Serpico was based on Peter Maas’ biography of New York Police Department officer Frank Serpico, who went undercover to expose corruption in the police force. Directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Al Pacino, the film was released in 1973 and was a great commercial and critical success. Furthermore, Al Pacino won his first Golden Globe award for Best Actor in 1974 for his portrayal of Frank Serpico. Indeed, critics proclaim that the role of Frank Serpico is one of the highlights of Al Pacino’s career.
The film covers twelve years in the life of Frank Serpico, from 1960 to 1972. During his career, Serpico uncovered mass corruption in the N.Y.P.D. and he exposed this corruption to the authorities. However, far from being grateful and supportive they turned their backs on Serpico, exposing him to harassment and persecution. This harassment and persecution culminated in a shooting, when Serpico was wounded in the face during a drug raid on the 3rd February 1971.
The story was filmed on the streets of New York City and the real-life Frank Serpico looked on during the filming. However, Sidney Lumet considered that Serpico’s presence on the set would distract and inhibit the actors, especially Al Pacino, and so he was asked to leave.
In real-life, Frank Serpico grew his beard and hair, totally altering his appearance from clean-cut police officer to shaggy-haired hippy hero. In the film, this change of appearance was depicted by filming the scenes in reverse order, gradually trimming a hirsute Al Pacino as the scenes moved back in time.
Frank Serpico testified before the Knapp Commission, a government inquiry into N.Y.P.D. corruption. The inquiry sat between 1970 and 1972. On resigning from the police force Serpico was awarded the Medal of Honor and a disability pension. With his police career over, but his integrity intact, he moved to Wales and then Switzerland.