For film fans in December 1973, Al Pacino’s portrayal of a cop was one of the fave films of year with his appearance in Serpico.
Based on a non-fiction book Serpico by Peter Maas, the film covers 12 years in the life of Frank Serpico, a New York City police officer. He rises through the rank from a patrolman to a detective, but begins to realize the corruption threaded through his fellow officers.
Although he’s threatened and harassed, he continues to solve cases and learn more about the illegal activities of NYPD officers and gathers as much information as possible.
Serpico later testifies at the Knapp Commission, exposing the criminal activities of police officers despite many attempts to kill him, including being shot in the face during a drug bust.
Directed by Sidney Lumet, he initially permitted Mr. Serpico to be on set, but then decided to keep him away from the production to allow Al Pacino, who portrayed Serpico, to act without influence.
Pacino had hit the A-list in Hollywood after portraying Michael Corleone in The Godfather in 1972 and costarring with Gene Hackman in Scarecrow earlier in 1973 and was the first choice to portray Serpico.
Surrounded by well-known character actors of the time, Pacino was the star, although two lesser police characters were played by Judd Hirsch and F. Murray Abraham.
The film was created on the streets of New York City, using over 100 locations throughout the island of Manhattan. Pacino’s passionate performance was a box office bonanza. Serpico was released on December 5, 1973, made for US$1 million, and made almost $30 million at the box office.
Pacino earned his first Golden Globe Award for best actor in 1974, and was nominated for a BAFTA as well as an Academy Award for portraying Frank Serpico. The film was nominated for writing and music awards by the BAFTAs as well as Golden Globes.
This gritty performance of a New York City cop certified Pacino as a leading man – and certainly showed off his chops as an actor who embodied each character. Seeing this film in the next decade, although its a wholly 1970s film, the intensity of Pacino’s performance makes it a must-see cop film.