In a nod to the film’s title, the theatrical trailer for The Triple Echo (1972) involves a narrator who tries to explain three times what The Triple Echo is about. Each of the tellings is told from a different character’s perspective, yet it’s not a Rashomon situation, where what stands out is how the stories diverge. Instead, the three accounts build on each other, to provide a more complete picture of what’s going on. Some films can be easily summarized, but The Triple Echo is one where a summary never does the film justice, so it’s better to have all the details.
Indicator’s Blu-Ray release (which is now available on Region 1 after being released on Region 2 in 2019) includes a Super 8 version of the film, which is 1/5 the length of the original feature. One minute Alice (Glenda Jackson) is telling Barton (Brian Deacon) not to trespass on her property. The next they’re holding hands and Barton is ready to desert the army. The Super 8 version leaves out all of the scenes of Barton and Alice getting to know each other so there’s no basis for their relationship turning romantic. It also doesn’t go into how their relationship changes after Barton starts to dress like a woman to avoid being recognized as a deserter.
That’s how it starts out anyway – as a disguise – but while the film, which came out in 1972, never directly addresses whether Barton is questioning his sexuality, there’s definitely an argument to made for it (especially in the moments when Barton is alone and not being watched). In other ways the film still adheres to traditional gender roles. Alice frequently accuses Barton of acting like a woman, using her own gender as an insult, while Barton’s response is to act more aggressive, equating physical might with masculinity, yet as author, Neil Sinyard, brings up in his interview, wartime saw women stepping into new roles overall. While the war is still ongoing in The Triple Echo, the film might be most interesting as a commentary and preview of what post-war life would be like for women, once the men returned.
Rather than being the cause for celebration, it’s the men in The Triple Echo (or more specifically, the soldiers) who disturb Alice’s isolated home in the countryside. Starting with Barton, Alice is happy for his company at first but it’s Barton who invites himself over to stay and who assumes Alice will be comfortable hiding a deserter. She’s not, yet while Barton changes his story and says it will only be for a few days, he immediately contradicts that statement by burning his uniform in the next scene. Alice is nowhere to be seen, and it seems unlikely she was consulted.
It’s easy to blame the moment Barton starts wearing feminine clothes as the moment Alice starts to find him less attractive, yet Robin Chapman’s screenplay never lets that be the only factor getting in the way of their relationship. Before Barton even tries on a bra, Alice lays the groundwork for his cover story. She’s the one who decides to pass Barton off as her sister. While they’re obviously not related, Alice could’ve introduced Barton as a girlfriend or a lodger. By having him be her sister she takes away her deniability, in being able to say she didn’t realize Barton was a deserter. Barton’s disguise isn’t just a matter of gender. It’s a reminder of Alice’s culpability, something Alice is very aware of and uncomfortable with from the start. As Barton starts to take more risks, too, there’s a naïveté around the female experience and what a woman has to think about before leaving the house. Barton makes light of the risks and pays dearly for that mistake.
Then there’s the man who hasn’t come home yet – Alice’s husband, who’s a prisoner of war. The film doesn’t make much of a to-do about any moral quandary Alice might have about starting a sexual relationship with Barton, but her husband’s absence is still felt throughout the movie, and because he doesn’t return, he’s the only man in the movie that’s never criticized. Alice might miss him, but she was doing well on her own.
As for Oliver Reed’s Sergeant, the trailer Is more hasty to present The Triple Echo as a thriller. This includes giving away the Sergeant’s entrance (which, granted, Reed’s name appears in the opening credits but it’s still possible to forget he’s coming since it takes a while for him to appear).
According to editor Barrie Vince, whose interview is wonderfully specific about his contributions to the movie, that’s how The Triple Echo was originally structured – with a teaser that set-up the Sergeant’s arrival. What makes the wait worth it in the movie is Marc Wilkinson’s score. Wilkinson provides an interview for this release as well (as does costume designer, Emma Porteous) and his score adds to the sense that Alice is living in a bubble that no one realizes is about to burst. It’s misleadingly quaint.
While Indicator’s Blu-Ray doesn’t include any archival footage of Reed or Jackson, Reed is still a major force in the bonus features. In an interview that must’ve been recorded shortly before his death last year, director Michael Apted talks about Reed’s improvisation and his determination to get him drunk, while Deacon talks about being cast in the film on the promise that Reed would be cast as well (since The Triple Echo was Apted’s first feature he wasn’t sure about taking Reed on as well).
In terms of lasting impressions, Triple Echo’s ending is polarizing and could be seen as a deterrent against running to see the film again, but the Interviewees on Indicator’s Blu-Ray are so candid that the behind-the-scenes stories are especially exciting.