Serpico - Business Ethics and Whistle-blowing
Being a classic whistle-blowing movie, based on the true story of the New York policeman, Frank
Serpico (pictured right below), who exposed the corruption of his fellow officers.
Other true whistle-blowing movies...
- Silkwood (1983) about
Karen Silkwood (played by Meryl Streep) who mysteriously died in a car crash whilst investigating a leak in a
nuclear energy plant.
- Erin Brockovich (2000) about a successful lawsuit,led by Erin Brockovich (Julia
Roberts), against a polluting energy plant.
- Michael Clayton (2007) - Clayton (George Clooney, pictured right below) helps
blow the whistle on U-North, who knowingly sold a carcinogenic weed killer.
Peter Maas’s 1973 biography of Frank Serpico.
Sidney Lumet (pictured right below, also the director of Twelve Angry Men).
Frank Serpico (Al Pacino, star of The Godfather), New York police officer.
Frank Serpico (a New York policeman, pictured right) is shot in the face. The film flashes
back to 1960 and the start of his police career.
Serpico is idealistic and hates police brutality and corruption. He refuses to
take bribes from gambling and drug dealing organizations, unlike his fellow officers who attack
him with increasing hostility and even death threats.
- moves to Greenwich Village.
- grows his hair and beard.
- befriends left wingers who distrust the police.
- has a relationship with a dancer, Leslie, pictured right together (but they split
- meets and falls in love with his neighbour, Laurie.
His bosses (including the corrupt Captain McClain) and New York’s mayor ignore Serpico’s
demands to fight police corruption, even though he is helped in this battle by another policeman, Bob
Blair (pictured right).
Serpico’s unpopular crusade against corruption so stresses him out that his fiancée, Laurie, eventually leaves
him. He works with an honest cop, Inspector Lombardo, who is equally disgusted with how deeply
rooted corruption is in the police force.
Frustrated with the police’s indifference to corruption (except from Blair, Lombardo ,pictured right
below, and police chief, Sidney Green), he goes to the New York Times.
Serpico is transferred to narcotics (the job he’s always wanted), but this is rife with corruption. Then
the shooting happens that was shown at the beginning of the film.
He is hurt in a drugs raid because his fellow officers are deliberately slow in assisting
Chief Sidney Green:
- sadly reads the death threats from policemen (in the cards next to Serpico’s bed).
Green gives him his prized detective’s gold badge, but Serpico is so disgusted with the police that he tells him
to “shove it”.
On leaving hospital he is told he will be deaf in one ear and his movement will be painfully restricted.
- testifies to the Knapp Commission on police corruption.
- heartbreakingly leaves his home in Greenwich Village (accompanied by a similarly dejected Sidney Green).
The film finishes with a shot of Serpico and his beloved dog (pictured right).
A caption says that Serpico:
- received an award for bravery.
- resigned from the police on June 15 1972.
- is now living somewhere in Switzerland (to escape from angry corrupt cops).
Lessons for business ethics and love
1. Integrity wins respect
Serpico is a hero because he sticks to his principles, particularly his belief in honesty and
The other heroes are just the same:
- Bob Blair and Inspector Lombardo.
2. It’s easy to ignore wrongdoing
The police, and even the mayor, aren’t prepared to do anything about corruption, even though they know it’s
Tom Keough (a fellow policeman and old friend) tells him:
“Who can trust a cop who don’t take money?”
3. Fight for what’s right
Serpico is determined to stamp out corruption, despite the
- frightening hostility from his fellow policemen.
4. Trust is tremendous
Mutual trust is the basis of all Serpico’s successful relationships with:
He breaks up with Laurie when this trust disappears.
5. Principles create pressure
Serpico’s fight against corruption puts enormous strain on his relationships.
His angry moods force Laurie to leave him, even though she still loves him.
Key quotes on business ethics
It's incredible but I feel like a criminal because I don't take money,Serpico.
If as much effort was put into actual police work as was in organizing collections [bribes], crime would
disappear from the streets of the city,Serpico.
The reality is that we do not wash our laundry – it just gets dirtier, Serpico (on
What’s this for? For bein’ an honest cop? Hmm? Or being stupid enough to get shot in the face? You can tell them
that they can shove it, Serpico (on receiving a detective’s badge in hospital).
Two film websites to recommend
1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).
2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)