The Onion Field

"That happened in the onion field is true. But the real crime is what happened after."
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The Onion Field is a 1979 film that depicts the true events surrounding the 1963 murder of L.A.P.D. police officer Ian Campbell. The movie was directed by Harold Becker and is based on Joseph Wambaugh's novel of the same name. In 1963, two career criminals, Jimmy Youngblood (James Woods) and Greg Powell (Franklyn Seales), kidnap plain-clothes police officers Karl Hettinger (John Savage) and Ian Campbell (Ted Danson) after a routine traffic stop. Realizing that the act will most likely land them back in prison, the duo drive the police officers to a remote onion field on the outskirts of Bakersfield, California. Campbell is brutally executed by a gunshot to the head, while Hettinger escapes. Youngblood and Powell are finally arrested and brought to trial.

The wheels of the U.S. justice system grind very slowly as Youngblood and Powell are able to use a series of delays and appeals to their advantage. Their initial death sentences are eventually reduced to life without parole, by way of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that outlawed capital punishment. As the years drag on, Hettinger suffers survivor's guilt as he questions his own actions on the fateful night. His own depression is compounded by a slow legal system and colleagues who also feel he could have done more to save his partner's life. Campbell's family members also suffer through the circus-like process and wonder if justice will ever be served. The brutal process eventually takes its toll on Hettinger, as his personal life and health begin to deteriorate, and he is fired from the force.

The Onion Field's tragic story puts the U.S. justice system on trial, as it exposes how violent criminals can exploit the system for their own gain, and the irrevocable damage done to families affected by the system.

| 1979 | 2 hr 2 min | 6.8/10 | 57/100
John Savage, James Woods, Franklyn Seales, Ted Danson
Harold Becker
Produced By
Walter Coblenz
The Onion Field
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