Army deserter Axel Nordmann (Cassavetes) is lucky to find work down at the New York City docks, but crooked foreman Charlie Malik (Warden) skims his pay in return for silence about his fugitive status. Axel befriends fellow dockworker Tommy (Poitier), who is happily married to Lucy (Dee). Her best friend Ellen (Maguire) takes an interest in Axel, and all four become close. The bigoted Malik can't stand to see Tommy chummy with a white colleague and baits him into a fight. Axel must stand up for what is right even though he risks having his past exposed.