6.9/10
4,093
42 user 20 critic

The Onion Field (1979)

An LA police officer is murdered in the onion fields outside of Bakersfield. However, legal loopholes could keep his kidnappers from receiving justice, and his partner is haunted by overwhelming survivor's guilt.

Director:

Harold Becker

Writers:

Joseph Wambaugh (book), Joseph Wambaugh (screenplay)
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Nominated for 1 Golden Globe. Another 1 win & 2 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
John Savage ... Det. Karl Francis Hettinger
James Woods ... Gregory Ulas Powell
Franklyn Seales ... Jimmy Lee 'Youngblood' Smith
Ted Danson ... Det. Ian James Campbell
Ronny Cox ... Det. Sgt. Pierce R. Brooks
David Huffman ... Dist. Atty. Phil Halpin
Christopher Lloyd ... Jailhouse Lawyer
Dianne Hull ... Helen Hettinger (as Diane Hull)
Priscilla Pointer ... Chrissie Campbell
Beege Barkette ... Greg's Woman (as Beege Barkett)
Richard Herd ... Beat Cop
Le Tari ... Emmanuel McFadden
Richard Venture Richard Venture ... Det. Glenn Bates
Lee Weaver ... Billy
Pat Corley ... Jimmy's Lawyer #2
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Storyline

Gregory Ulas Powell is a disturbed ex-con who recruits Jimmy Lee "Youngblood" Smith, 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 <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

A True American Tragedy Captured on Film! See more »

Genres:

Crime | Drama

Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

28 February 1980 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

The Onion Field See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$2,000,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

$9,890,597
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The abduction of officers Hettinger and Campbell was filmed at the exact location at Carlos and Gower, where the real crime occurred in March 1963. Writer Joseph Wambaugh said, "I made sure that there were cops who were on duty the night Hettinger and Campbell were kidnapped, to come around and take a look at how we were depicting it." See more »

Goofs

When Karl Hettinger is talking into the patrol car microphone, the microphone is turned around and he is actually talking into the back of it. See more »

Quotes

Dist. Atty. Phil Halpin: Campbell's forgotten. He may as well never have lived. Hettinger's a ghost. Only the legal process has meaning. I've got to get away. You know what I was thinking? I was thinking that if it were in my power, I'd release Powell and Smith, drop all the charges. Let 'em walk. If only I could send some lawyers and judges to the gas chamber.
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User Reviews

Wambaughs best work
16 January 2004 | by dtucker86See 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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