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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Sudden Terror (aka Eyewitness) (Blu-ray)
Sudden Terror (aka Eyewitness) (Blu-ray)
Kl Studio Classics // PG // October 15, 2019 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted October 10, 2019 | E-mail the Author
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Sudden Terror (original title: Eyewitness, 1970), is a peculiar British thriller made entirely in Malta. Though it headlines Mark Lester, the child star from Oliver! (1968) as a Walter Mitty-ish dreamer with an overactive imagination, it's not remotely a children's film, as it contains a number of cold-blooded murders and other threats of violence. In some respects, it feels closer to an Italian thriller from the time rather than a British-made one. The first-half of the picture plays more like a premise than a story, with paper-thin characters and situations; it does get better later on but not quite enough to save it.

One of the problems with the film is that it's not clear where the story is taking place, and the motivations behind its assassination premise aren't explained until near the end. Though filmed in Malta, an independent state in 1970 with Elizabeth II as its queen, the story may be set there, or perhaps some fictitious Mediterranean country with British, Italian, and Northern African influences. Further confusing things, several British actors in the cast are playing Maltese (or whatever) natives.

Regardless, Mark Lester is Ziggy, a 12-year-old with a vivid imagination, rather than a boy-who-cried-wolf type liar. He lives with his grandfather (Lionel Jeffries), older sister, Pippa (Susan George), and their housekeeper, Madame Robiac (Betty Marsden). In the city, Ziggy witnesses the assassination of an African dignitary by sniper Paul Grazzini (Peter Vaughn), a policeman or maybe just dressed as a policeman, with co-conspirator Victor (Peter Bowles), apparently his brother.

Messily attempting to cover their tracks, the determined pair track down witness Ziggy, who's unable to convince Pippa that, this time, he's telling the God's honest truth about what he's seen. Tom Jones (Tony Bonner), a tourist attracted to Pippa, isn't quite so certain Ziggy's spinning another wild yarn, nor is Ziggy's grandfather. Elsewhere, Inspector Galleria (Jeremy Kemp), in charge of security, is trying to locate the assassin(s) while the city is in lockdown.

Mark Lester became an internationally famous child star on the heels of Oliver!, in which he played the title role. He had innocent, delicate features but wasn't a particularly good singer or dancer (compared to Jack Wild, who shined as the Artful Dodger), and he always seemed profoundly awkward on camera, as if perpetually wobbling on a tightrope, but that didn't slow Lester's brief but stellar ascent. (Francois Truffaut used this quality of Lester's well in a brief scene in Fahrenheit 451). One of Lester's biggest hits was Melody (1971), a strange film about working-class British children, almost a dramatized Seven Up, which reunited Lester with Wild. Few saw it in the U.K. and America, but it proved a huge hit in Japan, Central and South America. In Japan it's still quite famous, nearly 50 years later, and available on Blu-ray.

Sudden Terror's early scenes feel cobbled from other pictures. As in Oliver!, Lester's Ziggy (named a full year before the eponymous comic strip character's creation) spends most of the film looking terrified and running away from threatening adults. Likewise, in the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), Lionel Jeffries played a uniformed, muttonchopped grandfather with a grandson and granddaughter he looked after in an eccentric house, complete with windmill. In Sudden Terror, Jeffries plays a uniformed, muttonchopped grandfather with a grandson and granddaughter he looks after in an eccentric house, this time a lighthouse. He's less an English caricature here and given to wearing denim when "off-duty," but he's still playing a variation of the same character. However, Jeffries, a fine actor, brings his scenes to life, contrasting his earlier, broadly amusing Grandpa Potts with a much subtler (so subtle he's never given a name) grandfather here.

The movie gains steam in its second-half, ironically playing better when the movie concentrates and characters other than Lester's. The stop-at-nothing ruthlessness of the Grazzini Brothers also is made plain when, within a few minutes of screentime, they murder an adorable little girl and a Catholic priest. Vaughn, who spent a good portion of his long career playing coldly calculating villains, is especially icy here. There's a violent car chase near the end, followed by a rather inventive climatic bit of suspense I won't reveal here. In these scenes, Vaughn and Bonner appear to be doing some of their own stunt driving, though in an earlier scene, beautiful Susan George is clearly doubled in long shot by a stuntman with a shaggy beard!

Director John Hough's style is quick-paced but dated, with a lot of senseless zooming and other stylistic flourishes popular in films (and British television) of the time, but which just seem silly now. The musical score is quite bad, distractingly inappropriate much of the time.

Video & Audio

Licensed from Studio Canal, Kino's Blu-ray of Sudden Terror generally looks very good, the new 4K, 1.66:1 widescreen transfer showing some damage (negative scratches) around the 1:08:00 mark. The DTS-HD mono audio is fine, and optional English subtitles are provided. (The title elements are for the Eyewitness title, with "Sudden Terror" subtitled in. A reversible sleeve allows the buyer to choose either title to file it under.) Region "A" encoded.

Extra Features

The most intriguing of the supplements is a brief video interview with Mark Lester, who today is barely recognizable from his acting days. (He also clarifies the correct pronunciation of director John Hough's family name: "Huff.") Also included is an earlier audio commentary track with Hough and executive producer/uncredited co-writer Bryan Forbes (who died in 2013). A second, brand-new commentary track features Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson. Trailers under both titles round out the extras, though they're nearly identical.

Parting Thoughts

Though not very good overall, Sudden Terror/Eyewitness deserves points for regaining my interest at just about the point I had given up on it. Parties interested in that period of British cinema and fans of Mark Lester might want to give it a look. Rent It.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian currently restoring a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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