›› The Fruit Machine / aka: Wonderland - US.
a film by Philip Saville.
1988 | 103 mins | UK.
principal players: Emile Charles / Eddie, Tony Forsyth / Michael, Robert Stephens / Vincent, Clare Higgins / Eve, Bruce Payne / Echo, Julie Graham / Hazel, Kim Christie / Jean; Eddie's Mother, Louis Emerick / Billy; Eddie's Father, Carsten Norgaard / the Dolphin Man and with Robbie Coltrane as Annabelle.
Official Synopsis: "Berated by his father for his camp behaviour, Eddie runs away from his Liverpool home and joins his friend Michael, a streetwise hustler who is also on the run. The boys witness the gangland murder of Annabelle, the transvestite hostess of the Fruit Machine club. Fearing for their lives, they are thrown into the arms of a gay opera singer and his manipulative manager."
There's a series of nostalgic delights to be savoured in this, now somewhat classic, British gay drama from the '80s. Yet for all of its appeal, including a cast that many an indie can only but dream of and here cue Robert (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) Stephens, Clare (Hellraiser) Higgins, Bruce (Passenger 57) Payne, Julie (The Bletchley Circle) Graham, together with the one and only Robbie Coltrane, in terms of the narrative, it just does not know where to set its stall, this in spite of having been written by Frank Clarke of Letter to Brezhnev credit and directed by Philip Saville of The Life and Loves of a She-Devil fame. Part love story, part thriller, part animal rights sermon; this already mixed cinematic cocktail is further blended with a number of surreal scenes, by way of dream sequences that feature Eddie's "dolphin man" styled guardian angel. The result is a feature with a distinct "two films rolled into one" look and feel to it and personally I could have done without the sword wielding assassin angle, a menacing Bruce Payne, given the story of the relationship between two gay teenagers on the run, one escaping the confines of a youth detention centre, with the other fleeing the abusive hands of his homophobic father and their experiences on the road of life, was enough to carry the film on its own merit.
Determined to take care of his man, in The Fruit Machine.
Indeed the film is at its best when the relationship between the two friends takes centre stage, with many a compelling moment to be found here, in particular their encounter with a retiring opera singer and his manager, scene stealing work from award-winning Shakespearean actor Robert Stephens and Clare Higgins, whose outpouring of compassion is but a ploy to get to know them, at least Michael, intimately well. Yet neither of the boys appear to have gone onto shine thereafter and that's a shame, as Emile Charles delivers an engagingly camp turn as the dolphin loving kid about town, with his innocent, rose-tinted view of the world in marked contrast to Tony Forsyth's character Michael; that of a streetwise hustler determined to take care of his man, with his body ever the currency of the day.
Intercut with a vibrant disco beat, courtesy of Robbie Coltrane's transalicious turn of nightclub owner Annabelle, this work is not for those who crave only happy endings. Then again, I'm not happy with a number of the narrative elements here, including the conclusion itself, (who would you save?), let alone a storyline that in terms of same-sex hanky-panky, is reserved to the point of being sexually neutered. Or to put it another way, our pair of star-crossed lovers do not even get to kiss each other. The underwater scenes are however wonderfully staged, whilst the club dance competition is sure to bring a "did we really dance like that?" smile to your face, with the bond between the two young men the pulsating heartbeat of the film. So it's a mixed review, but then the film is a bit of a mix itself. The parts that shine however are quite beautiful, as too is the lush score by noted composer Hans Zimmer, who went onto major Hollywood acclaim.
Gay Visibility - overt.
Nudity - the underwater monty.
Overall - file under ... 3 stars.