Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Triple Echo a/k/a Soldier in Skirts (1972)

1972's The Triple Echo, also known as Soldier in Skirts, marked the directorial debut of documentarian Michael Apted (7 Up, 14 Up, et al.), as well as Oliver Reed's second of three collaborations with Glenda Jackson. It would have been the third of four, but Jackson allegedly turned down the Mother Superior role in Ken Russell's 1971 epic The Devils, opening the door for Vanessa Redgrave's brilliant portrayal.

Based on a story by H.E. Bates, the plot concerns a cowardly pretty boy named Barton (Brian Deacon), a private in the British army stationed in rural England during World War II. Barton takes a fancy to Alice (Jackson), a tough homesteader who is running a farm by herself while her husband, an RAF officer, is fighting for flag and country in faraway Burma. Eventually, they begin an affair, which leads to Barton deserting to live in sin with Alice. As a cover, Alice makes the deserter dress up as her sister, reasoning that the local villagers won't think twice about a female visitor, but would be suspicious of a healthy young male hanging around.

At first, Barton is repulsed and humiliated by the masquerade, but slowly gets used to it, and ultimately embraces it.

Enter Ollie as a brutish cokney sergeant who is initially attracted to Alice, gets shut down, then transfers his attentions to her "sister" Kate. There are some squirmingly funny scenes as the sergeant puts the moves on Barton, completely unaware that he is pursuing a man.

Things inevitably come to a head when Barton defies Alice and goes to a dance at the army base as the sergeant's date. Tragedy ensues, although not in the way one might expect.

The three leads are excellent, with Oliver putting his military experience to good use. One wonders if he based his character on a real person he may have encountered during his national service in the late '50s. While Apted's direction at times reveals his inexperience in dramatic films, he does capture some breathtakingly beautiful shots of the English countryside. He would later go on to direct such movies as Coal Miner's Daughter, Nell, and the James Bond flick The World is Not Enough.

The Triple Echo is not entirely successful, but lingers in the viewer's mind long after the shocking twist at the end of the film.

At the time of his death, Ollie had just signed on for the title role in My Uncle Silas, another adaptation of the short stories of H.E. Bates. The BBC production was eventually filmed with Albert Finney in the part.

Currently unavailable on DVD, The Triple Echo was released on VHS in the '80s, and can be found relatively cheap on Ebay and elsewhere.

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