Desiring revenge, Terry arrives with Charley’s gun at Johnny Friendly’s bar. The men at the bar declare that Friendly is not there but disbelieving their words, Terry opens the door to the adjacent room and sees a new secretary – Charley’s replacement. Father Barry rushes in, encouraging Terry to give him the gun. Although Terry shouts that ‘it’s none of your business’, Father Barry eventually convinces him that violence is not the answer, and that he can only take down the entire gang by revealing the truth in court. Seeing the logic behind the priest’s words, Terry reluctantly agrees and instead, uses the gun to shatter a picture frame that includes a photo of Friendly and his boss, Mr Upstairs.
At court, Terry truthfully answers questions regarding Joey’s murder and Friendly’s involvement – finally ‘breaking the Joey Doyle case’. Meanwhile, Mr Upstairs, watches Terry on television giving his testimony. Knowing that Friendly has lost all his power on the docks, the boss ceases all communication with Friendly by ordering his servant to never receive another call from his subordinate again.
On his way his home, Terry tells two policemen to stop following him because he feels like a canary. The policemen say it is their orders since Terry may be a target of the mob. Terry greets his neighbour Cheeky, who ignores Terry because of his betrayal against Friendly. Inside his room, Edie caresses a depressed Terry who says ‘my friends don’t want to talk to me’. He heads up to Joey’s Coop, where Tommy has killed all the pigeons screaming ‘a pigeon for a pigeon’ before running away. As a result of being alienated by his so-called friends, a resolute Terry heads down to the waterfront, to ‘get [his] rights’ because he ‘ain’t a bum’.
At the waterfront, Terry joins the crowd of men waiting to work. Everyone gets picked up for work except for Terry. Terry says to Mac that he knows they’re still short of people. In response, Mac chooses man off the street to work for Friendly, indicating anyone, stevedore or not, can work but Terry. Irate at the unfairness and lack of rights, Terry heads down to the Longshoremen Local 374 shed. The longshoremen eagerly watch him, anticipating a confrontation between Terry and Friendly. Terry yells out to everyone including Friendly that he is glad he testified, and that he was just ratting on himself for the past few years. Terry and Friendly enter a brawl, with Terry using his wrestling skills against the leader. However, Friendly’s men join the fight, and the eventually overpower Terry. A badly injured Terry lays on the ground, struggling to move. Friendly leaves, stating ‘that’s enough, just let him lay there’.
The priest and Edie arrive at Terry’s side. Friendly order the workers to go back to work, but after seeing the event unfold before them everyone is reluctant. Instead, everyone waits for Terry, since ‘if he don’t work, we don’t work.’ Pop, possessing a new sense of confidence, approaches Friendly and announces, ‘all my life you’ve pushed me around,’ pushing Friendly into the ocean. Everyone cheers and laughs.
Two of the longshoremen tell Terry that everyone is waiting for him to walk in to work with them. If he walks, this means that they can regain their union rights and overthrow Friendly. Father Barry whispers that ‘Johnny is laying down bets that you won’t get up’ which motivates Terry to start walking towards the garage entrance, despite his injuries. The crowd of longshoremen begins to follow Terry. Friendly, who has climbed back onto the dock after falling into the river, threatens the workers to stop. The door to the garage closes, leaving Friendly alone on the dock threatening that he’ll ‘be back’.
The swift replacement of Charley’s position shows how little Friendly cared for his people. Though he treats them well if they comply with his demands, the instant they defy an order Friendly will ensure that they will suffer the consequences. Thus, the loyalty that Friendly establishes is only a thin thread that can be easily broken. As Friendly walks past Terry in court, he mutters ‘you dug your own grave go lie in it’, demonstrating how disposable ‘friends’ are to people purely interested in money and power. Ironically, the name ‘Friendly’ does not represent a true friend, but a malevolent manipulator who can twist a person’s mind to believe so. Terry is still under the pretence that people subject to Friendly’s control will remain his friends after testifying in court. When Cheeky ignores him, he states that ‘my friend’s don’t want to talk to me’. The priest’s response, ‘are you sure they’re your friends?’ forces Terry to realise that true friends are the people who will stand by him in times of difficulty, such as Edie and Father Barry.
