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Eyewitness AKA Sudden Terror (1970)

Eyewitness AKA Sudden Terror (1970)

Movie review

Released in the US as “Sudden Terror”, Eyewitness is a modern day version of The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Starring the pretty child star Mark Lester as Ziggy who lives in a lighthouse with his grandfather (Lionel Jeffries) and lovely Carnaby Street decked out older sister Pippa (Susan George), as well as a housekeeper Madame Robiac (Betty Marsden) who’s relationship to Grandpa seems closer than that of employee and employer. Nothing is actually said or shown, merely hinted.

Many little boys like to embellish their stories and fantasize but Ziggy makes up the most implausible tall tales and does so regularly. Which is why when he witnesses the assassination of a visiting African President by two rogue policemen (Peter Vaughan and Peter Bowles) no one believes him. Except this time he’s telling the truth and his life is now in very real danger.

Tom Jones (Tony Bonner) is an English tourist who naturally takes a fancy to Pippa when he sees her in a crowd the day of the murder. He tries to help her find Ziggy after the assassination when everything is bedlam. While he appears to like her, he never flirts with her for most of the movie and his behavior is more that of a concerned platonic friend. But then again under the circumstances, it would be inappropriate if he behaved otherwise.

All of this takes place on the island of Malta which if the film is anything to go by seems almost entirely inhabited by British expats. Allow me a moment to digress from the plot and share with you my memory of the first time I saw Eyewitness. I must’ve been 11 or 12 years old and was channel surfing. The movie caught my eye because I liked Mark Lester but also the gorgeous stark landscape of Malta. Those images of Malta as well as the chase scenes …and there’s quite a few …remained with me for years. It wasn’t until recently when the movie finally became available on DVD that I was once again able to watch it. Happily so. Gosh, I really do like this film.

Back to the plot. While Grandpa is thanking and entertaining (read interrogating) Tom for assisting Pippa, Police Inspector Galleria announces on television temporary Martial Law and a curfew for the evening. Tom will now have to stay the night at the lighthouse instead of returning to his friends’ house where he’s been staying while on holiday.

As they’re sitting down for dinner, two policemen arrive. Ziggy, who’s been punished by Pippa, sees the cops arrive from his bedroom window. Thinking that it’s the same rogue cops who assassinated the visiting statesman and later chased him on their motorbikes, he panics and flees through the window.

In town he knocks on the window of his friend, Annmarie (a little girl his age). He pleads with her to go to the police station and report what he witnessed. Ziggy explains that he can’t go for fear of bumping into the two policemen. It doesn’t seem to occur to Ziggy that Annmarie may also bump into these two cops.

She does as he asks her despite the curfew while Ziggy waits in her garden. Annmarie is soon picked up by the police while she’s walking down the street and taken to the police station where she repeats Ziggy’s account to one of the detectives. While he’s quite friendly and gentle with the girl he dismisses the idea of two policemen being the murderers as child’s fantasy. He orders the policeman who first picked her up to drive her back home. This policeman in turn orders two other policemen to drive the child home. Guess which two cops.

When Ziggy sees who Annmarie has returned with he escapes by running into a nearby church. While Ziggy tries to explain to the priest that he’s being pursued one of the rogue cops shoots the priest in front of the altar. Shocking, I know. And by my estimate there’s a body count of 13 by the end of the film and it’s only 91 minutes long but it does keep you on edge. A cat and mouse game now ensues inside the cavernous old church and its catacombs with Ziggy again trying to elude and escape his pursuers.

Ziggy’s family meanwhile has become aware of his absence and notify the police at once to report he’s missing. Also around this time Inspector Galleria (Jeremy Kemp) is beginning to put the pieces together and figure out the killer/s true identity. Here’s another twist; the motive may not have been political.

Grandpa, Tom and Pippa now realizing that for once Ziggy has been telling them the truth search for him on their own. Grandpa rightly suspects Ziggy may be hiding at a fort they sometime go to on weekends but the bad guys are already there.

A thrilling and terrifying car chase will ensue from the fort through a rugged, rocky seaside landscape. Again the island of Malta is as much a protagonist as the actors of this movie that crackles with suspense.

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