Gentle Reader, we have done you a disservice.
We screened the 1937 drama They Won’t Forget but, oddly, we have formed no insightful opinions. We have nothing but questions.
First: Why are the opening credits so creepy? Look:
Don’t stare at it for too long. It’ll make you go cross-eyed.
Next: What happened in this movie?
Here’s what we do know. In a small southern town, a business college student (a pre-blonde Lana Turner in one of her first movie roles) is murdered on Confederate Memorial Day. But why was she killed? Did she have unsavoury information about someone? Was she a secret agent, or a visitor from another planet? The answer is never given.
We know that the African-American janitor of the school (Clinton Rosemond) finds the body and calls police. Of course he is arrested, and it’s because he’s a plausible suspect, right? Not because, as an African American, he’s handy for police to nab?
(Sub-Question #1: Why isn’t Rosemond, as an actor, allowed to give his character any dignity? He relegated to playing the character like a hysterical child who weeps over and over, “I didn’t do it!”)
Meanwhile, the district attorney (Claude Rains) discovers that an instructor (Edward Norris) was in the building when the student was murdered. The college instructor is arrested and promoted to Prime Suspect.
We as viewers are forced to face a difficult revelation: Rains (upon whom we – as in yours truly – thinks the sun rises and sets) is unable to do a convincing southern accent. We are not a little disappointed by this; however, Rains still gives an entertaining performance of a man determined to see justice done – not because he cares about justice, but because it would help his political career.
Back to the Questions! A trial date is arranged for the college instructor; but why is there no mention of a trial for the janitor, who is still in jail? Not only that, he is told that if the college instructor is found innocent he (the janitor) will be put to death.
(Sub-Question #2: This is a realistic depiction of the American justice system? Seriously? In the event one man is found innocent, there’s an accused-in-waiting who can be called up to death row? Without trial?)
This is a film about prejudice, as we are continually reminded. The college instructor is a northerner who feels uneasy about southern sentiments towards him. As this particular Trial Of The Century gears up (yes, another TOTC), the South feels slighted by the North’s newspapers. We suppose this is prejudice of a sort, but why does it feel more like unfinished Civil War business?
And why would this kind of prejudice be more important than a man languishing in prison without rights or a proper attorney?
(Sub-Question #3: Gloria Dickson, who plays the wife of the accused college instructor, is utterly fabulous. Why didn’t they write more lines for her, for Pete’s sake?)
Dear Reader, we are loathe to present you with such a noncommittal appraisal. We are truly unable to figure out if we liked this movie or not. If you see it, please let us know what you decide.
They Won’t Forget: starring Claude Rains, Gloria Dickson, Edward Norris. Written by Robert Rossen and Aben Kandel. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Warner Bros. Pictures, B&W, 1937, 90 mins.