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Indiana Heston

Posted Sunday, April 27, 2008, at 5:03 PM

Charlton Heston as Harry Steele in the 1954 film "Secret of the Incas," who has more than a few things in common with a popular film icon that will be returning to a theater near you next month.
The recent passing of film legend Charlton Heston has had many a movie enthusiast mourning this loss. From the parting of the Red Sea, to chariot races, to finding the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, Heston played a wide variety of classic cinematic roles.

Including Indiana Jones.

Wait. Harrison Ford is returning next month to the classic role, right? Well, yes he is, but way before that, before Heston told Yul Brenner to let his people go, there was the1954 Paramount film entitled "Secret of the Incas," which has more than a few similarities to "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

In fact, after watching the unknown film for the first time this weekend, I believe George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have a bit of explaining to do when it comes to fully attributing the inspiration of the Indiana Jones character.

The film stars Heston, who plays square-jawed Harry Steele, a womanizing con artist getting by as a tour guide in the historic areas of Peru, that is, when he's not treasure hunting. He's been looking for the legendary diamond encrusted, solid gold Sunburst hidden in the ruins of Machu Picchu for years, but has had no success, until events begin to go his way.

So why do I say that Spielberg and Lucas lifted the character from this forgotten low budget film and turned him into the daring archaeologist we all know?

Because Steele looks exactly like Indiana Jones. And I mean an absolute spitting image of the film icon.

In fact, according to Wikipedia, the costume designer for "Raiders" said that the inspiration for Jones was Harry Steele.

"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."

So do I.

Not only that, he's the only one possessing the crucial piece needed to find the location of the priceless Inca Sunburst. And for a swindling ladies man, he certainly knows quite a bit about South American archeology. The similarities to Indiana Jones doesn't end there. To figure out the location of the sacred artifact, he uses the old reflecting light trick seen in "Raiders" when Indiana is looking for the Well of Lost Souls, to find the treasure.

The film was released by Paramount and I find it quite interesting that this movie isn't available from the studio that released the Indiana Jones series, or for that matter, through your regular on-line retail outlets like Amazon. Or anywhere else. In fact, the copy I just got, which is a fine print of this lost film, is an obviously homemade DVD, and it took a while for this film buff to track down.

If I were a raving conspiracy theorist, I'd suggest that Lucas and Spielberg had the studio bury this vintage film so that movie buffs would never know where they got the idea for the adventure-seeking archaeologist that made them millions.

But that's just silly. They wouldn't do that. It's just a bunch of coincidences, right? That would be like saying "Star Wars" and its style was really based on a samurai film from the 1950's. What was I thinking...

In any case, I'm looking forward to watching the latest Indiana Jones film in May. But, I'm going to be checking the credits for a special thanks to Charlton, too. I hope I see it.

Let's give credit where credit is due.

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The link to my site on SECRET OF THE INCAS has changed. You can now view my site on this great precursor to Indiana Jones at :


-- Posted by James Byrne on Tue, Sep 9, 2008, at 4:54 AM

I just watched Willow (another George Lucas movie) again for the first time since I was a kid, and it seemed to be a copy of the Hobbit series. I love all of the Lucas movies, but he is seeming to come across a little unoriginal.

-- Posted by greasemonkey on Wed, Apr 30, 2008, at 8:12 PM

Charlton Heston was indeed the definitive Indiana Jones prototype in SECRET OF THE INCAS. I saw this wonderful adventure movie as a kid and it inspired me to travel to Peru last year to explore all the locations shown in the movie, like Machu Picchu and Cuzco. I had the greatest two weeks of my life in Peru ... thanks to SECRET OF THE INCAS. Charlton Heston was also amazingly similar to Indiana Jones in the terrific circus epic THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, coincidently Spielberg's favourite movie as a child. I have devoted a site to SECRET OF THE INCAS, where you can compare Heston's Harry Steele to Spielberg's Indiana Jones.


-- Posted by James Byrne on Tue, Apr 29, 2008, at 4:19 AM


We owe a lot to the old pulp characters.

Often,we create new riffs on ancient stories without realizing that the conventions and cliches we love were once original and fresh when introduced years ago.

If not for remakes,revivals and pastiches,a younger generation might never know of the plots,the characters or the people who brought them to life.

Frank Reade,Jack Armstrong,Johhny Brainerd,Bulldog Drummond and others of their eras gave birth to Tom Swift and Johnny Quest as surely as Horatio Hornblower begat James Tiberius Kirk and Modesty Blaise gave birth to Sidney Bristow.

Whether we enjoy Henry Jones' baby boy,that Bond fellow,Emma Peel,the Maverick Brothers or Jessica Fletcher,we need to thank Steele (and Heston),Miss Marple,Raffles,Honey West and all the others who started those genres.

-- Posted by quantumcat on Sun, Apr 27, 2008, at 6:06 PM

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Brian Mosely is a staff writer for the Times-Gazette.
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