In 1962, a young aspiring filmmaker named William Friedkin created a one-hour film on the controversy surrounding Death Row inmate Paul Crump. The film was intended for a local TV channel, which never aired it – and despite festival screenings and an earlier VHS release, it remained mostly unseen until this DVD restoration.
Friedkin’s film comes down heavily on the side of inmate Paul Crump, who stated that he was framed for being part of a 1953 robbery that ended in murder – despite a lack of physical evidence charging him with the fatal crime, Crump was the only one of the five charged in the crime to receive the death sentence. Crump’s legal team fought 15 execution dates in a nine-year period, and Crump’s warden came to his defense by stating he was a fully rehabilitated inmate based on his prison experiences.
Friedkin blurred the lines of nonfiction filmmaking by using staged re-enactments of the robbery and conducting staged interviews, and the film is framed in a somewhat artsy visual style that often seems at odds with its sobering subject. The DVD release comes with a booklet that details Crump’s tragic fate: Crump’s sentence was commuted from death to “199 years without parole” and achieved some degree of notoriety for writing the novel “Burn, Killer, Burn” while incarcerated, but brutal treatment while in prison eventually broke his body and mind; he was paroled after 39 years in prison and died in 2002 from lung cancer.
An interesting curio that helped launched Friedkin’s Oscar-winning career, this rare film’s return to circulation is wonderful news for lovers of retro cinema.