The movie starts out telling all the wonderful things the Mayans accomplished in the arts and sciences. But in the most important part of their life, the worship of their gods, they remained primitive. Their gods demanded blood. Human sacrifice was a keystone of their religion.
The movie says that they lived at peace for centuries but then conquerors from the west, led by the cruel Hunac Ceel, came with metal swords. In the movie the good Mayans, led by Balam (played by George Chakiris from West Side Story), flee to the Mississippi River Valley and try to establish a new civilization there. They weave, clear land, build houses, fences, stoves, stone walls, irrigate the land and even a build a pyramid.
The local Indian chief, Chief Black Eagle (played by Yul Brynner), finds one of their boats and is worried. He decides to find them and bring one back to camp, so they can learn about them. Instead it is the Mayans who capture Black Eagle, who probably should have been called Bald Eagle. He is to be their next sacrifice. Chief Black Eagle falls for Balam's girl, but is devastated when he finds out he is to be sacrificed.
Black Eagle ascends the pyramid to meet his doom and the Mayans ask him to carry a message to their gods. Black Eagle makes a speech and Balam cancels the sacrifice, asking Black Eagle to carry a message of peace to his people. The priest is not happy and sacrifices himself. Black Eagle and his people agree that there is to be peace. Black Eagle and Balam fight over the girl, the girl chooses Balam, and the tribes go their own separate ways.
When Hunac Ceel arrives in pursuit, Black Eagle and his men return to join with Balam. It's wood vs. metal, but the good Mayans the Indians arrive and turn the tide for the good guys. Balam and Hunac Ceel duel on top of the pyramid and Balam kills Hunac Ceel. But Black Eagle has been mortally wounded in the battle, sacrificing himself for the invading Mayans.
This movie was filmed on beautiful locations at Chichén Itzá and the Yucatán penisula and the movie has a vary good premise. It's a shame because this could have been much better. It had the potential to be as good as Apocalypto, but it just got lost along the way. Yul Brynner looked nothing like a Native American. Balam had a wooden sword and looked more like Richard the Lion Heart than a Mayan King. There were lots of bad wigs all over the place. And somehow, the Mayans and the Indians all spoke English, which really, really didn't work.
Still, its one of the few movies ever made that are about Native Americans with no white men. For that it at least deserves credit, particularly since it was from 1963. There was also a really good musical score by Elmer Bernstein. Overall, a curiosity piece that is worth seeing.