They Won’t Forget (1937)

Although most famous today as the film that launched Lana Turner’s career, this film à clef stands perfectly well on its own merits. Sure, her brief appearance walking down the street in a tight sweater earned her the nickname “The Sweater Girl,” but Mervyn LeRoy’s production is also a powerful indictment against lynching mentality and was based on a still controversial case in Georgia history. Robert Rossen and Aben Kandel based their screenplay on Ward Greene’s novel Death in the Deep South, a fictionalized retelling of the Leo Frank murder case. In 1913 Jewish factory manager Frank was found guilty of the murder of a 13-year-old girl discovered in the factory cellar. When the governor commuted Frank’s death sentence, a mob, fueled partly by anti-Semitism, stormed the prison and hanged him. For the film, Frank was turned into Robert Hale (Edward Norris), a Northerner teaching at the now 16-year-old victim’s school. With no solid leads, the district attorney (Claude Rains) pins the crime on Hale through circumstantial evidence. Instead of putting major stars in the cast, LeRoy filled the screen with accomplished character players like Rains, Allyn Joslyn, Otto Kruger, Elisha Cook Jr. and Elisabeth Risdon, creating a near documentary feel for this powerful movie about small minds and civic corruption.

(d. Mervyn LeRoy, 95m, 35mm)