Secret of the Incas


Secret of the Incas is a 1954 American adventure film directed by Jerry Hopper and starring Charlton Heston as adventurer Harry Steele, on the trail of an ancient Incan artifact. Shot on location at Machu Picchu in Peru, the film is often credited as the inspiration for Raiders of the Lost Ark. The supporting cast features Robert Young, Nicole Maurey and Thomas Mitchell, as well as a rare film appearance by Peruvian singer Yma Sumac.

Secret of the Incas
Secret of the Incas 1954.jpg
Film poster
Directed byJerry Hopper
Written bySydney Boehm
Ranald MacDougall
Based onThe Legend of the Incas by Sydney Boehm
Produced byMel Epstein
StarringCharlton Heston
Robert Young
Nicole Maurey
Thomas Mitchell
CinematographyLionel Lindon
Irma Roberts
Edited byEda Warren
Music byDavid Buttolph
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • June 6, 1954 (1954-06-06)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States


American adventurer Harry Steele (Charlton Heston) earns a living as a tourist guide in Cusco, Peru but plans to make his fortune by finding the Sunburst, an Inca treasure. He possesses an ancient carved stone which gives the location of the Sunburst but has no means to travel there. He is also menaced by his dubious associate Ed Morgan (Thomas Mitchell) who wants the treasure for himself and tries to have Harry killed.

When Romanian defector Elena Antonescu (Nicole Maurey) arrives, Harry apparently agrees to help her travel to Mexico so she can then get to America, but in reality he uses her situation to his own advantage. Together with Elena, he steals a plane used by a Romanian official who is attempting to get Elena to return and uses it to fly to Machu Picchu.

There he discovers an archaeological expedition headed by Dr Stanley Moorehead (Robert Young), who is preparing to enter the tomb where the Sunburst is said to be located. Moorehead becomes infatuated with Elena, while Morgan arrives and coerces Harry into helping him find the treasure. While Morgan is asleep, Harry slips away and enters the tomb, locating the Sunburst hidden inside a hollow pillar.

Morgan then appears and grabs the Sunburst at gunpoint before shooting his way out of the temple while being pursued by Harry and a group of locals. Trapping Morgan on a cliff edge, Harry gets the Sunburst back while Morgan falls to his death. Rather than take it for himself, he gives the Sunburst back to the local Indians who believe it must be returned to the temple.



The film was originally known as Legend of the Incas. Paramount announced it as part of their 1953 slate in July 1952.[1] Adventure films set outside America were popular in Hollywood at the time; producer Mel Epstein says that Paramount decided to make this film mostly because there had not been one shot in Peru before.[2]

Wendell Corey was originally announced as the leading star.[3] In July 1953 Paramount took over Hal B. Wallis' contract with Charlton Heston and announced he would make the film after he finished The Naked Jungle.[4]

Secret of the Incas was filmed on location in Peru at Cuzco and Machu Picchu, the first time that a major Hollywood studio filmed at this archeological site. A sixteen-person unit, including Heston, producer Mel Epstein and director Jerry Hopper, spent a month filming footage in Peru in 1953.[5]

Five hundred indigenous people were used as extras.[5][6]

The film also featured the Peruvian singer Yma Sumac as Kori-Tica.[7]

The female lead was to have been played by Viveca Lindfors. However, after the positive response to Nicole Maurey's performance in Little Boy Lost Paramount gave her the role.[8] Thomas Mitchell was signed to play the villain.[9]

Studio filming started in October 1953.[10] Shortly beforehand, Wendell Corey dropped out of the film.[11] He was replaced by Robert Young.[12] Filming ended on 22 November.[13]

The film caused a surge in tourism to Peru in 1954.[citation needed]

Influence on Raiders of the Lost ArkEdit

Charlton Heston and Nicole Maurey

The film is often cited by film buffs as a direct inspiration for the Indiana Jones film franchise, with many of the scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark bearing a striking resemblance in tone and structure to scenes in Secret of the Incas. Throughout Secret of the Incas, the main character, Harry Steele, can be seen wearing what would later become known as the "Indiana Jones" outfit: brown leather jacket, fedora, tan pants, an over-the-shoulder bag, and revolver.[14] The character also sometimes wears a light beard, unusual for films of its time, and there is a tomb scene involving a revelatory shaft of light similar to the "Map Room" sequence in Raiders.

Raiders' costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis noted that the inspiration for Indiana's costume was Charlton Heston's Harry Steele in Secret of the Incas: "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" and quipped that the film is "almost a shot for shot Raiders of the Lost Ark."[15]

Other mediaEdit

On December 14, 1954, Charlton Heston and Nicole Maurey reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theater version of Secret of the Incas.[16]


  1. ^ "Paramount to produce 25 films in 1953". Los Angeles Times. July 30, 1952. ProQuest 166376500.
  2. ^ D. M. Richard (December 8, 1953). "Filming inca story in peru". The Christian Science Monitor. ProQuest 508902654.
  3. ^ Thomas M. Pryor (June 5, 1953). "4 Stars Get Roles in New Metro Film". The New York Times. ProQuest 112818821.
  4. ^ Thomas M. Pryor (July 3, 1953). "March to Appear in Big Metro Film". The New York Times. ProQuest 112782294.
  5. ^ a b WILLIAM, H. B.,Jr. (July 12, 1953). "HOLLYWOOD DIGEST". New York Times. ProQuest 112572771.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Production Notes – Secret Of The Incas @ TCM Database Archived June 6, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Thomas M. Pryor (August 7, 1953). "Metro to Stress Big-Budget Films". The New York Times. ProQuest 112623629.
  8. ^ Thomas M. Pryor (September 25, 1953). "Nicolle Maurey Set to Star in Movie". The New York Times. ProQuest 112763659.
  9. ^ Thomas M. Pryor (October 17, 1953). "Gary Cooper Takes 'Vera Cuz' Role". The New York Times. ProQuest 112752229.
  10. ^ E. Schallert (August 4, 1953). "Mason again to star for mankiewicz; model scripts for rossellini". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 166529265.
  11. ^ Thomas M. Pryor (October 23, 1953). "Warners Adopts Fox Film Process". The New York Times. ProQuest 112744637.
  12. ^ E. Schallert (October 26, 1953). "Drama". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 166512293.
  13. ^ Thomas M. Pryor (November 21, 1953). "Columbia Musical Ready for Camera". The New York Times. ProQuest 112739405.
  14. ^ "The Secret of the Incas". Archived from the original on August 24, 2006.
  15. ^ Mike French & Gilles Verschuere (September 14, 2005). "Debora Nadoolman interview". Archived from the original on March 27, 2014. Retrieved April 7, 2008.
  16. ^ "Secret of the Incas". Lux Radio Theater. December 14, 1954 – via Internet Archive.

External linksEdit

  • Secret Of The Incas at IMDb
  • Secret Of The Incas at the TCM Movie Database
  • Secret of the Incas at the British Film Institute
  • Review @ TheRaider.Net
  • "Indiana Heston" by Brian Mosely – Times-Gazette – Shelbyville, Tennessee – Posted Sunday, April 27, 2008, at 5:03 PM
  • "Charlton Heston: The First Indiana Jones?" by Richard von Busack – – Posted April 8, 2008 12:32 PM