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Serpico - Business Ethics and Whistle-blowingSerpico - Business Ethics and Whisleblowing


Serpico (1973)


Famous for...

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.

 Serpico - Business Ethics and Whisleblowing

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. Serpico - Business Ethics and Whisleblowing


 Based on...

Peter Maas’s 1973 biography of Frank Serpico.



Sidney Lumet (pictured right below, also the director of Twelve Angry Men).Serpico - Business Ethics and Whisleblowing





Key characterSerpico - Business Ethics and Whisleblowing

Frank Serpico (Al Pacino, star of The Godfather), New York police officer.


The story

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.

Serpico:Serpico - Business Ethics and Whisleblowing

  • 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 up).
  • meets and falls in love with his neighbour, Laurie. Serpico - Business Ethics and Whisleblowing

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 - Business Ethics and Whisleblowing

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 him.

Chief Sidney Green:

  • visits him in hospital.
  • 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). Serpico - Business Ethics and Whisleblowing

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 respectSerpico - Business Ethics and Whisleblowing

Serpico is a hero because he sticks to his principles, particularly his belief in honesty and police integrity.

The other heroes are just the same:

  • his parents and Laurie.
  • Bob Blair and Inspector Lombardo.
  • Chief Green.


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 wrong.

Tom Keough (a fellow policeman and old friend) tells him:

“Who can trust a cop who don’t take money?”

 Serpico - Business Ethics and Whisleblowing

3. Fight for what’s right

Serpico is determined to stamp out corruption, despite the

  • frightening hostility from his fellow policemen.
  • break up with Laurie.


4. Trust is tremendousSerpico - Business Ethics and Whisleblowing

Mutual trust is the basis of all Serpico’s successful relationships with:

  • Laurie (pictured right).
  • his parents.
  • all the honest cops.

He breaks up with Laurie when this trust disappears.

 Serpico - Business Ethics and Whisleblowing

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 corruption).

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)



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