In the kingdom of Malarpuri, the queen delivers a male child. Her brother Naganathan replaces it with a dead child with help from a maidservant, and informs king Varaguna Pandiyan that the newborn is dead. To Naganathan's surprise, the queen gives birth to another boy soon after delivering the first. Minister Gunaseelar arrives by then and the king is informed of the birth of two children, one dead and one alive. Everyone is happy that at least one is alive. Naganathan decides to kill the first infant and hands it over to his servant Somappa. However, Somappa and his wife raise the prince in a forest.
The crown prince is Vikraman and his identical twin in the forest is Parthiban. On his deathbed, the king appoints Naganathan as the guardian of crown prince Vikraman, and gives the order that Naganathan would be solely responsible for Vikraman's safety. To achieve his objective of ruling the country, Naganathan brings up Vikraman with all vices and does not allow him to bond with his mother. On the other hand, Parthiban grows up to become a valiant warrior under the guidance of Somappa and fights for the public.
After the king's death, Vikraman ascends the throne and hands over administrative controls to Naganathan, who indulges in all kind of looting by levying more taxes. Parthiban comes out of forest and saves the minister’s daughter Amudhavalli when her chariot goes out of control. They fall in love, and he starts visiting her palace late in the night. Amudha encounters Vikraman, who looks similar to Parthiban, but does not disclose this to anyone. Vikraman likes her and tells Naganathan to fix his marriage with her. Amudha does not accept when Vikraman's mother comes with the proposal. One night, the soldiers notice Parthiban getting into the palace and they reach Amudha’s room. She makes him escape by making him wear Vikraman’s costume. While leaving, he meets his mother, but pretends to be Vikraman. When he is talking to her, Vikraman arrives and they scuffle. Parthiban escapes, but when he comes again to meet Amudha, he is thrown into prison.
Through the maidservant, the queen learns that Parthiban is also her son. She goes to the prison and orders his release. By then, Vikraman arrives with Naganathan, who confirms they are brothers, but states that the kingdom cannot afford to have two brothers fighting for power. Vikraman does not wish to share the kingdom and to avoid anyone recognising him, orders that Parthiban be masked and imprisoned. Parthiban has an iron mask locked on his face; its key is with Vikraman. Amudha and Parthiban's friend Ponnan hatch a plan to rescue Parthiban. Amudha makes Vikraman insensibly drunk after a dance and takes the key. Parthiban's associates reach the prison, set him free, put the same on Vikraman’s face and dump him in prison. Parthiban assumes charge of the kingdom and introduces citizen friendly policies which are welcomed by the people.
Naganathan suspects foul play. By then, Vikraman sends a message to Naganathan by writing on his dinner plate about Parthiban impersonating him. Naganathan releases Vikraman, brings him to the assembly and stops the coronation of Parthiban as king. In the fight that ensues between Naganathan’s army and Parthiban's people, Naganathan dies. Parthiban and Vikraman fight despite a plea from their mother. When Vikraman loses, he escapes in a chariot wearing his mask. Parthiban tries to stop him, but he rushes away. Vikraman dies when his chariot falls off a cliff. Parthiban rules Malarpuri as a virtuous son along with Amudha and his mother.
Credits adapted from the film's songbook:
When Venus Pictures came out with an advertisement of their film Uthama Puthiran in a newspaper with Sivaji Ganesan in the leading role, the same day actor M. G. Ramachandran announced a film with the same-title in the same paper on the same day. With the help of N. S. Krishnan, Ganesan made Ramachandran scrap his plan of making the same film. Ramachandran nevertheless persisted his with his plans to make a double action film and finally made Nadodi Mannan, and released it much after Uthama Puthiran.
The film was scripted by Sridhar. Cinematography was handled by Aloysius Vincent. Bollywood dancer Helen was recruited to perform a dance sequence in the song "Yaaradi Nee Mohini", which was Tamil cinema's first "rock ‘n’ roll dance".
During the shooting of the song Unnazhagi at Brindavan, a foreigner visiting India requested permission to shoot the scenes with his camera, and permission was granted. Both the cinematographer and the foreigner simultaneously shot the song and dance sequence from the same angles. Zoom technique was unknown to Indian film technicians those days, but the foreigner's camera had it. When the crew learnt this, they requested the foreigner to provide a copy of his version to be used in the film, and he obliged. Though the foreigner had used 16mm, the crew managed to use some zoom shots taken by him in the film. Thus, Uthama Puthiran became the first Indian film to have the shots with zoom technique.
Uthama Puthiran is a remake of the same-titled 1940 film that featured P. U. Chinnappa in two distinct roles, notably the first Tamil film to feature an actor in two roles. It is also said to be adapted from the French novel The Man in the Iron Mask, written by Alexandre Dumas in 1850. The story of identical twins was used often in Tamil cinema, and Dumas himself used it to write his famous The Corsican Brothers which was also adapted into Tamil. The Gemini Studios version Apoorva Sagotharargal with M. K. Radha playing the twins was a box office hit. M. G. Ramachandran played the twins in a rehash of the film titled Neerum Neruppum, which did not do as well. Uthama Puthiran (1958) also was the inspiration behind Imsai Arasan 23rd Pulikesi, a 2006 historical comedy film starring comedian Vadivelu as the twins.
The soundtrack of the film has been composed by G. Ramanathan.
Uthama Puthiran ran for over 100 days in theatres. However, according to Sivaji Ganesan, the film was a "flop".
Uthama Puthiran received positive reviews from critics. Ananda Vikatan (6.8.1958) praised the film for "the stylish acting by Sivaji, grand making, songs and the fight scenes". The Hindu praised Sivaji Ganesan's dual role performance, and labelled him as a "Consummate villain and a suave hero". Film critic Malathi Rangarajan said, "That one scene where the arrogant twin callously goes up and down on the swing as his mother rebukes and pleads with him to mend his ways, is enough to ensure the everlasting shelf-life of the decades-old offering from the stable of Sivaji Ganesan. Catch it the next time it is telecast. It's worth it." Film historian Randor Guy praised the film for its "excellent screenplay, fine dialogue, music, Sivaji Ganesan’s superb performance and Prakash Rao’s impressive direction."