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Blu-Ray : Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: February 28th, 2023 Movie Release Year: 1954

Secret of the Incas [KLSC]

Overview -

The KLSC release of Secret of the Incas outclasses its Imprint counterpart, thanks to a gorgeous remastered transfer struck from a 4K scan of the original 35mm YCMs. A precursor to Raiders of the Lost Ark, this exotic but somewhat labored Peruvian adventure that features an Indiana Jones doppelgänger offers Charlton Heston ample opportunity to strut his macho stuff as he searches for a coveted Incan relic. Solid audio and an informative commentary track also enhance Kino's top-notch Blu-ray presentation of this rare classic. Recommended.

Screen legend Charlton Heston (Touch of Evil, The Big Country) stars as rugged adventurer Harry Steele in Secret of the Incas, a thrilling action yarn breathtakingly shot at Machu Picchu. Harry earns his living as a tour guide in the jungles of Peru, but plans to make his fortune by finding the Sunburst, an ancient Incan treasure that holds an awesome power. On his perilous quest, he comes across cutthroat Ed Morgan (Thomas Mitchell, Alias Nick Beal), archeologist Stanley Moorehead (Robert Young, Western Union) and beautiful Romanian refugee Elena Antonescu (Nicole Maurey, The Day of the Triffids). Directed by Jerry Hopper (Pony Express, Naked Alibi) and featuring a rare film appearance by Peruvian-American singer Yma Sumac, Secret of the Incas is a colorful, rip-roaring and romance-filled adventure often cited as a key source of inspiration for the Indiana Jones series.

• Remastered in HD by Paramount Pictures – From a 4K Scan of the 35mm Original Camera Negative
NEW Audio Commentary by Film Historian Toby Roan
• Trailers
• Limited Edition O-Card Slipcase (Blu-ray)
• Optional English Subtitles

OVERALL:
Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Blu-ray Disc
Video Resolution/Codec:
B & W
Length:
100
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.85:1
Audio Formats:
English: DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono
Subtitles/Captions:
English SDH
Special Features:
Audio Commentary by film historian Toby Roan
Release Date:
February 28th, 2023

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

If adventure has a name, it's...Harry Steele? Though it sounds macho, the name somehow lacks the cachet of Indiana Jones, but in his leather jacket and fedora hat actor Charlton Heston gives Harrison Ford a run for his money as an intrepid explorer searching for a valuable relic in Secret of the Incas. Director Jerry Hopper's exotic yarn can't compete with Steven Spielberg's thrill-a-minute blockbuster Raiders of the Lost Ark, but extensive location shooting in Peru, lush Technicolor photography, and Heston's cocksure bravado make this South American treasure hunt a fun cinematic journey.

"Money sings and I love music," says Harry, an opportunistic guide who shepherds wide-eyed, naive American tourists around Cuzco, Peru. Harry uses his scruffy good looks and tough-guy charm to milk tips from his smitten female clients, but that's peanuts compared to a much bigger prize that captures his fancy. Legend has it an ancient, bejeweled gold sunburst is hidden in an Incan tomb at Machu Picchu, and the bedazzled Harry salivates at the prospect of finding it. So, too, does his aged associate Ed Morgan (Thomas Mitchell), who will stop at nothing to get his hands on the sacred relic.

KLSC

Imprint

Without transport to reach the remote ruins, Harry takes advantage of the desperate plight of Elena Antonescu (Nicole Maurey), a Romanian defector who's being doggedly pursued by Communist officials from her native country. Harry enlists her help in stealing a plane by dangling the promise of flying her to Mexico, but once in the air, he heads toward Machu Picchu. After an exhausting journey to the site (that's punctuated by an amorous tryst), the pair comes upon an archeological expedition led by Dr. Stanley Moorehead (Robert Young), who also hopes to find the sunburst and return it to the Incan people, who believe its powerful aura will spark a tribal renaissance. Elena catches Dr. Moorehead's eye and romantic intrigue ensues, but will Harry choose riches over his beautiful traveling partner? And will the ruthless Morgan, who also turns up on the scene, foil everyone's chance to unearth the precious sunburst?

KLSC

Imprint

On paper, the plot teems with action, but there are surprisingly few thrills on film. Risqué dialogue, native pageantry, and rugged locales fuel Secret of the Incas, but aside from a couple of brief tussles, the movie is fairly tame. Tensions don't amp up until the climax, which surely inspired a scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Watching Secret of the Incas from a post-Indy perspective, it's tough not to rue what seems like wasted potential, but back in the mid-1950s the Peruvian locations and culture were exotic enough to satisfy audiences who could only dream of visiting such faraway places.

And speaking of exotic, no discussion of Secret of the Incas is complete without mentioning Peruvian native Yma Sumac, a famous singer of the day who possessed a multi-octave range that rivals that of pop diva Mariah Carey. Sumac makes her film debut here as a sultry assistant to Dr. Moorehead and performs a couple of Peruvian songs that showcase her unique talent. The numbers stop the show (not always in a good way), but Sumac is fascinating to watch and lends the drama essential authenticity.

Heston carries the film on his broad shoulders and his spirited portrayal keeps us involved when the plot sputters and stalls. If Secret of the Incas had earned more at the box office, I wonder if more films featuring Harry Steele might have been produced, as he's the type of character that certainly could have been dropped into a number of adventure-filled scenarios across the globe. Heston and Maurey create some sparks, but a spunkier, sassier leading lady (Virginia Mayo, perhaps?) might have added more combustion to the tale.

