Before Indiana Jones, there was Harry Steele, a rugged, charismatic, and fast-quipping treasure hunter with a thick strain of thievery in him. Charlton Heston stars as this handsome ne'er-do-well in Secret of the Incas ( 1954 ), Paramount's contribution to the jungle bonanza that swept Hollywood in the early 1950s.
Harry Steele has just one thing on his mind - getting his hands on the golden Sunburst, an Incan treasure. He works part-time as a tour guide in a small village in Peru, biding his time till a plane arrives en route anywhere out of that village.
That day comes when Elena Antonescu ( Nicole Maurey ) sets foot in town. Elena left Romania illegally and currently has two immigration officials on her tail....they happen to arrive with a small plane. Along with the curvaceous red-head, Harry steals the plane and then sets off for Machu Pichu to search for the legendary Sunburst, a huge golden disc long thought to have been stolen by ancient grave robbers.
Secret of the Incas was the direct inspiration for George Lucas' Indiana Jones trilogy, and it's no wonder, the film combines all of the elements of an ideal adventure flick : a tough-talking hero, a witty script, and loads of exotic atmosphere....in this case, Incan atmosphere. Lucas even borrowed Harry's signature weathered leather jacket and wrinkled hat.
The film also boasts a strong cast which includes Robert Young as a compassionate archaeologist, Glenda Farrell as a married hussy, and Yma Sumac, the Amazonian songbird. Sumac toured throughout the world during the 1940s and 1950s but rarely appeared in films. In her debut, she demonstrates her remarkable five-octave vocal range in three native-inspired numbers. Thomas Mitchell is also marvelous ( when is he not? ) as shyster Morgan.
Like most jungle films of the 1950s, Secret of the Incas has its fair share of corny dialogue and cheap sets, but, nevertheless, it is high in entertainment value. Charlton Heston is especially appealing as the unscrupulous fortune hunter, a role that only he could play so well. It's a pity that another Harry Steele adventure did not follow.