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In 1946, American writer Harry Street is on safari in Africa with his second wife Helen, when a scratch on his leg becomes infected and he falls seriously ill. In their camp near Mt. Kilimanjaro, Helen tends to Harry, a cynical, hard-drinking womanizer who has never hidden his contempt for her wealth and his reliance upon it. During their often caustic conversations, Harry tells Helen about his first love: When he is a teenager, Harry falls in love with a girl named Connie, but his uncle, Bill Swift, knowing that Harry wants to become a writer, advises him to end the relationship. The wordly Bill tells Harry that a good writer must place his search for the truth ahead of anything else, despite the pain and suffering it may cause. Back in the present, Harry insults Helen, and fed up, she goes to kill game. During her absence, Harry falls asleep and dreams of how he met Cynthia Green, the love of his life: In the 1920s, Harry is a young man living a bohemian life in Paris. One night, he meets the stunning, mysterious Cynthia in a jazz club and immediately falls in love with her. Soon, the couple are married, and despite their poverty, Harry enjoys life in their colorful neighborhood. After Harry's first novel is published, he fulfills his lifelong dream of going on a hunting safari in Africa, and although Cynthia is squeamish about killing, she accompanies him. On the evening that Harry kills his first rhino, he ecstatically states that he wants to write about the joy of the hunt, and later, Cynthia confides in Johnson, their friend and guide, that she is pregnant. Although Cynthia wants the child, she fears that she will lose Harry, who would feel constricted by the responsibility. Johnson advises her to tell Harry, but later, in the city, when Harry states that he wants to travel to Madrid, Cynthia decides not to reveal her condition but obliquely suggest that she wants children. As Cynthia had feared, Harry reacts negatively, asserting that he wants children someday but that, for the present,his growth as a writer is more important than a family. Crushed, Cynthia deliberately throws herself down a flight of stairs and induces a miscarriage. Although Cynthia tells Harry that the fall was an accident, he reproaches her, and soon, an atmosphere of guilt and blame taints their relationship. In Madrid, Cynthia, torn between her love for Harry and her certainty that he resents her, leaves him for a flamenco dancer. Back in Africa, the feverish Harry awakens from his dream and again taunts Helen about the many women in his life. He tells his servant Molo about one, the Countess Liz: After a long string of affairs, Harry becomes engaged to the rich, icy Liz. Bill visits Harry and Liz at their home in the French Riviera, and there, Harry tells him that despite his fame, he feels he is wasting his talent on trifling works. Obtaining Cynthia's address, Harry writes to her, telling her that he once thought he saw her, but the woman he followed turned out to be Helen. Cynthia eventually replies, and when the jealous Liz tears up the letter, Harry leaves her and joins the Loyalist Army, who are fighting the Spanish Civil War. By chance, Harry finds Cynthia, an ambulance driver, just after she has been wounded during a battle. Harry and Cynthia forgive each other as he holds her, but she dies a few moments later. After years of wandering, Harry visits Bill in Paris, where he is gravely ill. Harry complains that he has destroyed his talent by writing only what is expected of him, and when Bill dies, his "legacy" to Harry is the riddle of the leopard who died atop Kilimanjaro, high above his normal hunting grounds. Wondering if Bill meant that he has lost his way, as the leopard must have, Harry gets drunk, and that night, again mistakes Helen for Cynthia. As Harry's reverie ends, he realizes that night has fallen and Helen has started their campfire. Although Helen claims that Harry has never forgiven her for not being Cynthia, he asserts that they both knew what they were getting when they married. Harry then states that he returned to Africa in order to recapture a time when he felt vital and capable of great writing, although he fears that he is now near death. Helen's pleas for Harry to hang on until Johnson returns with a doctor make him realize how much she loves him, and how much he has misjudged her. As the night wears on, Harry becomes delirious with fever, and Helen is forced to lance his abcessed wound. Guarding Harry until the early morning hours, Helen finally sleeps, and when she awakens, she chases off the lurking hyena that she believes symbolizes Harry's improaching death. Soon after, Johnson returns with an airplane, and Harry regains consciousness. Realizing that he is going to live, Harry gratefully embraces his wife.