The Onion Field

The Onion Field
The Onion Field

Recommended by Ralph Mellon

A rare case, from 1979, of the writer having creative control.

Cop novelist Joseph Wambaugh was so affronted by the film version of his novel ‘The Choirboys’ that he put up most of the readies, with director Harold Becker, to oversee this version of another of his books.

In 1963, two Los Angeles policemen, Karl Hettinger (John Savage) and Ian Campbell (a pre-stardom Ted Danson), are kidnapped in a routine traffic stop by small-time criminals, Greg Powell (James Woods) and Jimmy Smith (Franklyn Seales).

They are driven north to an onion field, where Campbell is shot to death and Hettinger escapes.

The true story deals with the death-sentenced hoods’ exploitation of the legal system, as a series of appeals and re-trials drag the case out interminably before their sentences are reduced to life imprisonment – and the psychological destruction of Hettinger, blamed by some for his partner’s death, eaten by guilt, and constantly having to re-live the events.

Acting, especially by Woods, is first-rate.