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The Onion Field
cast: John Savage, James Woods, Franklyn Seales, Ronny Cox, and Ted Danson

director: Harold Becker

121 minutes (18) 1979
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens
In March 1963, two cops, Karl Hettinger (John Savage) and Ian Campbell (Ted Danson) stop a car. Inside the car are Gregory Powell (James Woods) and Jimmy Smith (the late Franklyn Seales), who abduct the two cops and take them to a deserted onion field. Campbell is shot but Hettinger gets away. The rest of the story follows the trial of the two killers and the devastating effects of the events on the surviving police officer.
   Joseph Wambaugh took six months leave of absence from the Los Angeles Police Department to write his book The Onion Field. For him the five most important words were: "This is a true story." Everything in the film happened pretty much as in life. Wambaugh's previous work had been filmed, but (perhaps disappointed by Robert Aldrich's dire take on The Choirboys) he was determined to have total control over this film version, even to the extent of raising the $2 million budget himself and making the film independently. Harold Becker had made only one previous feature and apart from Savage (who had made The Deer Hunter), most of the cast were unknowns. (Screen debuts for Danson and Seales, first lead role for Woods.) The result is a solid, certainly well made and seriously minded film that somehow misses that vital something that might have made it great. There's nothing to complain about the acting, though Wood's trademark hyperkinetic psycho is more familiar now than it was then. Perhaps Becker, a director who has always been competent but rarely truly inspired, is the key: you can imagine what a Scorsese might have done with this. Even so, it's well worth seeing.
   The DVD has an anamorphic picture in the original 1.85:1 ratio, with mono soundtracks in English and German, Spanish and Italian dubbed versions. There are subtitles in nine languages, which don't for some reason include English. Disc extras: an audio commentary by Becker, the trailer (which for nostalgic thirtysomethings like myself, begins "U trailer advertising X film") and a half-hour documentary, Return To The Onion Field, featuring contributions from Wambaugh, Becker, Woods and Danson (but not Savage, oddly enough).
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