They Won’t Forget (1937): LeRoy’s Mob Lynching Drama, Starring Clause Rains and Lana (Sweather Girl) Turner in her Stunning Screen Debut

In 1937, Warner Bros. studio produced Melvyn LeRoy’s They Won’t Forget, a film that was inspired by the factual Leo M. Frank trial in Atlanta, and was also reminiscent of other similar cases.

Based on Ward Greene’s novel, Death in the Deep South,” and set in Flodden, a small Southern town, it is a tale of mob violence motivated by bigotry and prejudice.

Since this movie’s release followed Fritz Lang’s Fury just by months, comparisons between the two tales of lynching are inevitable.

First, the political context in which They Won’t Forget is set features more prominently than it is in Fury.

Second, the film’s portrayal of public officials is even more cynical than that in Fury. In Fury, the sheriff at least tried to prevent the masses from lynching, whereas They Won’t Forget ends on a more ambiguous note, when a reporter says: “Now that it’s over, I wonder if Hale really did it.” “I wonder too,” the prosecutor (Claude Rains) chillingly confirms his doubt. The self-seeking attorney, who wishes to become Senator, sees it as an opportunity to win the voters’ sympathy, despite the fact that the circumstantial evidence on which the white teacher from the North is indicted is flimsy. At the end, a lynching party takes care of the Yankee.

Thematically, both Fury and They Won’t Forget document the fickleness of the crowd, the ease with which irrational instincts can be subversively manipulated. Both movies pose severe warnings to the democratic process, though both avoid the issue of race by featuring white protagonists as their victims.

In actuality, most lynch victims were blacks, but, because of the demographics of moviegoers at the time (mostly white), white victims were considered to be “safer” targets as far as the films’ commercial appeal was concerned.


Claude Rains as District Attorney Andrew J. Griffin

Gloria Dickson as Sybil Hale

Edward Norris as Professor Robert Perry Hale

Otto Kruger as Michael Gleason

Allyn Joslyn as William A. Brock

Lana Turner as Mary Clay

Linda Perry as Imogene Mayfield

Elisha Cook Jr. as Joe Turner

Cy Kendall as Detective Laneart

Clinton Rosemond as Tump Redwine

Elisabeth Risdon as Mrs. Hale (as Elizabeth Risdon)

Clifford Soubier as Jim Timberlake

Paul Everton as Governor Thomas Mountford

Donald Briggs as Harmon Drake

Sibyl Harris as Mrs. Clay

Elliott Sullivan as Luther Clay

Wilmer Hines as Ransom Scott Clay

Release date: July 14, 1937

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