Harry Street is a writer in search of his soul. Portrayed by Gregory Peck in the 1952 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, the author/adventurer's introductory prose opens the film and lays the groundwork for Peck's journey.
"Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai 'Ngje Ngi,' the House of God. Close to the western summit there is the dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.”
As such, Harry is stranded at the heights of the Kilimanjaro where he awaits medical attention to save his life from an infected wound. Street, the supposed Leopard, thus drifts in and out of delirium to reflect on what his own life’s journey has wrought.
He does so under the care of a wife who essentially serves as a visual reminder of the love of his life. “You’ve never forgiven me for not being Cynthia,” chides Helen, played by Susan Hayward.
Confronted with a truth that is news to no one, Harry is matter of fact over the convenience their relationship represents. “We both knew what we were getting into when we got married,” Harry shoots back.
In this broken disarray, Harry’s regrets emerge in a dream state that returns him to the blissful beginnings shared with Cynthia. Despite not realizing his ambitions of becoming a writer of great merit and truth, the two live a life of contentment in Cynthia’s eclectic neighborhood in France.
But like the leopard, Harry’s eventual ascent leads to the downfall now faced. He has his first novel published, which allows him to seek a truth that has long compelled him by going on Safari to Africa.
In turn, Harry finds what he’s looking for in the felling of a rhino, and the kill serves as ample fodder for his next novel when the couple return to France. At the same time, the success – to Cynthia’s dismay – does not quell his desire for the next piece of truth that the far off world holds.
Thus, the baby Cynthia holds in tow will obviously hamstring Harry’s ambitions and is verified when she implies her wish to start a family. “There’s plenty of time for that later, he tells her and then informs Cynthia of his wish to go to Madrid for the bull fights.
Cynthia comprehends her predicament and rashly decides to preserve the status quo by throwing herself down the stairs to induce a miscarriage. Can you say relationship killer?
Harry not fooled, he laments, “You had no right. It was my child too.”
The writing then on the wall. Cynthia bails to what she sees as the inevitable by running away with a Flamingo Dancer. Of course, to heighten the tragedy, Harry sees the path just as Cynthia has made her move.
In the exodus, Harry embarks on a series of empty relationships, and the quality of his work does him no better. He eventually reaches his limit and goes in search of Cynthia at the front in the Spanish Civil War. Fate not exactly on their side, Cynthia dies in his arms.
This puts us back at the top of the mountain – Harry’s life in peril, and his entire search in serious doubt. But an infection is no way for Gregory Peck to die, and what really remains is whether Harry Street can solve the riddle and bring honor and sense to all those left in his wake.