Like many, I'm sure, I read 5 Famous Movies That Shamelessly Ripped Off Obscure Ones by Robin Warder this week, and like most of those who did, I determined that I needed to see Secret of the Incas by Jerry Hopper, the 1954 adventure movie starring Charlton Heston that the article states was a significant influence on Raiders of the Lost Ark.
By the way, Roderick Heath has begun a series on adventure movies, The Days of High Adventure: A Journey through Adventure Film, with a review of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's quite fascinating and look forward to getting a chance to read where he goes with this series.
I was surprised to read about Secret of the Incas at this late date. It's rare that I run into a revelation (or accusation) regarding a movie as major as Raiders of the Lost Ark, so this was tantalizing and exciting. Not only that, it had Charlton Heston as Harry Steele, the Indiana Jones prototype who, the article claims, is even more cynical. I immediately determined this was something I'd have to lay my hands on.
It turned out this wasn't really as major a challenge as I expected. The movie is on Netflix Instant. It's one of a surprisingly large group of '50s treasure hunting movies, almost none of which are on video at all, that are available on Netflix Instant. I'd already had a number of them in my Instant Queue, and watched the very entertaining Jivaro with Fernando Lamas, Rhonda Fleming and Brian Keith.
I paused midway through to make this post on Facebook. My friend Mario Gauci linked this review in response. It reads, "Despite the intriguing title, this is a tedious potboiler with very little to commend it save the evocative Peruvian locations."
For me, I've got to say I liked it a bit more. Am I simply more forgiving as someone who already had a number of movies of this sort in my queue? That seems fair enough.
The key here, for me, is Heston. In the article, Warder lists the softening of Indiana Jones compared to Heston's Harry Steele as one of the way Raiders of the Lost Ark improved on Secret of the Incas. I can't agree a bit... and I love Indiana Jones!
Yeah, it's strangely enough a movie that's more fun to watch as the story and players are set in motion, which takes nearly half the running time, than it is to watch what happens. I'm not sure if that's an issue of budget or imagination, although there's some pacing issues there either way, but it definitely weakens past the halfway mark.
That said, I could watch Harry Steele for hours, and Heston's seeming joy playing him only makes it more of a delight. I can definitely see how he would stand out in the minds of young George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and pop back again decades later. It's just that cool.
UPDATE: Since writing this, I was contacted by James Byrne, who maintains this site dedicated to Secret of the Incas. It's a really terrific site, so I have changed the relevant links for information from the Wikipedia page to his site. I hope everyone whose curiosity has been piqued will take the time to check it out.