Review: The Onion Field

The Onion Field is a neo noir from 1979 based on the book by Joseph Wambaugh. Wambaugh was a Los Angeles police officer turned writer. He wrote two books before this, both made into films. He took a 6 month sabbatical from the force and wrote this classic. He soon had to leave the force after his notoriety got in the way of his job. With his bad experiences involving his previous works turned into films, he demanded to have full control of this film. He raised the money himself and made this film the way he wanted it made. We can thank Wambaugh for working hard to make a timeless classic, instead of another made for TV movie of the week.

This film is based on a true story and Wambaugh did a ton of research and interviews to get this as right as possible in his book. The same care was done for the film with Harold Becker directing. This film starts out getting to know our two cops, Karl Francis Hettinger played by John Savage and Ian James Campbell played by Ted Danson in his first film role. We also get to know Jimmy Lee ‘Youngblood’ Smith, played by Franklyn Seales, who just got out of prison. He meets Gregory Ulas Powell played by James Woods, who has some “work” for Jimmy. They soon start robbing liquor stores and traveling between Las Vegas and Los Angeles to spend their spoils on guns and cars. The two pairs soon meet in a simple traffic violation for no tail lamps. Our thieves kidnap our cops by gun point and take them to an onion field in Bakersfield. This is were all hell breaks loose. Will our thieves get away with kidnapping? Will our cops escape?

I don’t like to give away spoilers and will try my best on this one. I do want to mention that where most noir type films end, this one is just half over. We see what happens as the case goes to court and how this type of event affects our hard-boiled detective in the real world.

All four of the leads are amazing in this film! Also look for a small roles played by Christopher Lloyd and Ronny Cox. Richard Herd also has a great small scene with a very strong monologue.

This film has been on my “to watch” list for years and I finally got to it. Don’t be like me and put this to the top of your list right away if you have not seen it. This is one of the great neo noir films of the 1970’s and should be talked about more. It is an interesting story and I found the way it was told very neutral and honest.

Review: Night Moves

“Who’s wining?”

“Nobody, one side is just losing slower than the other.”

This movie is a neo noir staring Gene Hackman in all his 1970’s glory.  It has it all, the 16-year-old Lolita, the young rebel mechanic boyfriend, the aging starlet, the Hollywood stuntman, the unhappy wife and of course the ex-football player turned hardboiled private detective.  We also have some classic film noir dialog, updated for a 1970’s audience.  How about this zinger?

“What happened to your face?”

“I won second place in a fight.”

Or this great line from one of our female leads.

“Your are kind of edgy, aren’t you?”

“It’s the heat and the low wages.”

The settings are classic film noir locations, we start out in Los Angles and then go head to the Florida Keys.  We have a young James Woods just getting his career started and a 16 year oldish Melanie Griffith making her film debut.  All directed by Arthur Penn.

So with all of this, why isn’t this picture better known?  TCM’s Ben Markowitz said “This is the best movie you have never seen.”  I’m not sure why, this film just came on my radar earlier this year, and I’m glad I got to view it.

Our story starts with our private detective played by Hackman getting hired by our aging starlet to find her step-daughter(Griffin).  He is also having problems with his marriage, his wife is played by Susan Clark.  His investigation takes him into the world of Hollywood movies and stuntmen.  The case eventually takes him to the Florida Keys and he meets our real femme fatale of the film played by Jennifer Warren.  We also find the step daughter here, us as the audience and our hero believe she is our femme fatale, but she is still just in training and doesn’t fool our hero. The three see the scary remnants of a boat wreck which scares our step-daughter and she willingly goes back to California with our hero.  Our hero thinks the case is closed, but it is only getting started.

Gene Hackman was one of the biggest stars in the 1970’s, starting the decade out with The French Connection and ending it with Superman.  Check out my review of The French Connection here:

He also was in a handful of other box office successes and classic films from the decade.  This is right up there with some of his best, but seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I think classic film noir buffs and noir fans in general will too.  If you’re fans of Hackman, it’s a must see and if you want to see a young Melanie Griffith or James Wood it’s worth a viewing.