Cast & Crew
On Memorial Day, in a small Southern town, Mary Clay and her friend, Imogene Mayfield, go for a soda after they are dismissed for the holiday from class at the local business school. Mary discovers she has left her vanity case in her desk, and when she returns to the empty building, she is brutally murdered. Andy Griffin, the ambitious district attorney who has his eye on a Senate seat, seizes the opportunity to create a sensational case against Robert Hale, the mild-mannered Northerner who was Mary's teacher. The trial attracts Michael Gleason, a famous Northern attorney, to defend Hale, but he is unable to convince the jury of Hale's innocence despite the uncertain testimonies of the president of the business school, Carlisle P. Buxton, the school janitor, Tump Redwine, Mary's boyfriend, Joe Turner, and the barber, Jim Timberlake. Although the media accuses Griffin of fighting the Civil War in the courtroom, his tactics are successful, and Hale is sentenced to death. Gleason appeals to the governor, who knows his professional future hinges on his decision to commute Hale's sentence. The governor sacrifices his career and changes the penalty to life imprisonment, but before Hale can be safely taken out of town, he is lynched by Mary's vengeful brothers. As Griffin embarks on his race for Senator, Hale's wife Sybil demands that he accept responsiblity for her innocent husband's death, but he denies her accusations, and only briefly wonders if justice was served.
Elisha Cook Jr.
E. Alyn Warren
L. S. Edwards
Leo F. Forbstein
Jack L. Warner
They Won't Forget
They Won't Forget is based on the Ward Greene novel, Death in the Deep South and Turner plays a southern schoolgirl named Mary Clay who is murdered on campus. The two main suspects are a black janitor and a northern teacher. The District Attorney (Claude Rains) decides it would be more of a challenge and a better boost for his political career to successfully convict the northern teacher, Robert Hale (Edward Norris). Local papers emphasize that the accused is from the north and before long everyone but his wife and mother believes he is guilty. So, based only on circumstantial evidence, the prejudiced jury convicts Hale and sentences him to death. The governor, however, recognizes the injustice and commutes his sentence to life in prison. But on the way to the jail, a lynch mob abducts Hale and dispenses its own form of justice. According to Variety, "The film pulls no punches, indicting lynch law and mob fury with scalpel-like precision...It pounds across a powerful story with a maximum of quiet dramatic impact."
Ward Greene based his novel on the notorious Leo Frank case. In 1913, Frank was accused of murdering thirteen-year-old Mary Phagan at a pencil factory in Atlanta. Frank, a northern Jew, was convicted on circumstantial evidence and then killed by a lynch mob. The incident sparked numerous books and movies.
Lana Turner's twelve minutes on screen in They Won't Forget caught the attention of film critics and moviegoers, mostly for the seventy-five foot tracking shot that follows her walking down the street wearing a tight sweater, skirt, and spiked heels. According to producer and director Mervyn LeRoy, "It was very important that the girl in our story have what they call 'flesh impact.' She had to make it look like it was a sex murder. You'll notice we never use the word 'rape' in the screenplay. We couldn't say things like that in those days. I figured that a tight sweater on a beautiful young girl would convey to the audience everything we couldn't say outright." Turner recalls going to the theater with her mother to see the film and being shocked at the way she looked on screen. In The Films of Lana Turner, the actress describes herself as an object in They Won't Forget, "She was enough to start a reaction leading up to a murder all right. But she certainly did not seem to be me." The whistles from the audience also surprised her. Turner states, "For quite a while I was ashamed to face people. I also found it embarrassing to turn my back on them."
Lana Turner may have felt like hiding, but critics knew she would be back. Kenneth McCaleb of the New York Daily Mirror wrote, "a girl named Lana Turner exits from the screen much too early to suit me; I want to see more of her and have no doubt that I shall, for she looks to me like a natural." Twenty years later when the film was reissued, Turner was billed as the main star.
Director/Producer: Mervyn LeRoy
Screenplay: Aben Kandel and Robert Rossen. Based on a novel by Ward Greene.
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Art Direction: Robert Haas
Music: Adolph Deutsch
Cast: Claude Rains (District Attorney Andy Griffin), Gloria Dickson (Sybil Hale), Edward Norris (Robert Hale), Otto Kruger (Gleason), Allyn Joslyn (Bill Brock), Lana Turner (Mary Clay).
BW-96m. Closed captioning.
by Deborah Looney
They Won't Forget
The story is based on the murder trial of Leo M. 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.
Pre-release titles included In the Deep South, The Deep South and Death in the Deep South. A February 17, 1937 news item in Hollywood Reporter states that Dalton S. Reymond, a professor at the University of Louisiana would be technical director. His participation in the film has not been confirmed, however. Lana Turner's brief appearance in this film earned her the nickname "The Sweater Girl" and established her as a potential star. The following year, when director Mervyn LeRoy left Warner Bros., he took Turner with him to M-G-M, where she signed a long-term contract. Gloria Dickson made her film debut in the picture. The National Board of Review named the film one of the year's top ten and New York Times placed it on their ten best list. Modern sources indicate that Ward Greene's novel was based on the Leo Frank trial of 1915. Greene covered the case as a reporter for The Atlanta Journal. In 1915, Circle Film Corp. produced Thou Shalt Not Kill, which was based on the Leo Frank trial. It was directed by Hal Reid and starred Rose Coghlan and Charles Coghlan (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.4445). Reid also made a documentary short on the subject called Leo M. Frank, released a few months before the above film. Other films based on the Frank case include the 1935 film Lem Hawkins' Confession, directed by Oscar Micheaux and starring Clarence Brooks and Dorothy Van Engle, (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.2453) and the 1988 NBC miniseries, The Murder of Mary Phagan, which starred Jack Lemmon and was directed by George Stevens Jr.