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The Onion Field (1979)

R  |   |  Crime, Drama  |  24 April 1980 (Spain)
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Ratings: 7.0/10 from 3,346 users  
Reviews: 38 user | 17 critic

Greg Powell is a disturbed ex-con who recruits Jimmy Smith (aka Jimmy Youngblood), a petty thief, as his partner in crime. Powell panics one night when the two of them are pulled over by a ... See full summary »



(book), (screenplay), 1 more credit »
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Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 2 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Det. Karl Francis Hettinger
Gregory Ulas Powell
Franklyn Seales ...
Det. Ian James Campbell
Det. Sgt. Pierce R. Brooks
David Huffman ...
Dist. Atty. Phil Halpin
Jailhouse lawyer
Helen Hettinger (as Diane Hull)
Chrissie Campbell
Greg's woman (as Beege Barkett)
Beat Cop
Le Tari ...
Emmanuel McFadden
Richard Venture ...
Det. Glenn Bates
Pat Corley ...
Jimmy's Lawyer #2


Greg Powell is a disturbed ex-con who recruits Jimmy Smith (aka Jimmy Youngblood), a petty thief, as his partner in crime. Powell panics one night when the two of them are pulled over by a pair of cops for broken brake-lights. Powell decides to kidnap the cops and Smith, as always, reluctantly goes along with Powell's crazy scheme. The group drives out to a deserted onion field in Bakersfield, California and one officer is shot while the other escapes. The remainder of the film explores the nature of the American justice system, as well as the devastating psychological effects of this event and the trial on the surviving officer. Written by Tad Dibbern <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

neo noir | trial | police | thief | robbery | See All (70) »


What Happened In The Onion Field Is True. But The Real Crime Is What Happened After. See more »


Crime | Drama


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

24 April 1980 (Spain)  »

Also Known As:

Anthropokynigi sto Los Angeles  »

Box Office


$2,000,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


After the way his novel was adapted for its film version _The Choirboys_, novelist Joseph Wambaugh decided to take more control of his literary works, having a much larger influence on the production of this movie and its successor adaptation The Black Marble (1980). Joseph Wambaugh was credited sole screenwriter on both films. See more »


When Jimmy is seen watching television at Greg's house he is watching "General Hospital". This scene takes place in early March 1963 while "General Hospital" debuted April 1, 1963. See more »


Gregory Ulas Powell: We told you we were going to let you go... but have you ever heard of the little Lindbergh Law?
Det. Ian Campbell: Yes.
[Powell shoots him]
See more »


References The Night of the Hunter (1955) See more »

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User Reviews

A powerful movie.
11 October 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Ted Danson usually is found jokin' and schmoozin' in sit-coms. But there's no jokin' or schmoozin' in this movie. Here, Mr. Danson plays a police officer who is brutally murdered by two no-account thugs while his partner, completely terrified, looks on and does nothing and then is methodically hunted and only by sheer luck escapes. Remember, the two thugs actually kidnap and terrorize not two hapless civilians, but two police officers armed with their weapons. The message of this movie to me is clear: if this can happen to two police officers, it can happen to anyone, so beware. This is a powerful movie, not only because of the story, which is intense and provocative, but also because of the acting, which offers chilling portrayals of two psychopathic criminals who offer no apologies for their wanton and heinous acts and of an emotionally shattered police officer who is experiencing a nervous breakdown secondary to post-traumatic stress exacerbated by his overwhelming feelings of guilt over having done nothing to save his partner's life. This movie also shows how the criminal justice system reduces this act of terrorism to the level of being just another case as the case drags on for years in the courts. Indeed, the tragedy and terror of the event soon becomes eclipsed by the sheer mountain of legal paperwork it generates in the courts. This is a great movie which is based on an excellent book, which in turn is based on an actual event.

24 of 28 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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