They Won’t Forget is a film with a story that unfortunately is still relevant today. Fortunately though, society is not as primitive as it was back in the 1930s, I say “not as primitive” because let’s face it with certain things we still are. We are supposed to be more understanding and willing to see the truth and sometimes more than not we do not want to see the truth we are blind to it. We get one idea in our head and it is hard to get it out.
Robert Hale is a teacher for a secretarial school for girls in a small southern town. Robert is from the north and not too many people trust him. The head of the school comes in to let his class go because it is memorial day for the Confederate dead. The students laugh at him after he gets reamed out by the head of the school. One of the students Mary Clay (Lana Turner) gets upset at her classmates for laughing at him because she likes him.
After they are let out Mary and her friend go to a drug store and get milkshakes. Mary realizes she forgot her vanity case in the class room and goes back to get it. She passes a professor outside the building and the janitor hears her walk up the stairs. That night Mary’s date cannot find her so he goes to the school where her friend said she had gone.
At the school the janitor comes out along with Robert when he left for the day. The janitor goes back into the building. Robert goes home and tells his wife he went to the barber when she mentions he smells like perfume. He also tells her that he stayed at the school to grade papers. Robert wants to go back home up north he feels there is a barrier between them and the people of the town. He wife convinces him to stay. When she goes to kiss him she sees a spot on his collar. He tells her the barber must have cut him.
That night the janitor calls the police about a murder. He repeats hysterically over and over that he did not do it. The police find Mary’s body. Mary’s boyfriend tells the new sheriff Andy Griffin (Claude Rains) that Robert was in the school when he went to look for Mary. Her friend tells a reporter that Mary was crazy about Robert. Two detectives are sent to question Robert. One of them reads a note Robert had in his hand and another comes out with his stained suit. The detectives take Robert, the letter, and the suit downtown.
The reporters practically invade Robert’s apartment. They tell his wife that her husband is being held in jail. The reporters publish that Robert was looking to go away. The whole town thinks he is guilty and that Andy should have prosecute him.
Soon the entire nation is made aware of the case. The northern papers want to sell the prejudice angle. A famous New York detective comes down to do his own investigation into the murder. The investigator is eventually beaten up and run out of town.
The owner of the school where Mary was killed hires a lawyer for the janitor because he thinks the New York investigator will try to pin the murder on the janitor since he is a black man to get Robert out of jail. A powerful northern lawyer named Gleason (Otto Kruger) comes down to defend Robert. Robert is of course found guilty of the murder. The entire trial was unfair. Even the governor knows the trial was unfair and only gives Robert a life sentence instead of another trial.
Mary’s brothers organize a mob to kill Robert. Andy felt terrible for having not been able to protect Robert from being killed. He sent a check to Robert’s widow. She comes to his office and tells him and the reporter there that they are the ones who had Robert killed. When Robert’s widow leaves Andy looks out the window and says to the reporter he wonders if Robert was really guilty.
The cast was alright. This was Lana Turner’s first speaking role and she was completely adorable. A month before this she had been found in a drug store and her screen test had been for this film. Turner was the only good actor in this entire film. Alright, maybe except Otto Kruger but he was barely in the film. Claude Rains was laughable which is a total shame. He was ridiculous in the courtroom scene he was so awful. Rains over acted like hell.
They Won’t Forget was really powerful. I like how it was ambiguous how we do not know if Robert was truly guilty or not. Prejudice was really strong and blinded the people of the small southern town where they could not look at evidence or see clearly to question if this northern man was truly guilty or innocent. Their blind hate and rage for an outsider clouded their judgment. That kind of injustice drives me insane. I think it drives me insane because I am thinking of the story with a modern mind. We have all this technology and criminology and such that I think how all those things could have truly proven Robert’s guilt or innocence. They Won’t Forget was a bit boring after a while especially with the acting since it was so poor. Besides the acting the story is very powerful and suggest seeing the film once for it. You will be amazed how not too much has changed in America since that time.