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The Onion Field

By Jerry Renshaw

One night in 1963, two plainclothes LAPD officers were abducted by armed small-time criminals after a routine traffic stop, then driven to a remote area where one was brutally executed. The other officer managed to escape and the perpetrators were captured and brought to trial. Despite overwhelming evidence, the slayers managed to drag the justice process on for years through appeals and delaying tactics, one of them making use of the prison law library to become a "jailhouse lawyer." Taken from the Joseph Wambaugh book, The Onion Field is a true story about a case that changed LAPD policies forever. More than a simple police procedural, though, the film is a character study that follows the aftermath of the murder for all involved. John Savage, as the surviving officer, is called on over and over to reenact the event in court, chided by his superiors and eventually fired from the force, with redemption a long way off. He does a great job in a harrowing role as frustration, guilt, and depression cause his life and career to disintegrate over time. There are impressive early performances by (a pre-Cheers) Ted Danson and James Woods (setting the tone for countless raw-nerve, psycho-lowlife roles that Woods would take on in the future). The compelling script, written by ex-cop Wambaugh (with no studio interference), is a reminder of why he's one of novelist James Ellroy's favorite writers. It's a story of tragedy and hope, dignity and pain, with a potent emotional payoff.

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Buy this VHS movie from! (Click here!)Buy this DVD from! (Click here!)Soundtrack unavailable at - try eBay (see links below)Rated RNot on an American Film Institute 100 list

Director: Harold Becker

Stars: John Savage, James Woods, Ted Danson, Ronny Cox, Christopher Lloyd, Dianne Hull

Released: September 7, 1979

Availability: DVD VHS

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