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January 19, 2011

570. Serpico
Directed by Sidney Lumet
USA, 1973
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Ally
Second viewing


Tom Keough: Frank, let’s face it. Who can trust a cop who don’t take money?

NYPD officer Frank Serpico (Al Pacino) is an honest cop whose integrity alienates him from his corrupt colleagues. The film charts his police career, starting as a uniformed patrolman in the early 1960s. He moves onto plainclothes work and embraces the burgeoning counterculture. His long hair, beard and hippy clothing make him inconspicuous on the beat but suspicious to his fellow officers, as does his refusal to take bribe money. He finds a kindred spirit in officer Bob Blair (Tony Roberts), who attempts to use his supposed influence to encourage an investigation into police corruption. After years of indifference from his superiors, Serpico is eventually allowed to go undercover to help end corruption.

Essential Scene:

It’s Serpico’s first day of work. He and his new partner, veteran patrolman Peluce (Albert Henderson), stop at a deli for lunch. Peluce introduces Serpico to Charlie, the man behind the counter.

Charlie: How about some creamed chicken?

Peluce: Sounds good to me.

Serpico: No, I think I’ll have… How about a roast beef on roll?

Charlie seems surprised to be contradicted. After a pause, he agrees to Serpico’s order.

At the table, Serpico inspects his lunch.

Serpico: Peluce, it’s all fat here. I saw real lean beef over there.

Peluce: Take it easy. Sit down, sit down.

Serpico: What’s the matter?

Peluce: Don’t be so fussy, it’s free.

Serpico: Well, I’m not fussy, I don’t know how I’m gonna eat this…

Peluce: Charlie’s an okay guy. We give him a break on double-parking on deliveries.

Serpico: Couldn’t I pay for it, get what I want?

Peluce: Frank, generally, just sort of take what Charlie gives you.

Serpico seems disillusioned by this minor example of police corruption. He has only scratched the surface.


Serpico is based on the true story of Frank Serpico, the first NYPD officer to report and testify about the widespread corruption within the department. Whilst researching for his role, Al Pacino met Frank Serpico and asked him why he spoke out. Serpico replied:

Well, Al, I don’t know. I guess I would have to say it would be because … if I didn’t, who would I be when I listened to a piece of music?

Serpico’s habit of making enemies leads him to be transferred to a new department several times, and his love life is somewhat unstable too. As such, the film is a showcase for Al Pacino, pretty much the only constant screen presence. I consider it one of his best performances, and certainly one of his most likable characters. Serpico’s dedication to a just cause is inspirational, and his joie de vivre and sense of humour adds some much-needed levity to what could otherwise be a relentlessly gritty film.

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