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The People vs. Paul Crump (1962)

TV Movie  |   |  Documentary  |  1962 (USA)
6.9
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Paul Crump, age 22, was caught up in a failed robbery with four other black men and was sentenced to die in the electric chair. Friedkin so believed in Crump's innocence that he made The People vs. Paul Crump in order to save his life.

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Title: The People vs. Paul Crump (TV Movie 1962)

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Cast

Uncredited cast:
Major James Harris ...
Getaway Driver (uncredited)
Mary Alice Harris ...
Assaulted Housewife (uncredited)
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Storyline

Before directing The French Connection, The Exorcist, and Killer Joe, William Friedkin made one of the most powerful documentaries you've never seen. On March 20, 1953, five black men robbed a meatpacking plant in Chicago's Union Stock Yards. Their getaway went awry, and a security guard was shot and killed. Within a week, all five men were arrested. Four received jail sentences and were eventually paroled. The fifth, Paul Crump, then 22, confessed under questionable interrogation tactics, then retracted, only to be convicted and sentenced to the electric chair. After 14 stays of execution, Crump met Friedkin, then a local TV director, in the Cook County Jail. Friedkin so believed in Crump's innocence and his worth as a human being that he and his cinematographer Bill Butler (Jaws) took to the streets with lightweight cameras to appeal for Crump's return to society. The resulting film contributed to the commutation of Crump's sentence and launched Friedkin's Hollywood career. Written by Facets

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Early Friedkin Documentary Went Unaired
4 July 2009 | by (Las Vegas, Nevada) – See all my reviews

A very young William Friedkin produced and directed this documentary for television in 1962 when Paul Crump had been in prison for nine years, waiting on death row. Crump was convicted for the shooting death of a Chicago meat-packing plant's security guard during an armed robbery, which netted some $20,000. Chicago police quickly moved in, arrested Crump, and convicted him, primarily based on the testimony of one of those convicted for the crime. Crump claims he's innocent, was with a woman the day of the crime, and the woman later testifies in his defense, only to disappear later due to a public outcry and ridicule.

Director William Friedkin reenacts the crime based on Crump's story, but viewers never get a real sense of what may have happened or why they should believe Crump any more than the police. It really is just a he said, she said stand off, and that's really enough to have doubt when it comes to a death sentence. Friedkin does a good job of showing Crump's side of the story and how he later supposedly rehabilitated himself while in prison. Friedkin is less successful at demonstrating a need to end or curtail capital punishment; he would have been better served by focusing on modifying death sentences based on the weakness of evidence.

Even though Friedkin's film was never aired on television (probably due to the victim being white and Crump being black), it probably played some role in keeping Crump out of the electric chair in Illinois some 15 times throughout his incarceration. Crump went on to spend an additional thirty some years in prison before being released in 1993, after having his death sentence later reduced to 119 years. Ironically, Crump was sent back to prison because of violating a protection order and harassing a family member, and he died of lung cancer in 2002...in prison. While in prison, Crump became literate, reading classic literature, and writing a book of his own entitled "Burn, Killer, Burn!", which was released at the time this film was made. **1/2 of 4 stars.


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