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Facets To Release Restored William Friedkin Directorial Debut, The People Vs. Paul Crump, May 27

By Jon Graef in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 26, 2014 6:00PM

Chicago video store and film boutique Facets will release a restored version of director William Friedkin's film debut, a documentary about an unjustly convicted death row inmate in Cook County jail in the early 1960s called The People Vs. Paul Crump, on DVD May 27.

Facets is calling the film "one of the most powerful documentaries you've never seen."

Here's a synopsis of the hour-long film, which was made in 1962.

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.

Questionable interrogation tactics? From the Chicago Police? Who'd have thought? [Besides everyone.]

Friedkin is best known for directing '70s horror classic The Exorcist. Before that, though, Friedkin worked as a local TV director in Chicago. It was during this time that Friedkin first heard of Crump's case.

Earlier this month, at the CPH PIX film festival in Copenhagen, Denmark, Friedkin spoke about how he came to make the film to an audience attending a screening.

"I heard about a young African-American man who was on death row at the Cook County jail in Chicago," Friedkin said. Friedkin explains the circumstances leading to Crump's trial, and how he heard about Crump's case from Cook County's Protestant chaplain.

In a social situation, Friedkin said he asked the chaplain if he ever ran across anyone who he thought was innocent. The chaplain told Friedkin about Crump's case, and the rest, as they say, was history.

If this type of documentary makes you think of Errol Morris, you're not the only one. Village Voice said Crump reminds viewers "historically [of] a kind of verite-era prophecy of Errol Morris' The Thin Blue Line." Like Blue Line, Crump compellingly makes the case for the innocence of its unjustly treated and convicted subject, and was a film that ultimately resulted in the commutation of the subject's sentence.

Not bad for your first time out.

You can preorder The People Vs. Paul Crump here.

Watch the trailer:

Features for the Crump DVD include a newly restored high-definition digital transfer from an archival 16mm print; Facets Cine-Notes booklet featuring essays on Crump's case and Friedkin's career by film scholar Susan Doll; and production stills, production notes, and script excerpts.