The Onion Field

1979, Movie, R, 122 mins

Review

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After having some of his earlier works unacceptably altered, Wambaugh decided to write the screenplay himself for this version of his true story about two Los Angeles cops and the killers of one of them. Danson and Savage, a pair of plainclothes officers working the Hollywood beat, go after two lowlifes in a car, Woods and Seales, and are shocked when a gun is put in their faces. The cops are disarmed, kidnapped, and taken to a field some distance from Los Angeles where Danson is assassinated. Savage gets away, and with his accurate description the killers are soon nabbed. The rest of the picture concerns the judicial system and how it favors the felon over the victim. Both killers are willing to cooperate in return for a deal from the DA's office, and each claims it was the other who pulled the trigger on Danson. Meanwhile, Savage is so wracked with guilt for his partner's death that he begins to break down mentally. An authentic look at police work (and that is where it shines), the picture gets confused in the court scenes and can't sustain the power of its opening sequences. Good acting and careful direction by Becker make it worth seeing, but the violence and the language may be too graphic for some tastes. Although Wambaugh himself was a cop with the Los Angeles Police Department, he had technical assistance on this from Richard Falk. Advice on courtroom procedures came from Phillip Halpin and Dino Fulgoni, who were portrayed by Huffman and Pataki. The crime took place in 1963 and Smith (Seales) was released in the 1980s, over strenuous objections. leave a comment

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