KLSC

Imprint

The strong supporting cast also perks up the proceedings. In what would be his final feature film role before turning his focus to TV, Young makes a believable - if bland - archaeologist, but the far more colorful Mitchell outshines him as the unshaven, rumpled, yet ruthless Morgan. Glenda Farrell, who wisecracked her way through countless snappy Warner Bros films in the 1930s, delivers some zingers as a middle-aged matron with a roving eye, and 1970s sitcom fans will surely spot 25-year-old Marion Ross (the mom from Happy Days) in the opening scene as a prim tourist who quietly pines for Harry.

A few soundstage inserts notwithstanding, Secret of the Incas thrusts us into the wilds of Peru and ancient culture of the Incas and remains an entertaining diversion. The Indiana Jones connections pique interest, but if you're expecting a prologue to the popular franchise, you'll be disappointed. Aside from Harry's outfit and one key scene, Secret of the Incas - for better or worse - stands on its own. It's far from the best adventure flick, but it's also far from the worst.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The KLSC edition of Secret of the Incas arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case inside a sleeve with different cover art. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.

Video Review

Ranking:

According to the packaging, the KLSC edition of Secret of the Incas was "remastered in HD by Paramount Pictures from a 4K scan of the 35mm YCMs [yellow, cyan, magenta]." The resulting 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is a thing of beauty and looks vastly different from the recent Imprint Blu-ray transfer, which also came from Paramount. (The Imprint packaging, however, does not mention any remastering.) Though both KLSC and Imprint seem to use the same source material, the KLSC version benefits from significant clean-up that has removed some - but not all - of the marks, color blotches, and scratches that also appear - to a far greater degree - on the Imprint transfer. Most importantly, the KLSC disc corrects the nagging fuzziness that diffuse many shots on the Imprint release. In my review of the Imprint transfer, I likened the blurriness to "watching a 3D movie without glasses." Thankfully, none of that occurs on the KLSC transfer.

The differences don't end there. The bitrate on the KLSC disc hovers around 38 mbps, while the Imprint bitrate fluctuates constantly but settles in at around 33 mbps. The KLSC image is noticeably brighter and crisper, the grain is better resolved (without sacrificing the lovely film-like feel), and details are better defined. The Technicolor hues are less vibrant, but the colors on the KLSC disc look more authentic. They're still lush and vivid, but they don't scream Technicolor like they do on the Imprint release. The blacks and whites here rival those on the Imprint disc, but the brighter KLSC picture improves shadow delineation and alleviates crush.

Overall, the entire KLSC presentation looks more natural and is more pleasing to the eye than its Imprint counterpart. If you're a fan of Secrets of the Incas and already purchased the Imprint disc, I highly recommend making the double dip. The KLSC video transfer is that much better. In my Imprint video review I mentioned the upcoming KLSC release and surmised "the best home video version of the film may be yet to come." Well, it's arrived.

KLSC

Imprint

KLSC

Imprint

Audio Review

Ranking:

The 2.0 mono audio track seems to be identical to the one on the Imprint disc, except here it's presented in DTS-HD Master Audio instead of LPCM. Here's what I wrote about it in my Imprint review:

"The...2.0 mono track pumps out clear, well-modulated sound, although a few pops and a bit of crackle do occasionally crop up. A wide dynamic scale handles all the soaring highs and guttural lows of Yma Sumac's multi-octave vocals without any distortion, and good fidelity helps David Buttolph's music score fill the room with ease. Sonic accents like gunfire, shattering glass, and the rumble of airplane engines are distinct and all the dialogue is well prioritized and easy to comprehend. Considering Secret of the Incas has been largely AWOL over the past several decades, this track sounds surprisingly spry and nicely complements the visuals."

Special Features

Ranking:

Aside from a few trailers for other KLSC releases, the only extra is an audio commentary by film historian Toby Roan. Though informative, Roan's discussion is little more than a litany of cast and crew bios. He sprinkles in some interesting trivial tidbits, gives Marion Ross her proper due (she was ignored in the Imprint commentary track), and provides a brief history of Machu Picchu. About an hour or so in, Roan shares what little is known about the film's production and quotes from some contemporary reviews, and toward the end of the track he relates Secret of the Incas to the Indiana Jones movies. Roan runs out of steam about 10 minutes before the movie ends, but I give him credit for signing off rather than rambling aimlessly and going off on irrelevant tangents like many other commentaries. A couple of odd audio dropouts disrupt the track early on, but the instances last only a second or two and don't disrupt the discussion's flow.

KLSC

Imprint

Note: None of the extras from the Imprint release, which include a different audio commentary, a video essay, a vintage radio adaptation with Heston and Maurey, and a photo gallery, appear on the KLSC release.

Final Thoughts

If you didn't import Secret of the Incas from Australia - and even if you did - you'll definitely want pick up KLSC's excellent release of this exotic adventure film that's notable for its rugged Peruvian locations and a cocky, macho performance by a young Charlton Heston. The remastered HD transfer struck from a 4K scan of the 35mm YCMs outclasses the Imprint transfer by a wide margin, making this edition the one every fan of Secret of the Incas should add to their collection. Recommended.