Classic Cop Movies: The Real Stories Behind the French Connection and Serpico


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We are fascinated by police movies. Since the dawn of Hollywood, we have been intrigued and entertained by films that depict the trials and tribulations of these defenders of justice.

Although many of our favorite cop movies have been created by the imaginations of talented writers, some of the all-time great cop movies are based on true-life stories. Here’s two film classics that fit into that category.

The French Connection

Made famous by death defying car chases, and the rogue investigative techniques of Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle, The French Connection is a Hollywood classic. FrenchConnection15Despite the creative liberties taken by the film’s creators, this Gene Hackman masterpiece is rooted in reality.

A man named Auguste Ricord worked for the French Gestapo during the German occupation of France during World War II. Using money that he stole during his Gestapo days as start-up capital, Ricord and several other men created a large scale, international heroin smuggling ring.

The heroin was smuggled from Turkey to France, then to the United States by way of Canada. During the operation’s peak, the nefarious product was the primary source of all heroin found in the United States.

By the 1960s, the smuggling ring’s days were numbered in the United States thanks to the dedicated work of multiple law enforcement agencies, including the NYPD. In 1961, New York police detectives Eddie Egan (the real life Popeye Doyle) and his partner Sonny Grosso seized a whopping, record breaking 112 pounds of heroin. The result of their efforts led to the beginning of the end for Ricord and his international ring of heroin dealers.


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Steeped in controversy and starring Hollywood legend Al Pacino, Serpico is not your typical police movie. The central figure – Vincent “Frank” Serpico – was an NYPD officer who blew the whistle on police corruption. Serpico was a proud police officer who was part of a storied and reputable police department. Unfortunately, like everything in life, there were a few bad apples who needed to be rooted out, and brought to justice.

Serpico’s whistleblowing on police corruption in the late 1960s and 1970s was a seminal moment in NYPD history. It allowed for a major overhaul in the department, which was a positive outcome for the majority of the hardworking, honest officers that made up New York’s Finest.

The whistleblowing by Serpico began when he was assigned to plainclothes duties after putting in his time as a patrolman. Serpico’s efforts to clean-up the department were aided by his fellow officer David Durk. Knowing full well of the danger in identifying corrupt officers, Serpico pushed ahead but almost lost his life after being shot by a suspect during a 1971 drug arrest in Brooklyn. The shooting was mired in controversy due to many factors, but no formal investigation was ever opened.

The end result of Serpico’s pursuits led to the creation of the Knapp Commission, a five-member panel founded by Mayor Lindsay to investigate the widespread corruption. The story, and eventual movie, were compelling enough for Pacino to be nominated for an Oscar.

What are some of your favorite police flicks based on real events?


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About jchasenovelist

Published thriller author, criminologist, and blogger.
This entry was posted in crime, Film, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Classic Cop Movies: The Real Stories Behind the French Connection and Serpico

  1. Sue Coletta says:

    I’m drawing a blank. Not enough caffeine. 🙂 However, you chose two excellent flicks. Loved them both.

    Liked by 1 person

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