Secret of the Incas – 1954

I want to disclose this right up front, aside from starring Charlton Heston, this Paramount Pictures production has a B movie feel: a very straight forward plot, directed by Jerry Hopper (who subsequently directed seven episodes of Gilligan’s Island) with an unknown female lead, Nicole Murray (who subsequently starred in nothing I’ve ever heard of).

That being said the movie was an inspiration for Raiders of the Lost Ark, was filmed on location in Machu Picchu (the Peruvian mountaintop citadel), includes a song by the incomparable Yma Sumac, does star Charlton Heston and was the last movie Robert Young ever made.       

The first time you see Heston as Harry Steele, you will immediately recognize the “Indiana Jones” outfit¹: brown leather jacket, fedora, tan pants, over-the-shoulder bag, and revolver (though Jones wears a stylishly smaller fedora and better tailored pants). He even shows some stubble, unusual for films of its time. Heston wears it all with little more cynicism and a lot more greed, but the resemblance is unmistakable. There is also a scene where the sun shows through a prism to indicate the location of the hidden treasure, a treasure hunter competitor and a Euro-accented bad guy.   

I was surprised to realize it was filmed on location in Cuzco and Machu Picchu in 1954, as I thought Hollywood movies were not filmed outside the US until the 60’s. Because this was well before the stampede of tourists, there is a travelogue element to the film, which enables you to see some very nice scenery, much of it spoiled by the succeeding 66 years. It should be required watching for anyone who plans to or has visited Machu Picchu.

You may be wondering who Yma Sumac² is and how to pronounce her name. Well I didn’t know either, either. She was a Peruvian coloratura soprano, international recording star and possessor of a four and half octave vocal range. She plays a very minor role in the movie, though displays that range in at least three “numbers”, one of which seems more like a night club act (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). When I first saw this movie, and heard her sing, I turned to my wife and said “obviously dubbed” and later found out I was wrong (once again). Oh, yeah, Yma is pronounced “E Ma”.    

When I was very young I wasn’t much of a Heston fan, but slowly my brother-in-law made me appreciate him. He has a leading man presence and the acting chops to back it up. I mean who else could play Moses, John the Baptist, Michelangelo, Cardinal Richelieu and Andrew Jackson and in each case make you believe? Thankfully he’s in almost every scene in this move, moving effortlessly between light action and one liners.       

Robert Young? I know what many of you are saying “Who the hell was Robert Young?”. Young subsequently became a major tv star in the late 50’s and this was the last movie he ever made. After watching his turn as an archeologist (don’t blink) you can understand why and will wish there was less Mr. Young and more Peruvian scenery (or Ms. Murray)

Bonus: During the opening scene, Heston’s character issues a one liner to none other than Mrs. C from Happy Days. Also the Romanian Consul is General Burkhalter from Hogan’s Heroes. All that and Uncle Billy too!    

Watch the movie Secret of the Incas free, courtesy of (and YouTube):

¹ To learn more than you ever wanted to know about the Indiana Jones outfit, click on this link.

² Known as the Peruvian Nightingale, her best and most famous song is Gopher. As a bonus I’ve linked this video of her on Letterman (so you can get the full Yma effect).

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