Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Overlooked Movies -- Secret of the Incas

Secret of the Incas is best known for being the movie Stephen Spielberg lifted a few things from for Raiders of the Lost Ark.  There is no trailer available, so I posted a clip of one scene below.  It's a big SPOILER, though.

Charlton Heston plays Harry Steele, a thoroughgoing heel and opportunist who's stuck in Cuzco, Peru.  He wants to steal a plane and get out, but only as soon as he can steal the Sunburst, and Incan artifact that's made of solid gold and embedded with 119 diamonds and 243 other jewels.  I think I have those numbers right.  Anyway, some of you may be wondering where the Incas got diamonds and other jewels.  Don't ask me.  I can't tell you.

Ed Morgan (Thomas Mitchell) also wants the Sunburst, but only Steele knows the location (it's hidden at Machu Picchu).  The beautiful Elena Antonescu (Nicole Maurey) shows up looking for a way to get to the U.S.  She has quite a shady past, and only Steele can provide the letters of transport.  Okay, I made that part up.  Steele can provide the plane to get her there because he's going to steal one.  Which he does, but they don't go to the U.S.  They go to Machu Picchu, where Stanley Moorehead (Robert Young) is conducting an archaeolgical dig.  He's looking for artifacts, including the Sunburst, which he'll give to the Incas' descendants to restore their power.  

The action, such as it is, is interrupted at this point for several songs by Yma Sumac, who was a recording sensation in the early '50s because of her incredible vocal range (over four octaves).  You might find that a little to her singing goes a long way.  Here's a sample of a totally authentic Incan song from the movie, along with a lot of totally authentic Incan descendants.

Steele does get his hands on the Sunburst, but because [SPOILER ALERT] he's fallen for Elena and because of Morgan's greed, he has a change of heart and gives it to the Incas.  This is about as believable in the movie as it sounds here [END OF SPOILER ALERT].

The acting isn't bad.  Maurey is not just a pretty face, and Heston is a convincing cad and bounder.  Unfortunately there's a scene between Young and Maurey that's just downright embarrassing, worse than anything George Lucas ever wrote for anybody.  There's almost no action.  For an adventure film, this one is static, and the final confrontation between Steele and Morgan is pathetic.  There's some redeeming snappy patter early in the movie, however, when Steele chats up some tourists, including Mrs. Winston (Glenda Farrell).  The double entendres went right over my head when I first saw the movie (I was just a kid), and they seem a bit racy for 1954.

The real star of the picture is Machu Picchu.    The movie was shot on location before the site was overrun by tourists, and the scenery is great.  I saw this on the big screen back in 1954, and the only things I remembered were the shots of Machu Picchu, which instilled in me a great desire to go there one day (and I did), and the scenes with Yma Sumac, which instilled in me the desire not to hear much of her singing again (and I didn't).

You can watch the whole movie here if you think you might get a retro kick out of it.


Deb said...

There was an urban myth that Yma Sumac was really a gal from Brooklyn named Amy Camus. My aunt used to have some of her records and you're right--a little goes a long, long way.

Jeff Meyerson said...

If only you'd been wearing a leather jacket you could have lined the three pictures up together.

All I remember of this is the same as you - Macchu Picchu and the horrendous singing of Yma Sumac. About a minute of that is enough.

I've always tended to get this mixed up with Chuck Heston's other 1954 film, the classic THE NAKED JUNGLE. Too bad this didn't have a river of army ants devouring Yma Sumac.

Unknown said...

Back in '54, I liked THE NAKED JUNGLE a lot better than this one.

Jeff Meyerson said...

I still do, from what I can remember of them, though I've seen JUNGLE a lot more recently than this one.

Jerry House said...

Poor Yma Sumac and her teeth-grating singing! Back when Kitty and I were house managers for an Equity theater, we had one play that opened with a recording of Yma's singing. For. Every. Damned. Performance. And, yes, teeth were grated for that entire run.

Unknown said...

Kind of makes one long for something by Britney Spears, right?

Mike Stamm said...

Nope. I *like* Yma Sumac--albeit in smallish, infrequent doses; my dad had an album of her 78s from the early '50s, and I have one LP and a CD. The percussion is what makes them so listenable (for me). Whereas I wouldn't listen to Britney Spears at gunpoint.

The movie was OK, but about a tenth as active as it should have been; Spielberg's debt to it is glaringly obvious. There's also a series of '50s paperbacks--only 2 or 3 titles, I think--about an adventurer known as Morocco Jones, who may've added something to the stew.

Unknown said...

I've read a couple of the Morocco Jones books. Maybe the title added something, but I don't think much else did.

James Byrne said...

Hi Bill.

I like the fact that you saw SECRET OF THE INCAS as a child and the scenic locations inspired you to travel to Peru and see Cuzco and Machu Picchu. I saw the movie when I was ten years old in 1963 at my local flea pit and the movie blew my mind. 40 years later I trekked to Machu Picchu, because of the movies great influence on me. I run a website on SECRET OF THE INCAS and I now know of eleven people that walked the Inca Trail, just because they saw this old Heston flick.

Unknown said...

My brother went to Peru the year before I did, and he walked the Inca trail. I took the train.