A Movie A Day #14: Eyewitness (1970, directed by John Hough)


In Eyewitness (which is also known as Sudden Terror), eleven year-old Ziggy (Mark Lester) witnesses a policeman (Peter Vaughan) assassinating a visiting African dignitary but, because he has a history of “crying wolf,” he can’t get anyone to believe him.  Not his older sister, Pippa (Susan George).  Not his grandfather (Lionel Jeffries), the lighthouse keeper.  Not the housekeeper, Madame Robiac (Betty Marsden).  Not even Tom Jones (Tony Bonner), a tourist who fancies Pippa.  When he sees two policemen driving up to his grandfather’s lighthouse, Ziggy panics and runs.  Though John Hough’s direction, which is full of zoom shots and Dutch angles, is dated, Eyewitness holds up well as a tight thriller.  Susan George was beautiful in 1970 and Peter Vaughan is a great villain.

If Sam Peckinpah had ever made a children’s movie, it would probably look a lot like Eyewitness.  The movie starts out with Ziggy playing on the beach and pretending to be a soldier while imaginary gunshots and explosions are heard in the background.  It ends with a strange joke about a man who looks like Hitler, followed by a cheery freeze frame.  In between all that cheeriness, the assassin and his brother (Peter Bowles) chase Ziggy across Malta and kill anyone who gets in their way, from a friendly priest to a ten year-old girl being held by her father.  I counted ten onscreen death, which is a lot considering that this British movie was released at a time when some were still arguing that Jon Pertwee-era Dr. Who was too scary for children.  There’s even an exciting car chase that ends with one car overturned and the blood-covered survivors struggling to drag themselves out from underneath the wreckage.  How many British children were traumatized by Eyewitness?


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