The Onion Field (1979)

R  |   |  Crime, Drama  |  17 March 1980 (Denmark)
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Ratings: 7.0/10 from 3,394 users  
Reviews: 38 user | 18 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 »



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Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 1 win & 2 nominations. 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:

17 March 1980 (Denmark)  »

Also Known As:

Anthropokynigi sto Los Angeles  »

Box Office


$2,000,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?


As part of research for the script, co-writer Eric Roth went out on police cruises with the LAPD only to have the car he was riding in shot at by a gang member on one outing. 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 »


Det. Sgt. Pierce R. Brooks: Has your conscience ever bothered you? Like feeling - guilty?
Jimmy Smith: Mr. Brooks... I believe... I think that is something that rich white guys dreamed up to keep guys like me down. I honestly don't believe there is such a thing... such a feeling. Guilty? That's just something the Man says in court when your luck runs out.
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Features The Dating Game (1965) See more »

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User Reviews

A True Cop Story

Joe Wambaugh penned this script and told the story of one of the most shocking cases in Los Angeles Police history. Wambaugh was the only man qualified to tell this story since he came out of the ranks of the Los Angeles Police Department.

The story was not just a typical cop story where the cops always win. Rather, it was a story of the tragedy of a lost life, the broken life of another, and the tragic lives of two pathetic, small time killers who would spend the majority of their lives in and out of prison. It was this case that changed Los Angeles police policy from that time on.

The cast was little known at that time. Who would have thought Ted Dansen would go on to TV fame? Who would have thought James Woods would become a big screen actor? The rest of the cast, including John Savage and the late Franklyn Seales would remain a part of the landscape and gain their own fame.

As for Wambaugh, he is one of my favorite writers because of all of the great cop projects he would do: "The Blue Knights," "Police Story" and others.

Some days I really wish for dramas like those especially in these days of mistrust of cops...hey, it's a tough job laying down your life every day of your life. A movie like this might open the eyes of many and change some attitudes.

8 of 12 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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