In one small Southern town, the day starts out looking like it’s going to be just another typical Confederate Memorial Day. For students at the local business college, this means they get a half day of classes and Mary Clay (Lana Turner) has plans to go get a soda with a friend before meeting her date for the day. But when they get to the soda shop, Mary realizes she left her compact at school, so she goes back to get it. When she gets to the school, she finds her compact in the classroom, but doesn’t come back out of the building alive. When a janitor finds her murdered corpse in the basement, the town is rocked by scandal.
For District Attorney Andy Griffin (Claude Rains), he sees this case as an opportunity for him to land the Senate seat he’s been eyeing. He knows that the whole town wants Mary’s murderer to be caught and if he’s the one catch him, he’s sure to be elected to the Senate. Andy is so determined to get someone, anyone, behind bars that he’s not terribly concerned about having hard evidence, circumstantial is good enough for him. He sets his sights on Mary’s teacher Robert Hale (Edward Norris), who is originally from New York. All the evidence that Andy has against Robert is pretty flimsy at best, but Andy uses the media to work the entire country into a frenzy. Even though the country as a whole is pretty divided on the whole issue, virtually the entire town is convinced Hale is guilty. The few people who could stand up for Hale back down because they can’t bear the thought of what would happen to them if Hale went free. In the end, Hale is sentenced to death. Hale’s only hope is the governor, who recognizes how terribly the trial was carried out, and commutes his sentence to life in prison. People were so furious over the governor’s decision that a mob goes after Hale to enact some vigilante justice. Hale dies at the hands of the angry mob. In the final scene, Hale’s widow Sybil (Gloria Dickson) goes to see Andrew and makes a speech to him about how he’s the real murderer.
They Won’t Forget features a couple of memorable performances from Lana Turner and Claude Rains. This was Lana Turner’s film debut, and even though she has a small part, she makes the most of her time. Her Southern accent wasn’t the greatest, but she did have a lot of screen presence. Claude Rains made quite a believable corrupt politician. I really didn’t care much about Gloria Dickson’s character throughout the movie, but in her final scene, she came in and completely nailed it with her powerful speech to Andy. The writing is an absolutely scathing look at small town politics, prejudices, and media manipulation. It was probably the most scathing indictment of the justice system to come out after I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang. Very bleak, but very compelling. They Won’t Forget was a perfect name for this movie because it really is pretty unforgettable!