Sunday, December 30, 2001


Warning: Spoilers Below!
A late example of the Warner Brothers social issue film of the 30's, based loosely on a real case. In a Southern town (on Southern Memorial Day), a young business school student (Lana Turner) is murdered (and almost certainly raped, although that's not explicitly stated) and a Yankee teacher is accused of the crime. The movie begins well, but ultimately none of the characters is strongly rounded out so aside from a vague unease about prejudice and ruthless ambition, we don't take much away from the film because we don't really care much about the characters. The case against the teacher isn't exactly airtight and the circumstances of the crime remain vague. At the end, after the teacher is found guilty through circumstantial evidence, his death sentence is commuted by the governor to life in prison; this outrages the dead girl's family who take him off a train and lynch him. We never find out who actually killed the girl.

Claude Rains, as the ambitious DA who uses the case as a springboard to statewide and national prominence, provides a center for the film, but we don't get a sense of what he's like as a person-he's mostly just a cardboard villain. The accused is well played by Edward Norris (who in real life was married to Ann Sheridan at the time). Elisha Cook Jr. has one of his more substantial roles as the dead girl's boyfriend, who is briefly considered a suspect, although we are given no motive. A black janitor is also a suspect, but it seems clear given what little we see at the time of the murder that he didn't commit it, even though we see him reading a racy magazine! I thought the soda jerk, who is obviously flirting unsuccessfully with Turner in an early scene, might have done it but we never see him again. Allyn Joslyn plays a slimy reporter who functions a bit like an anti-Greek chorus, whipping up the "prejudice" angle of North vs. South, and if anyone is the true villain here, it seems to be the press.

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