7.3/10
1,278
37 user 14 critic

They Won't Forget (1937)

A politically ambitious district attorney, unscrupulous tabloid journalists, and regional prejudice combine to charge a teacher with the murder of his student.

Director:

Mervyn LeRoy (uncredited)

Writers:

Ward Greene (novel), Robert Rossen (screen play) | 1 more credit »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Claude Rains ... Andy Griffin
Gloria Dickson ... Sybil Hale
Edward Norris ... Robert Hale
Otto Kruger ... Gleason
Allyn Joslyn ... Bill Brock
Lana Turner ... Mary Clay
Linda Perry ... Imogene Mayfield
Elisha Cook Jr. ... Joe Turner
Cy Kendall ... Detective Laneart
Clinton Rosemond Clinton Rosemond ... Tump Redwine
E. Alyn Warren ... Carlisle P. Buxton
Elisabeth Risdon ... Mrs. Hale (as Elizabeth Risdon)
Clifford Soubier Clifford Soubier ... Jim Timberlake
Granville Bates ... Detective Pindar
Ann Shoemaker ... Mrs. Mountford
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Storyline

A southern town is rocked by scandal when teenager Mary Clay is murdered on Confederate Decoration Day. Andrew Griffin, a small-time lawyer with political ambitions, sees the crime as his ticket to the Senate if he can find the right victim to finger for the crime. He sets out to convict Robert Hale, a transplanted northerner who was Mary's teacher at the business school where she was killed. Despite the fact that all the evidence against Hale is circumstantial, Griffin works with a ruthless reporter to create a media frenzy of prejudice and hate against the teacher. Written by Daniel Bubbeo <dbubbeo@cmp.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Certificate:

Passed | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

9 October 1937 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Death in the Deep South See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Warner Bros. See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The story is based on the murder trial of Leo Frank in 1915, despite the usual disclaimer at the start of the movie. Author Ward Greene covered that trial in Atlanta, Georgia, as a reporter. See more »

Goofs

Anytime during the entire trial the shadow of the window is showing in the same place; behind the witness chair / over the back door of the courtroom. See more »

Quotes

Andy Griffin: Any fool can ride to glory on a helpless Negro janitor. I'm out for bigger game.
See more »

Connections

Featured in Lana Turner... a Daughter's Memoir (2001) See more »

Soundtracks

Kingdom Coming
(1862) (uncredited)
aka "The Year of Jubilo"
Music by Henry Clay Work
Played during the opening credits
See more »

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User Reviews

 
A lot of heat but not much light in LeRoy's Hollywood version of Mary Phagan murder
11 January 2003 | by bmacvSee all my reviews

One of Warner Brothers' `hard-hitting' social comment dramas of the 1930s, They Won't Forget leaves viewers all riled up – though, today, maybe less at the judicial process in the Deep South than at Mervyn LeRoy's depiction of it in the movie. Based not too loosely on the Mary Phagan murder case of 1913, it updates the events to the late Depression and also advances the victim's age (Phagan was 13; here, the victim – an unrecognizable Lana Turner, in her debut – is a student at a small business college).

It's Confederate Memorial Day, April 26, and the college lets out early, unexpectedly for instructor Edward Norris, a Northerner. But Turner returns for the vanity case she's left behind. Hours later, her body is discovered at the base of an elevator shaft. The town prosecutor (Claude Rains, slinging a Southern drawl) smells a political advantage that might propel him to the state senate, an advantage of no use if the perpetrator is only the illiterate black janitor who found her. Suspicion falls on Norris, and soon the judicial establishment, the press and the townspeople have turned against him. Outside help – a detective and a defense attorney – prove of no avail. Turner is convicted and sentenced to death; when the governor commutes his sentence, he's lynched (as was Leo Frank in the original case). It's fast, brutal and pretty unsentimental.

LeRoy was known for his slam-bang, take-no-prisoners style but here he dawdles at first. Under the credits is a medley of songs of the South, bolstered by quotations from Lincoln and Robert E. Lee to soften up those touchy audiences in Dixie so they won't know what hit them. When he gets up to speed, however, he doesn't slacken, cutting quick to advance the action – his movie's an unstoppable steamroller, just like the judicial railroading of the story (the lynching itself, expressed by a mailbag clipped off its hook by a passing train, is especially and darkly adroit).

But there's a near-fatal flaw in the story. We're meant to harbor persuasive doubts as to Norris' guilt, but the possibility of a suspect other than he is never more than fleetingly entertained. The movie purports to document a miscarriage of justice, but it fails to build an ironclad case.


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