Before ‘The Exorcist,” There Was Paul Crump

William Friedkin

William Friedkin may be best known for his Oscar-winning films “The French Connection” and “The Exorcist” — the latter of which is still considered the most frightening film ever made — but the director had to get his start somewhere, and that was with documentary.

The year was 1962. Friedkin was 26 years old and had never made a film when he caught wind of Paul Crump, a fellow Chicagoan who was serving a death sentence for the alleged murder of a security guard during a botched robbery.

Friedkin convinced a local television station to let him tell Crump’s story. With the help of cinematographer Bill Butler, they filmed reenactments of the crime and Crump’s account of being beaten into a confession by the police, and titled it “The People vs. Paul Crump.”

The original station subsequently deemed the film too controversial and refused to air it, but the intrepid director managed to get it to governor Otto Kerner, who then commuted Crump’s sentence to life in prison.

“The People vs. Paul Crump” set the stage for the true crime documentary genre that has become so popular today — think “Making a Murderer,” “The Thin Blue Line” and “The Central Park Five” — and he will discuss the film via Skype following a rare screening on Sunday, March 11, at 2 p.m. at the Pierson High School auditorium, located at 200 Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor, as part of the free American Values Series.

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