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The Onion Field
The Onion Field
Actors: John Savage, James Woods, Franklyn Seales, Ted Danson, Ronny Cox
Director: Harold Becker
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
R     2002     2hr 2min

From a real-life American tragedy, this tale of thoughtless brutality, cold-blooded murder and hard-won justice is "a prowling, gripping, disturbing movie" (Newsweek). Starring John Savage and James Woods and featuring a s...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: John Savage, James Woods, Franklyn Seales, Ted Danson, Ronny Cox
Director: Harold Becker
Creators: Charles Rosher Jr., John W. Wheeler, Walter Coblenz, Eric Roth, Joseph Wambaugh
Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Drama, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: MGM (Video & DVD)
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen,Anamorphic - Closed-captioned,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 09/17/2002
Original Release Date: 01/01/1979
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/1979
Release Year: 2002
Run Time: 2hr 2min
Screens: Color,Widescreen,Anamorphic
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 8
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French

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Movie Reviews

"Have you ever heard of the 'Little Lindbergh' Law?"
Robert J. Schneider | Tacoma, WA USA | 03/19/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Those are the bone-chilling words spoken by kidnapper and soon-to-be killer Gregory Powell (brilliantly portrayed by James Woods) just seconds before fatally shooting Sgt. Ian Campbell (sensitively portrayed by a pre-"Cheers" Ted Danson) near an abandoned onion field in the disturbing, psychologically intense film THE ONION FIELD (1979). This film, directed in an appropriate brooding, deliberate style by Harold Becker, recounts the events that took place on March 2, 1963, as well as the aftermath of subsequent trials that took their mental toll on Sgt. Karl Hettinger (brilliantly portrayed by the underrated Method actor John Savage).Brilliant police novelist Joseph Wambaugh, whose earlier work "The Choirboys" became warped in the screenplay adaptation process and, as a result, got turned into an occasionally funny but ultimately unsatisfying movie in 1977 (in which James Woods, not coincidentally, had appeared), made sure this time that he had complete control over the screenplay for THE ONION FIELD. In doing so, the film version remains faithful to the events described in the book, as it recounts the slow build-up to the terrible crime in parallel scenes; one showing the criminals, and the other showing the police officers before their fateful meeting. It also shows the slow psychological breakdown that is suffered afterwards by the surviving officer, who is tortured by a seemingly endless cycle of trials as well as the derision of his police superiors who felt that he could have done more to prevent the tragedy. The only major fault that I find in the film is its irregular chronology of the aftermath; it provides no dates for each scene, which is bad because a scene that takes place days after the previous one will be followed by a sudden jump of ten or more years into the future. This gets confusing to the viewer, who will suddenly--an unexpectantly--find a longhaired 1970's Gregory Powell spouting out prison law to a fellow inmate following a scene where the crewcut '60's Powell is defending himself in court. Also, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that (temporarily) outlawed capital punishment, thereby instantly commuting Powell and Jimmy Smith's death sentences to that of life imprisonment, is barely even mentioned, despite its obvious significance. Nevertheless, THE ONION FIELD is a compelling, and faithful, dramatization of one of the most shocking murder cases of the 1960's. It is just another small piece of American history, and is recommended for anyone who wants more insight into the development of our modern legal and law enforcement systems. Of course, I also recommend it for everyone who considers themselves to be film buffs. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED"
They don't make 'em like this anymore
D. Hartley | Seattle, WA USA | 03/19/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

""The Onion Field" brought up the tail end of a "golden era" of intelligent, gripping and realistic American crime dramas that began with 1967's "In Cold Blood", and continued through the 70's with films like "Serpico" and "Dog Day Afternoon". Director Harold Becker ("City Hall", "Sea Of Love") assembles the perfect cast to portray the true story of a kidnapping and cold-blooded murder of an L.A. police officer in 1963. John Savage's usually distracting tics and twitches are put to good use as the high-strung, guilt-ridden cop who survives the harrowing incident. James Woods infuses his edgy, psychotic cop-killer with an underlying native intelligence that makes him even more frightening than usual. Newcomer Franklyn Seales is quite memorable in a layered performance as Woods' conflicted accomplice (unfortunately, Seales all but vanished after this potentially star-making role). Ted Danson and Ronny Cox also give excellent support. The scene dramatizing the "onion field incident" itself chills the viewer with the same unblinking realism that made "In Cold Blood"'s deliberate, step-by-step re-enactment of the Clutter killings so haunting. The film can also be seen as an unflinching look at the American justice system, and the resulting lose/lose scenarios that sometimes occur on both sides of the docket. Riveting and unforgettable."
Gregory Saffady | Michigan | 11/09/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"The studio brass finally got it right when they let Joseph Wambaugh write and supervise the production of his (then most) powerful non-fiction masterwork. THE ONION FIELD is one of 1979's best films and it's brutality, both socially and judicially, is stunning. Harold Becker was the right director for this labor of love, an "A lister" at the time would have screwed it up and the film's intensity would have been lost under the hype. The acting is the core of THE ONION FIELD: James Woods was robbed of an Oscar nod. John Savage plays his heart out as the tortured Carl Hettinger and Ronny Cox is solid as Pierce R. Brooks (Brooks later wrote OFFICER DOWN CODE 3, which is a staple in any police library). Christopher Lloyd has a small important role as The Jailhouse Lawyer. This was justice for Wambaugh after his studio war over THE CHOIRBOYS (1977). Put this one in the win column.
Best Role ever for James Woods
Bruce T. Johnston | Grand Blanc, MI USA | 12/27/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This movie is reminiscent of "In Cold Blood" because of the tragedy of it, and it's "duo" plot line, but is I think a much better rendition of the book, and Woods is outstanding in his role. You really get to where you like, but don't like this guy! You can see how he traps and sucks people in with his charm, but see his totally maniacal side as well. He really is a sick puppy in this!

It is a haunting movie that you will have scenes in your head for years, and certain lines will stay with you always if you are a true movie fan.

Ted Danson has a really good, if not brief (you'll see what I mean) part in the movie. It really is one that if you like this type of movie fare you will watch this one again and again on a Saturday afternoon curled up on the couch with the dog while your team is getting slaughtered on the gridiron!

One that I had to search out as part of my collection! A must see!"