Eyewitness (1970 film)

Eyewitness (also entitled Sudden Terror in the US) is a 1970 British drama film directed by John Hough.[1] The film is a British adaptation of a novel by Mark Hebden, the pen name for John Harris.

DVD cover
Directed byJohn Hough
Produced byPaul Maslansky
Irving Allen
Written byRonald Harwood
Bryan Forbes (Uncredited)
Based onnovel Eyewitness by Mark Hebden
StarringMark Lester
Susan George
Lionel Jeffries
Music byDavid Whitaker
Van der Graaf Generator
Fairfield Parlour
Edited byGeoffrey Foot
Irving Allen Productions
Distributed byMGM-EMI (UK)
Release date
June 1970
Running time
92 min.
CountryUnited Kingdom

The plot is similar to Cornell Woolrich's novelette "The Boy Cried Murder", originally cinematized under name The Window.[2][3]


Ziggy, a boy of about twelve, is an accidental witness to a killing on a Mediterranean island, after which he is attacked himself. He goes on the run with his older sister, Pippa, helped by their grandfather.



The film is based on a 1966 novel by Mark Hebden, which was set in France and concerned an assassination attempt on the French president. The New York Times called it "simple and predictable... but a good deal of charm and spirit in the storyline."[4] The Spectator called it "a colourful, busy and suspenseful affair."[5]

John Hough, who had made the film Wolfshead: The Legend of Robin Hood, learned that Bryan Forbes had taken over EMI Films and was interested in young filmmakers. He called Forbes and showed him his film at Forbes's office in Elstree. (This was filmed by a BBC documentary on Forbes called Man Alive.) Forbes had a script called Eyewitness have given the project to Irving Allen to make and Paul Maslanksy to produce. Hough was assigned a direct. Forbes did some uncredited rewriting of the script.[6][7]

The film includes music by Van der Graaf Generator.[8]


The film was shot entirely in Malta although in the movie the name of the nation is not given and the flag (a modified cross with red and white colours) and coat of arms shown are different from Malta's.

Jonathan Demme was working as a rock journalist in London during filming and was hired by Irving Allen to be a musical co-ordinator on the film.


In December 1970 National General agreed to distribute the film in the US.[9]


The New York Times called the film an "exasperating model of how not to film the fable of the boy who cried wolf... What ever happened to British restraint? The tone of the film is even more hysterical than the boy... Under John Hough's direction, the picture raucously careens after the sprinting lad, with the nervous color camera all but doing a back flip, plus a blaring score of eerie sounds and spookier rock 'n' roll. Worst of all, the screenplay continually cuts from the boy and his plight to some singularly dull adults."[10]

The Los Angeles Times called it "thoroughly satisfying."[11]

Box Office

According to EMI records the film performed "outstandingly" in Japan.[12]


The film is the third of four versions of the story. The others are:[13][14]


  1. http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/title/32691
  2. DeGiglio-Bellemare, Mario; EllbĂ©, Charlie; Woofter, Kristopher (11 December 2014). Recovering 1940s Horror Cinema: Traces of a Lost Decade. Lexington Books. p. 123. ISBN 9781498503808. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
  3. EYEWITNESS Monthly Film Bulletin; London Vol. 37, Iss. 432, (Jan 1, 1970): 206.
  4. Criminals at Large By ANTHONY BOUCHER. New York Times 26 Mar 1967: 287.
  5. It's a Crime Prior, Maurice. The Spectator; London Vol. 217, Iss. 7221, (Nov 18, 1966): 658.
  6. Bryan Forbes, A Divided Life, Mandarin Paperback 1993 p 105
  7. "Interview with John Hough". History Project.
  8. "David Jackson - page 3". Retrieved 6 June 2019.
  9. National General Slates 'Terror' Los Angeles Times 25 Dec 1970: e25.
  10. "British Thriller, 'Sudden Terror,' Bows". New York Times. 11 February 1971.
  11. `Terror' Opens in Multiples Thomas, Kevin. Los Angeles Times 12 Mar 1971: e15.
  12. Moody, Paul (19 October 2018). EMI Films and the Limits of British Cinema. Springer. p. 83.
  13. Mayer, Geoff (13 September 2012). Historical Dictionary of Crime Films. Scarecrow Press. p. 405. ISBN 9780810879003. Retrieved 26 September 2017.
  14. DeGiglio-Bellemare, Mario; EllbĂ©, Charlie; Woofter, Kristopher (11 December 2014). Recovering 1940s Horror Cinema: Traces of a Lost Decade. Lexington Books. p. 123. ISBN 9781498503808. Retrieved 28 September 2017.
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