Allan Quatermain (Stewart Granger), an experienced hunter and guide, reluctantly agrees to help Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr) and her brother John Goode (Richard Carlson) search for her husband, who disappeared in the unexplored African interior while searching for the legendary titular mines. They have a copy of the map he used. A tall, mysterious native, Umbopa (Siriaque), joins the safari. Allan has no use for women on a safari, but during the long and grueling journey, he and Elizabeth begin to fall in love.
The party encounters Van Brun (Hugo Haas), a lone white man living with a tribe. They learn that he met Curtis. However, when Allan recognizes him as a fugitive who cannot afford to let them go, they take him hostage to leave the village safely. Van Brun tries to shoot Allan, killing his faithful right-hand man Khiva (Kimursi), instead. Allan dispatches Van Brun and the party flees from the angry villagers.
When they finally reach the region where the mines are supposed to be, they are met by people who resemble Umbopa. They discover that their companion is royalty; he has returned to attempt to dethrone the evil usurper King Twala (Baziga). Umbopa leaves with his supporters to raise a rebellion, while Allan, Elizabeth and John travel to a tense meeting with Twala. With his last rifle bullet, John kills a would-be attacker, temporarily quelling the natives.
The king's advisor, Gagool (Sekaryongo), communicates that they have seen Curtis and leads them to a cave that contains a trove of jewels and the skeletal remains of Elizabeth's husband. While they are distracted by this grisly discovery, Gagool sneaks away and triggers a booby trap that seals them inside the cave. They find a way out through an underground stream and return to Twala's kraal, just as Umbopa and his followers arrive.
Umbopa's people have an unusual method of deciding a disputed kingship. The two claimants duel to the death. Despite cheating by one of Twala's men, Umbopa wins. Afterwards, he provides an escort for his friends' return trip.
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