They Won't Forget

Overview

This hard-hitting Warner Bros. courtroom drama begins with the usual "Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental" disclaimer. Filmgoers with long memories, however, recognized Robert Rossen and Aben Kandel's screenplay as a blow-by-blow recreation of the Leo Frank-Mary Phagan case of 1915. Phagan, a 14-year-old employee in a Marietta, GA pencil factory, was found murdered. The bulk of the evidence pointed to a black janitor who actually confessed to the crime years after the fact, but ...
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Overview

This hard-hitting Warner Bros. courtroom drama begins with the usual "Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental" disclaimer. Filmgoers with long memories, however, recognized Robert Rossen and Aben Kandel's screenplay as a blow-by-blow recreation of the Leo Frank-Mary Phagan case of 1915. Phagan, a 14-year-old employee in a Marietta, GA pencil factory, was found murdered. The bulk of the evidence pointed to a black janitor who actually confessed to the crime years after the fact, but race-baiting Atlanta newspaper publisher Tom Watson decided to go after Leo Frank, the Northern Jew who owned the factory where Mary worked. "We can lynch a nigger any time," the politically ambitious Watson is alleged to have said, "but when do we get a chance to hang a Yankee Jew?" Thanks largely to Watson's "guilt by headline" campaign, and to Fulton County's cooperative solicitor general, Frank was found guilty and sentenced to death. Georgia Governor John M. Slaton, who all along smelled something fishy in the case, commuted Frank's case to life imprisonment and was ruined politically as a result. En route to prison, Frank was abducted by a mob and lynched, an incident that boosted the prestige of the Georgia Ku Klux Klan. Aben Kandel dramatized this appalling miscarriage of justice in his novel Death in the Deep South, which served as the basis for They Won't Forget. In Mervyn LeRoy's film version, Lana Turner in a star-making turn plays Mary Clay, a teen-aged typing school student who dresses garishly and flirts with every man she meets. Mary is later found murdered; the last person to see her alive was her teacher, recently arrived Northerner Robert Hale Edward Norris. Once more, a black janitor played as a superstitious moron by Clinton Rosemond is the most likely suspect, but the ambitious district attorney Claude Rains seems sincere in his belief that Hale is guilty. Once Hale is sentenced to death, the governor, played by Paul Everton, commutes his sentence, serene in the belief that, once his career is finished, he'll be able to retire peacefully real-life governor Slaton did not go down so benignly. Except for the removal of the original case's anti-Semitic elements, They Won't Forget is stark, powerhouse filmmaking, one of the best of Warners' "social protest" films of the 1930s. It was remade as the 1987 TV movie The Murder of Mary Phagan starring Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey, Peter Gallagher, and Charles S. Dutton as well as as the unsuccessful 1998 Broadway musical Parade.
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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Richard Gilliam
They Won't Forget pulls its punches by obscuring the anti-Semitism that was a primary factor in the lynching of Atlanta businessman Leo Frank, but it was nonetheless so powerful an indictment of social injustice that many Southern theaters refused to exhibit the film. As a result, profit-minded studios shied away from other potentially controversial message movies in the future. 25 years would pass before Hollywood would return to Southern racism with To Kill a Mockingbird in 1962. Viewed outside its historical context, They Won't Forget succeeds as a motion picture due to the passion of its director Mervyn LeRoy, and the fine performances of Claude Rains, Edward Norris, and Lana Turner. The film's socially conscious screenwriters, Robert Rossen and Abel Kandel, were hardly rewarded for their efforts: Rossen was among the first people blacklisted in the 1950s, while Kandel spent much of that era writing low-budget horror films under a pseudonym.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 10/20/2009
  • UPC: 883316213742
  • Original Release: 1937
  • Rating:

  • Source: Warner Archives
  • Presentation: B&W / Pan & Scan
  • Time: 1:35:00
  • Format: DVD
  • Sales rank: 45,972

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Claude Rains Andrew J. Griffin
Edward Norris Robert Paerry Hale
Allyn Joslyn William P. Brock
Linda Perry Imogene Mayfield
Cy Kendall Detective Laneart
E. Alyn Warren Carlisle P. Buxton
Lana Turner Mary Clay
Clinton Rosemond Tump Redwine
Ann Shoemaker Mrs. Mountford
Donald Briggs Harmon Drake
Trevor Bardette Shattock Clay
Frank Faylen Bill Price
Gloria Dickson Sybil Hate
Otto Kruger Michael Gleason
Elisha Cook Jr. Joe Turner
Elizabeth Risdon Mrs. Hale
Granville Bates Det. Pindar
Paul Everton Gov. Thomas Mountford
Elliott Sullivan Luther Clay
Eddie Acuff Fred, the Soda Jerk
Leonard Mudie Judge Moore
Harry Davenport First Veteran
Harry Beresford Veteran
Edward McWade Confederate Soldier
Tom Brower
John Dilson Briggs, the Detective
Earl Dwire Jury Foreman
Jerry Fletcher Boys in Poolroom
Henry Hall Courtroom Extra
Harry Hollingsworth Turnkey
Thomas E. Jackson
I. Stanford Jolley
George Lloyd Detective
Forbes Murray Doughty, the Publisher
William Moore
John Ridgely
Tom Wilson Farmer
Robert Cummings Sr. Whippel, the Banker
Al Bridge
Ray Brown Foster
Sibyl Harris Mrs. Clay
Clifford Soubier Jim Timberlake
Technical Credits
Mervyn LeRoy Director, Producer
Adolph Deutsch Score Composer
Arthur Edeson Cinematographer
Leo F. Forbstein Musical Direction/Supervision
Robert M. Haas Art Director
Aben Kandel Screenwriter
Tom Richards Editor
Robert Rossen Screenwriter
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