Charlton Heston plays Harry Steele, who, as his name implies, is a very manly man. He’s a drinker, a swindler, and he loves to have fun with beautiful women. But he’s crazy to get out of Peru, and the opportunity comes when beautiful Romanian refugee Elena Antonescu (Nicole Maurey) is looking for help to get to the states before the government gets her. But Steele has a new plan, and that is go in search of the fabled Sunstone, a jeweled medallion that is said to be housed in the ruins of Machu Pichu. And so, Steele and Elena steal the plane to approach the famous city, but on the way they have some competition, including a group of honest arqueologists working for the government, and the greedy crime boss Morgan (Thomas Mitchell) who wants the stone for himself. Steele now has to decide what’s more important, stealing the medallion, or stealing the girl.
This movie is now more famous for being one of the main influences on Raiders of the Lost Ark, which it shows proudly. Heston’s attire is nearly identical to the one worn by Indiana Jones twenty-five years later, and a lot of the plot turns, and even genuine camera shots, were utilized in Raiders and the following films, particularly in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. But still, this movie doesn’t need to be compared to another for it to get the attention it deserves, as it’s a very well-made and well-acted action/adventure film that had a lot of innovative ideas at the time. Heston’s his usual tough guy mode, and seems very realistic in his greed and lust for treasure, unlike the many goody two-shoes most Hollywood movies of the time featured. His turn from greedy to good actually kind of makes sense, considering the reason which I won’t mention here, and it’s very commendable of Heston for pulling it off so naturally and realistic. I was also very happy to see Thomas Mitchell, one of my favorite character actors from the 30’s and 40’s (Stagecoach, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington) make an appearance as a bad guy, and he pulls it off very well. I loved his speech at the end about how age catches up with you eventually, like gravity.
There are some things I didn’t like however. For starters, Nicole Maurey is not a very good actress. Her Romanian accent sounds more like a convoluted French accent (she was a French actress) and has little interesting things to do other than being eye-candy for Heston to lust for. There is also a romantic triangle element that is introduced during the last hour of the film between Heston, Maurey, and the main archeologist that I found really interesting and compelling, I was a little sad that they didn’t develop more on it. But still, this is an excellent adventure/action film, with memorable characters. It might be over-shadowed by the movies it influenced in the future, but in my book, this is just as good.