His arrival into town is clouded by unrest at a factory where workers are seeking to unionize. Local authorities wrongly suspect John Kane (Sidney Poitier) to be an outside agitator for the union cause. The suspicions of the local Sheriff and Doc Thomas’ son, the District Attorney, grow after they search John’s room and find a passport filled with visa stamps from countries all over the world, even some that few Americans are allowed to travel to. They also find newspaper clippings in a variety of different languages. Only Doc Thomas (Will Geer) suspects that John’s real purpose is something else.
After the funeral of John’s sister, he admits to a young woman, Louisa (Beverly Todd) – a teacher at the local elementary school – that his “work” is finished, and that he has a few days to “do nothing” before he must leave. She decides to initiate a relationship with him, in hopes that he will stay. This puts him at odds with a local man who has had his eyes on her since they were in high school. During his time with Louisa, John mentions that one of his friends, now a union organizer, will die soon. After this happens, word of his prediction finds its way to the Sheriff who uses it as an excuse to arrest him. During his questioning we find out more about his travels, but he will never say exactly what his “work” really is. Doc Thomas comes to visit him in jail, and they have a pivotal conversation. John then walks out of jail and leaves town while the Sheriff and his men are preoccupied with the local labor unrest.
Hints regarding who John may be can be seen in the film via his confrontation with the sheriff, his hesitant relationship with Louisa, his unexplained ability to travel extensively, his ability to speak multiple languages, and the sermons his gives to various people.