Drifter Axel North has just arrived in New York City, having traveled from city to city throughout the country. Given the name Charlie Malick as a contact by an acquaintance named Ed Faber, Axel is able to get a job working as a stevedore in Charlie’s gang on the dockyards. Little did Axel know that Charlie is corrupt, requiring payola for that job, and is a racist. It is solely because of the color of his skin that Charlie hates his fellow gang boss, Tommy Tyler, a black man. It is also because he can see that Axel is a little wet behind the ears that Tommy tries to befriend him to get him out from under Charlie’s thumb. Due solely to the reason that he is a drifter, Axel is slow to warm and open up to Tommy, eventually providing some basic information: that he is originally from Gary, Indiana, that his real surname is Nordmann, and that the only person he has ever really loved in his life was his older brother Andy, whose death exacerbated the already strained relationship he has …
User Reviews: In this rarely seen black-and-white film, blacklisted director Martin Ritt (Nuts, Norma Rae) explores the complexities of racial brotherhood and tensions through the characters brilliantly played by Sidney Poitier and John Cassavetes. This emotionally charged drama follows the story of Axel (Cassavetes), a drifter newly arrived in New York City, who goes to work in the West Side Terminal as a porter and immediately makes the acquaintance of Tommy (Poitier), an experienced and cordial porter who is as generous with his friends as he is with his customers. Scenes such as the first meeting between Axel and Tommy’s family, as well as the confrontations between Axel and his surly boss (Jack Warden), convey the confidence and compassion that steadily grows between the two men. As the two men confront societal prejudices, Axel is forced to examine himself and his community. In a film often compared to On the Waterfront, director Ritt displays an intuitive insight, simultaneously subtle and sharp.