The last part of On the Waterfront portrays Terry’s final transition from a vulnerable man to someone with self-worth and dignity. He has come to terms with being exploited by Friendly, and is ready to put an end to the poor treatment of himself and all other longshoremen. Due to his boxing history, he instinctively wishes to confront Friendly with violence, shouting to Father Barry that ‘it’s none of your business’. However, he is eventually persuaded to achieve his revenge in court, where he will be able to defend not only himself, but also all the longshoremen. This indicates that Terry is has now put aside his old belief that people should just watch out for themselves, and instead is following Edie’s words – to ‘care about others’. His revelation in court demonstrates that he has become a ‘canary’ who seeks justice, rather than repeating the vicious cycle of violent crimes. For many years, Friendly has forced Terry to ‘lose’ – his boxing career, his loyal brother and his self-respect. Yet his newfound insight changes him into a man who is the ultimate ‘winner’ on the waterfront.
After testifying, Terry returns to the rooftop, once again to escape the world below. However, Joey’s Coop has been infiltrated with violence due to the deaths of the pigeons, symbolically demonstrating that he no longer has a ‘safe-zone’. Despite this act of vengeance on Tommy’s behalf, Terry’s strength is not completely shattered, as he firmly believes that ‘I’m not a bum’. His newfound moral superiority to Friendly is highlighted via a high-angle shot depicting his self-assurance and courage. When Terry shouts that ‘I’m standing over here’, this highlights the physical distance between the two men, as well as the metaphorical sense that Terry has found a place where he will no longer be influenced by Friendly. Although hurt, Terry begins to walk after losing the wrestle with Friendly, therefore demonstrating that he has re-embraced his prize-fighting days and will continue to fight the battle until he wins by regaining the workers’ rights. In the final scene, the victorious music with the large group of longshoremen following behind Terry illuminates his success since he has finally ‘w[o]n the war’. As the garage door shuts behind the longshoremen, this leaves Friendly desperately shouting empty threats alone on the dock, with the high-angle camera shot emphasising a man who is weak and powerless.
‘It’s none of your business! Mind your own business.’
‘Shooting a man isn’t being brave!’
‘Don’t fight him like a hoodlum down here in the jungle. That’s what he wants.’
‘You’ve done more than break the Joey Doyle case.’
‘We’ve begun to make it possible for honest men to work at the docks with job security and peace of mind.’
‘You’re dead on the waterfront and every waterfront from Boston to New Orleans. You don’t drive a truck or a cab, you don’t push a baggage rack, you don’t work no place, you’re dead!’
‘You’re making me feel like a canary.’
‘A pigeon for a pigeon.’
‘Are they taking chances for you? Why should you?’
‘They always said I was a bum. Well, I ain’t a bum Edie. Don’t worry I ain’t going to hurt nobody. I’m just going to go down there and get my rights.’
‘…They’re dusting off the hot seat for me!’
‘You take them heaters away from you and you’re nothing, you know that?’
‘You take the good goods away and the kickbacks and shakedown cabbage and the pistoleros and you’re nothing! You guts is all in your wallet and your trigger finger!’
‘From where you stand, maybe. But I’m standing over here now! I was ratting on myself all them years, I didn’t even know it.’
‘You’re a cheap, lousy, dirty, stinking mug and I’m glad what I done to you!’
‘If he don’t work, we don’t work.’
‘All my life you pushed me around.’
‘If Terry walks in, we walk in with him. They’re waiting for him to walk in.’
‘You lost the battle, but you have the chance to win the war.’
‘So the shippers can see we’ll take no more orders from Johnny Friendly. Then it’lll give us back our union so we can run it on the up and up.’
‘Johnny Friendly’s laying odds that you won’t get up.’
‘Just finish what you started. You can.’