archaeological dig is already underway for the tomb of the great king Manco. Harry plans to find and steal the Sunburst right out from under the archaeologists' noses but soon after they arrive, Morgan follows and Harry knows that Morgan will not stop until he has the Sunburst for himself, but when the diggers open the tomb, no Sunburst is found. What is the secret of the Incas?

While the film has a few plot holes and lacks the kinetic action of the Indiana Jones series, it is still a treat to watch because it really shows the roots of the Indiana Jones character. Harry Steele looks just like him, wearing a brown, felt fedora, leather jacket, and khakis and lugging a revolver around. Steele is a two-fisted, tough talking, man's man with a lantern jaw covered in stubble, much like Indy himself. Also, like Indy, Steele is looking for fortune and glory at all costs.

Steele using the light
reflection trick.

The film is also filled with small Indy-like moments. There are the seedy bars Steele frequents and the fringe characters he has to deal with, like Morgan. When Steele and Elena arrive in the Peruvian jungle, there is a great moment in which Harry breaks out a big yellow raft and they go floating down the river in a scene reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Soon after, they share a campfire in the jungle, much like Indy and Willie do in the aforementioned Temple of Doom. Upon arriving at the ruins, the Indiana Jones feeling comes out a bit more as they crawl around in tombs with an aura similar to the Well of Souls. At one point in the film, Harry even uses a light reflection trick to make a discovery, much like the Map Room scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

While the film lacks action, the atmosphere of the story is so similar that any Indiana Jones fan will be smitten with this film. Elena is a classic Indy-like heroine (and in this writer's humble opinion, twice as beautiful as all the Indiana Jones females combined) who cannot resist Harry's rough and ready demeanor. The big difference between Indy and Steele is the simple fact that Steele is not an archaeologist by any stretch of the imagination. Harry Steele is a grave robber, through and through, and has no qualms about finding and stealing the Sunburst if he can.

Notice Heston's fedora
& leather jacket.

On its own terms, the film is also quite enjoyable. As previously stated, the film has a more subdued pace without wild stunts and chases, but it makes up for it with nice character scenes and above average dialogue for a film of its type. In one notable scene, when Elena enters the local bar hoping to find the man named Harry Steele who she's heard can help her, she asks a young guy at the bar, "Is your name Harry Steele?" to which he replies, "No, but does it matter?" Two seats away, Harry looks over and responds, "Yeah, it matters because my name is Harry… And I'm bigger than you."

For me, there were more than a few such laughs in the film. There were also some holes that are not very problematic but noticeable. For example, why does the head archaeologist randomly propose to Elena? Where does Harry acquire a few choice artifacts in the film? Oh well, it's all in good fun so a few mistakes can be forgiven. Also, the ending is very much in the vein of Temple of Doom, which makes it a fun resolution to watch.

What cannot be forgiven is this film's complete lack of availability on any video format ever. Secret of the Incas has never been on video, laserdisc, or DVD. Once in a blue moon, some television station will pick it up for a late night slot, and a few years ago AMC played it for a few months. If you have TIVO, check for it every month on cable or satellite and hopefully you will be able to see it and tape it. The famous video store in Los Angeles, called Eddie Brandt's, has a very poor copy of it for rent, but the quality makes it unbearable to watch and listen to. Someone out there must have a good copy and for Indiana Jones fans, this is a "must-see" film. (MF)


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