HTF REVIEW: "The Onion Field" (with screenshots)

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Ronald Epstein, Aug 6, 2002.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein

    The Onion Field

    Studio: MGM
    Year: 1979
    Rated: R
    Film Length: 126 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)

    Joseph Wambaugh's The Onion Field is a
    powerful true story based on the based on an
    actual 1963 case that involved the kidnapping of
    two LA police offers that ended with one getting
    shot and the other escaping through an onion field.
    Thirty-one-year-old Ian Campbell (Ted Danson) and
    his partner, twenty-eight-year-old Karl Hettinger
    (John Savage), have not been partners long but they
    have a lot in common. Both are ex-marines, married,
    and committed to keeping the streets of Hollywood
    Wambaugh takes us step-by-step on a terrifying
    journey as Officers Ian Campbell and Karl Hettinger
    are kidnapped during a routine traffic stop on a
    dark Hollywood side street by Greg Powell (James
    Woods) and Jimmy Smith (Franklyn Seales). Unexpectedly,
    Woods pulls a gun on the cops, then forces them into
    a deserted onion field, where he kills Danson in
    cold blood. Savage manages to escape, and through
    his eyewitness account Woods and Seales are arrested.
    You would think the story would end there. But
    it doesn't. Thanks to their knowledge and manipulation
    of the quicksilver legal system, Woods and Seales
    manage to evade prosecution for years. Their trials
    turn into a mockery of sorts. Meanwhile, Karl
    Hettinger continues to live with the guilt of his
    partner's death which is leading him into depression
    and suicide.
    How is the transfer?
    I was a little concerned during the credit openings
    of the amount of blemish and film grain that was
    present in the transfer. However, past experiences
    should have immediately told me to wait until the
    credits end. Once they did, I found myself with
    a remarkably clean transfer that sported very little
    blemish and virtually no film grain. Picture looks
    a tad soft, but remains very smooth and film-like.
    While many films of this period tend to look aged,
    MGM has done an admirable job with this catalog
    transfer looking quite nice with colors that are
    accurate -- especially in the flesh tones.
    The mono soundtrack sounds a bit shrilled, without
    much low-end support, but overall it comes across
    clean and clear with no audible hiss.
    The short summary is that this is a very nice
    catalog transfer.
    Special Features
    A full length audio commentary with raspy-
    voiced Director Harold Becker reveals some interesting
    tidbits about the film. For starters, the theme music
    of the film was actual music that slain officer
    Campbell used to play on his bagpipes. This movie
    was actually one of James Woods' and Ted Danson's
    earliest feature roles (though both had extensive
    stage experience). The Director demanded extensive
    rehearsals for the actors in order to be more
    familiar with their characters. Joe Wambaugh was
    with the Director throughout the entire shooting
    and provided a great sense of support not just for
    reference but as support for the film in general.
    Though the commentary is interesting, Harold Becker
    seems overly tired, almost mumbling in some areas
    and going long stretches without saying a word.
    I am not criticizing his style, but rather comparing
    it to the more fluent and talkative commentaries
    I have heard as of late.
    There's an exceptional new documentary called
    Ring of Truth that reunites just about
    everyone involved with the film. beginning with
    screenwriter Joseph Wambaugh who tells us he was
    a member of the LA PD. It was during his leave
    of absence he wrote The Onion Field, which
    was based on the true story of Campbell and
    Hettinger, two fellow police officers he knew on
    the force. He put up his own money to make the
    film, giving him complete control over it. Director
    Harold Becker was so impressed with the fact that
    Wambaugh raised 2 million dollars through police
    donations and mortgaging his own home to make this
    film, that it became a sort of crusade for him to
    properly tell this story. Actors John Savage and
    James Woods talk about their own personal commitments
    to this film -- especially their individual
    responsibilities to properly portray these characters
    and properly tell the story. Ted Danson tells a
    very interesting story about his mother's reaction
    to him playing a role of a man playing the bagpipes.
    With a limited budget, the picture became a huge
    success thanks to the dedication of the entire crew
    and actors involved. A superb documentary!
    (length: approx. 28 minutes)
    The film's original theatrical trailer is
    Final Thoughts
    This isn't an action film. It isn't a film that
    moves quickly or whose purpose is to entertain
    its audience. What lies here is a film that tells
    a true story about friendship, blind chance, bad luck,
    and a fall from grace. Furthermore, this true story
    rivals any like fictional story of its kind.
    With superb performances from a then cast of
    unknowns like Ted Danson (who went on to "Cheers")
    as well as James Woods and John Savage who were
    ready to skyrocket their own careers, The Onion
    Field is a prime example of how a dedicated
    cast and great storytelling can lead to a powerful
    and memorable film like this.
    Release Date: September 17, 2002
  2. DeanR

    DeanR Second Unit

    Jul 3, 2002
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    Ron, great review. I love this flick. I can not wait to get it. I was blown away by this movie when I saw it in the theater in 1979. James Woods, John Savage and the late Franklyn Seales were excellent. I will own this movie on 9/17.
  3. Jon Hertzberg

    Jon Hertzberg Screenwriter

    Mar 6, 2001
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    Thank you for the fine review. One minor quibble though, THE ONION FIELD was far from James Woods' first film role. He appeared in countless theatrical and television films throughout the seventies including THE WAY WE WERE, NIGHT MOVES, THE VISITORS, TVs "Holocaust", THE GAMBLER, HICKEY & BOGGS, and Wambaugh's THE CHOIRBOYS.

  4. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein

    Actually, I derived that information from
    Director Harold Becker who clearly states
    this was Wood's first leading feature role.

    I'll change the review to reflect your information.
  5. Scott Weinberg

    Scott Weinberg Lead Actor

    Oct 3, 2000
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    I just watched this one for the first time. Great movie, and a pretty damn solid DVD from MGM's catalog! I haven't given the commentary a spin, but the "Ring of Truth" featurette was a pleasant surprise!

    I'll echo Ron's sentiments and recommend this DVD quite enthusiastically!

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