Nolte's character, "Doc" is a former baseball player, turned marine biologist living a spartan existence on the row, but he's still the king in a broken-down society of wharf-bums and hookers. As a scientist, he must certainly enjoy the irony that like any good eco-system, there is a harmony amongst the denizens with a loose-knit economic system of favors performed and the occasional get-rich-quick scheme.
But the introduction of a new critter can upset any established ecology, and so the arrival of Suzy DeSoto (Winger) causes havoc within the community. She's a good kid down on her luck who catches "Doc's" eye, though he's afraid to commit, content to merely observe and annotate. She fails miserably at hooking, though, inspiring the madam, Fauna (Audra Lindley), to crass attempts at match-making. Comfortable nowhere, but with no ability to leave, she makes a home in a large, abandoned storage-tank and settles for a kind of independence.
It's a ruefully funny semi-tall tale sublimely told with an ironic narration by the honey-magnolia tones of John Huston. The cast is full of slovenly cherubic character actors who would fir well into a John Ford stock company--Frank McRae, M. Emmett Walsh, Tom Mahoney and John Malloy. Cannery Row is a bit like a Ford film as it deals with community and the integration of a new-comer into the fold, and how the community reacts to them and also how that community reacts to crisis. It's also funny as hell.
Cannery Row is one of those films I love. Every viewing of it is like seeing an old friend.
* They comprise the novels "Cannery Row" and its sequel "Sweet Thursday"