Daily News from New York, New York on December 16, 1973 · 134
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Daily News from New York, New York · 134

New York, New York
Issue Date:
Sunday, December 16, 1973
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r 4 I It ,' R c m w 1 H i ID I j ' v s Vfefc - If fun , x SrHlw r .S n m'f X H4SrW ,X A 3 'Who Cairo Tirysif ACopWboDoini'tf Take Moiroey?r At right: Al Pacino, as idealistic rookie Serpico, confers with director Sidney Lumet on location., Below: Pacino and Lumet setting up a scene where events start closing in on the now long-haired, disillusioned young cop. II I I & By KATHLEEN CARROLL THEY MIGHT REPRESENT New York's Finest, but each cop in "Serpico" has his price. For them, being on the take is the accepted rule of the game, but it was not the rule for Frank Serpico. Serpico grew up believing in the cop on the beat. He saw him as a kindly father figure, a man who stood for honor and decency in a violent, lawless world. This was ,the kind of cop Serpico wanted to be. , It wasn't easy, for Serpico was a born rebeL Regulation haircuts were not for him. He grew a mustache and eventually a Fidel Castro beard. He . lived in Greenwich Village and dressed like someone out of the Beat Generation. - But police work was his life. He wanted only to be good at it, to earn his gold shield as a detective. And so he accepted the drudgery, the assignments to tough precincts. But what he could not accept was the behavior of some of his fellow officers. ' At first, silence seemed to be the better part of valor, so Serpico just sat and watched as his partners collected money from drug dealers, saloon owners, anyone who needed a favor. "We're just skimming a little gambling money," one of them explained. Another admitted he had to keep collecting even though he knew it was wrong. He was in too-deep. . A Story That Had to Be Told On Serpico's part, there was a growing obssession that the truth must be told, that the public must know that the department reeked of corruption. Already the other officers were viewing him with alarm. "You couldn't be trusted," they told him. "Who can trust a cop who don't take money?" Serpico soon faced open hostility. In order to do as his conscience dictated, he had to become a . stool pigeon, the lowest form of animal on the :. police blotter. Finally, unable to stand the pressure any longer, Serpico spoke out, first to the news media, next to the grand jury. Everyone knows what happened then. Serpico was assigned to narcotics, and n -aid on -a n' o addicts he net with t'v? fS-rr,! humiliation.. He w?s phot jiu ,thft, fajrei' v V '-' Y: i . This Is Frank Serpico's story as told by an amazingly sensitive, compassionate movie. While "Serpico" is an angry movie, determined to make its allegations stick, it is entertaining. And although it is about dishonesty, one comes away from it with a feeling of gut honesty, a feeling that this is the way it is or, we hope, was, for it maintains a scrupulous fidelity to its own hard-edged vision of what New York is like. - Al Paelao on His Own To help maintain that vision, Al Pacino gives a masterful performance as Serpico. He proves that, although there is a strong resemblance, he is no rubber stamp Dusiin Hoffman. No longer does he have to stand in Hoffman's shadow. He is an important actor in his own right. In the role of Serpico, he walks like a cop. , He talks like a cop. He even seems to think like a cop. It is as if he had taken on Serpico's skin. Pacino's Serpico, like most people conditioned by city living, has developed resilience, and a street-sharpened wit. The only sign of softness is his affec-. tion for animals. (He keeps a shaggy English sheep dog, a white mouse and a parrot.) With fellow humans, especially women, he has . difficulty sustaining relationships. Too often his intense preoccupation with his work gets in the way. In the final scene, Pacino sits on a bench with his dog. in a pose copied after a photograph of the real Serpico. . From the look of numbness on Pacino's face, one can see that this is a man who has been through hell, both mentally and physically. It is a painful sight, and further proof that Pacino, in his ability to suggest a tortured soul, has given ,& performance of Academy Award caliber. ' Director Sidney Lumet deserves applause as well. How good it is to see him back in his old form! With this movie, - he comes into his own again as one of America's most solid, vigorous directors. Lumet has a special talent for achieving social realism. He seems to know what is right for a certain time and place, what mood (is right, what -e,nyircmrwpV is rrjoti .ana .what ; -people are ngtrt. The people in "Serpico" seem to breathe right for where they live. Maybe this is just a lucky accident, for, as Lumet explains, he really didn't have enough time on "Serpico" to think about what he was doing. It was a do-or-die situation. Director John Avildsen, who had been preparing the picture for production, had been abruptly dismissed. Lumet said: "I don't know what the falling out was about.. I came in six weeks before shooting was to start. There were 107 speaking parts to cast, 104 locations to choose. Nothing had been set. It was frantic. There was no script. Waldo Salt had done three drafts, and each draft was progressively worse. It was physically brutal and emotionally tough. It's all up there on the screen, all the intensity." i A Taste for Danger Intensity is a word that best applies to Pacino. It's as if his spare, muscular frame were wired for electricity, there is so much concentrated energy in everything he does. Lumet can't praise him enough. "He's probably one of the best actors I've worked with, and I don't say that lightly. He is totally consuming, totally committed, and you have to match his dedication. He is the acting version of Frank Serpico. He doesn't give a damn for anything. He just wants to do good work. He's uncompromising to the degree that he wants to do the dangerous stuff." - . Serpico, on a visit from Switzerland, where he is now living, sat in on the script conferences. He would contribute ideas ("He's bottomless," Lumet declared. "It keeps pouring out.") and the actors would improvise scenes. This was all so Lumet could get "at the Inner truth of the man," and avoid, at all costs, the possibility of making "just another cop picture." What Lumet arrived at in the 12 weeks since the first day of shooting is what he describes as "not even a realistic picture, a naturalistic picture." For Lumet, "the most important thing was to let you know that this really happened." This explains why he was so careful about using unknown faces in almost every role. "You can't get that kind of realism," Lumet added, "if the guy is familiar to you or someone you've seen in commercials because they have other connotations." It would have been so easy to make Serpico a heroic figure instead of a frustrated, deeply troubled loner. But Lumet resisted the temptation to pad the picture with Serpico's exploits. "Frank really is a hero," Lumet conceded, "but if you try to gild that, it's just going to be silly ana maudlin." The Cfimote of Corruption Lumet had no trouble resisting the urge to exploit the violence that is normally associated with a cop's life. He deplores violence in movies and he kept a careful check on the violence in "Serpico." There is surprisingly little brutality, considering the kind of picture it is. "Serpico" does not suggest that all cops are dishonest. "It's not an anti-cop movie," Lumet said. "It's about the whole level of corruption and who's really responsible." These men, who accept graft as a way of life, are really just a reflection or a symptom of something worse in the system, he explained. No longer faced with the grueling pressures of "Serpico," Lumet should be ready to relax a bit, but he is not. He likes his work too much to stop. "My job's to keep directing. If I'm not directing, I'm not a director, I'm just a man with opinions." Lumet's face lit up with excitement as he explained his plans. "This took a lot out of me. Now I'm going to do 'Murder on the Orient Express,' an Agatha Christie story, which I hope will be stylish and gay and have that wonderful English pavache. It's just the best plot. You bhriek with delight. There's going to be no reality, completely rear-screen projection. It wi'l be bick to the good Qld davs." 1- Sm; .,;. !ri l Kit f- --iii

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