The People Versus Paul Crump

A 26-year-old William Friedkin (The French Connection) made his directorial debut with this 1962 documentary about Paul Crump, a Chicago south-sider then serving a death sentence for allegedly killing a security guard during a robbery. Friedkin stages reenactments of the crime (though without showing the culprit’s face) as well as Crump’s account of being beaten by police into confessing to the murder, which he later claimed he didn’t commit. The provocatively detached perspective that Friedkin brings to these violent scenes points ahead to his features Cruising (1980) and Rampage (1992), and like the latter film, this asks viewers to think long and hard about the validity of capital punishment. The movie was made for Chicago TV but never aired because network executives were afraid it would stir controversy; however, Friedkin managed to screen the film for Illinois governor Otto Kerner, who soon commuted Crump’s sentence to life in prison.