Secret of the Incas

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Secret of the Incas
Movie poster
Directed by Jerry Hopper
Produced by Mel Epstein
Hal B. Wallis
Written by Sydney Boehm
Ranald MacDougall
Starring Charlton Heston
Robert Young
Nicole Maurey
Thomas Mitchell
Music by David Buttolph
Cinematography Lionel Lindon
Irma Roberts
Edited by Eda Warren
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
  • June 6, 1954 (1954-06-06)
Running time
98 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Secret of the Incas is a 1954 adventure film 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.


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) 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. Harry and Elena then depart, apparently for Ecuador.



Secret of the Incas was filmed by Paramount Pictures on location in Peru at Cuzco and Machu Picchu, the first time that a major Hollywood studio filmed at this archeological site. Five hundred indigenous people were used as extras in the film.[1] The film also featured the Peruvian singer Yma Sumac as Kori-Tica. The film caused a surge in tourism to Peru in 1954.

Influence on Raiders of the Lost Ark[edit]

Charlton Heston and Nicole Maurey

The film is often cited by film buffs as a direct inspiration for the Indiana Jones franchise of films, with many of the scenes in Secret of the Incas bearing a striking resemblance in tone and structure to scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Throughout Secret of the Incas, the main character, Harry Steele, can be seen wearing the "Indiana Jones" outfit: brown leather jacket, fedora, tan pants, an over-the-shoulder bag, and revolver.[2] 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."[3]

Other media[edit]

On December 14, 1954, Charlton Heston and Nicole Maurey reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theater version of Secret of the Incas.[1]


  1. ^ a b Production Notes - Secret Of The Incas @ TCM Database Archived June 6, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ Review @ TheRaider.Net Archived August 24, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^ Mike French & Gilles Verschuere (September 14, 2005). "Debora Nadoolman interview". Archived from the original on March 27, 2014. Retrieved April 7, 2008. 

External links[edit]