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The Onion Field (1979)

R  |   |  Crime, Drama  |  24 April 1980 (Spain)
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Ratings: 7.0/10 from 3,351 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 »



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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) »


A True American Tragedy Captured on Film! 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
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Did You Know?


Ted Danson's feature film debut 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 »


LAPD Captain: Any man who gives up his gun to some punk is a coward. Any man who does can kiss his badge goodbye, if I can help it. You're policemen. Put your trust in God.
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User Reviews

Wambaughs best work
16 January 2004 | by (Germany) – See all my reviews

The Onion Field was a story that needed to be told. This is a story that will really make you angry, angry at a legal system that lets vicious criminals off the hook and brutalizes their victims. I was outraged at the horrible crime committed against Officers Ian Campbell and Karl Heninger. They were both abducted and taken to an onion field and Campbell was shot and killed while Heninger managed to get away. As cruel as it may sound, I think Heninger would have been better off if they had killed him as well. Campbell's death was quick, Heninger suffered a living death. He was ostracized by his fellow police officers as a coward and they actually made him tell his story to young officers as an example of what not to do in a crisis situation. I was so angry watching this at how this poor man was treated. I thought policemen were supposed to stand by each other. Heninger was so traumatized by this that he became a kleptomaniac and was forced to resign from the department. What was even more obscene was that the trial of the two killers became the longest most drawn out affair in legal history, it literally dragged on for years with Heninger being forced to testify again and again. Gregory Powell (the triggerman) was represented by a lawyer named Irving Kanarek (who would later represent Charles Manson). Kanarek was legendary in Los Angeles courts for being a professional "obstructionist", a lawyer who dragged out proceedings by objections and legal "foot dragging". Kanarek spent a year and a half on pre trial motions before his own client fired him in disgust. This film is a searing indictment of a legal system that protects the deadly spider and ignores the innocent fly. James Woods was absolutely chilling as this psychopathic killer. He was a young actor just getting started at the time and what a way to debut! The late Gene Siskel said that he was almost like Frankenstein's monster. Yes The Onion Field is not a pleasant story, but it is one that needs to be told. There is one tragic footnote that I would like to add involving Karl Heninger. He died in 1994 of a liver disease. I wrote a letter to Joseph Wambaugh and he told me this. He said Heninger was an alcoholic and he never ever escaped the horror of what happened that night. May he rest in peace.

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