There's a cop killer loose in New York City, one who murders only policemen from the narcotics division with a breadknife. But what the law don't know is that the killer dresses as a policeman himself, only with a balaclava over his head to conceal his identity. One of the investigating lieutenants is Fred O'Connor (Harvey Keitel), who thanks to his corrupt ways, is able to afford an expensive apartment he joint owns with colleague Bob Carvo (Leonard Mann), if not fully furnish it. However, Fred is being watched by an intense young man (John Lydon) who seems to know an awful lot about him...
Corrupt goes by a few titles, but was originally named Order of Death after Hugh Fleetwood's novel on which it was based; it's also known as Copkiller. Fleetwood adapted his own novel with Ennio De Concini and director Roberto Faenza, but the end result tended towards the confusing in its latter stages, perhaps the result of editing depending on which version you see. The biggest draw is seeing cult star Keitel sparring with cult musician Lydon, the Johnny Rotten of the seventies, as their characters play out sadomasochistic mind games with each other.
The former Sex Pistol is a strange choice, but in a way he's surprisingly effective even if you can see why he wasn't exactly in demand for more starring roles after this one, never mind that it was poorly distributed. An Italian film made in America, and in the English language, Corrupt is what is known as a psychological thriller, so there aren't so much of the exciting sequences and more of an emphasis on how much damage Fred and his new acquaintance can do on their respective personalities.
What happens is that the young man, who admits to being called Leo Smith, appears at the door of the expensive apartment after slipping past the doorman and purports to be the cop killer. Fred isn't entirely convinced, but he is disturbed by the way Leo has tracked him down, wondering how much else he knows. This means that Leo is beaten up by the cop who eventually handcuffs and ties him up, keeping him in the bathroom. It looks as if Fred has the upper hand, but could it be that Leo is enjoying his treatment? When Fred visits his grandmother (Sylvia Sidney), he discovers that his captive is a rich heir who wants atonement for inheritance he doesn't feel he deserves.
It would appear that Leo is not the killer after all, so who is? This is never made entirely clear, but we suspect Fred when he accidentally knocks Bob unconscious after Bob finds out about the prisoner and attempts to free him. Paranoid that he will be accused and thinking he's killed him, Fred drags the body to the nearest park with Leo in tow and demands that Leo slit Bob's throat to make it look as if the cop killer has put paid to him. In a panic that he will be killed himself, Leo complies and now they are both embroiled in a strange dance where one can't leave the other alone: Leo moves in with Fred and they become like a bickering married couple, with Leo the nagging wife. The ending makes him seem like a criminal mastermind (with the tools of his trade concealed in an Arsenal bag), but who tied him up again? It's likely you'll be left with more questions than answers. Music by Ennio Morricone.