LGBT Movies: The Fruit Machine (1988)

Two gay teens plan a fun night out, only to witness a murder. Soon they must escape a gangland assassin, the police, abusive parents and predatory johns. Luckily there’s a friendly dolphin who wants to help them out. Emile Charles and Tony Forsyth have great chemistry. Unfortunately the genre-blending screenplay keeps splitting them up. I love the idea of a gay teen buddy comedy/thriller. But the tonally confused The Fruit Machine (aka Wonderland) is rarely funny or thrilling.

Want to learn more? Then read my spoiler filled recap.

Act One: Boys Night Out

Act One. Dance Contest full
Michael wins the dance contest.

Scene One: Eddies’ Home in Liverpool
EDDIE (A sensitive teen): Hi mum. Let’s watch old movies while I bleach your hair!
DAD: Stop acting like a sissy or you’ll get that disease that’s chasing the queers! (Slaps Eddie around, with a smile that suggests it turns him on.)

DREAM SEQUENCE 1: (Eddie sees a dolphin his lawn. The dolphin turns into a sexy man and climbs through his window.)
EDDIE: What was that about?

Scene Two: The Fruit Machine (A Gay Night club)
MICHAEL (Not a rent boy): Hi Eddie! I just broke out of juvenile detention. The police thought I was a rent boy! Can you imagine?!
EDDIE: Who’s the old man who drove you here?
MICHAEL: Just me uncle. Me uncle Dick.

ANNABELLE (The drag queen club owner): No poppers, no hustlers and no minors!
EDDIE: You look familiar.
ANNABELLE: (Sigh.) You’re a wizard Harry!
EDDIE: Robbie Coltrane? You look fabulous!
ANNABELLE: And for that I’ll let you in. Winner of the dance competition gets 30 quid.
(Michael joins the contest. He strips and dances in his boxers.)
ANNABELLE: And the underage twink wins!

EDDIE: Congratulations! Are we going to dance together?
MICHAEL: That would be nice wouldn’t it? But the film’s not interested in exploring our relationship. (To the Audience) By the way… if you want a happy gay movie you should probably stop watching here.

DREAM SEQUENCE 2: (Eddie sees the sexy dolphin man in the bathroom mirror.)
EDDIE: I’m not even asleep this time.

Scene Three: Later that night
MOB BOSS: I run the clubs here! Get rid of the competition Echo. And don’t leave any witnesses.
ECHO (Silent Assassin): …
(Echo kills Annabelle with a machete.)
MICHAEL: This film just changed genres! RUN!
EDDIE: But I’m looking for the dolphin man!
(Echo strikes a pose and points at them. The police arrive and the boys escape.)

Act Two: On the Run

Act Two On the Run
Eddie and Michael have seen too much!

Scene Four: Opera Gala
EDDIE: This is just like Some Like It Hot!
MICHAEL: Sure. I’ll steal some money so we can leave town.
RICH LADY: Stop thief! I’ll let you go if we bang. (Rich Lady bangs Michael.)
EDDIE: I’ll steal some food from the buffet.
MALE OPERA SINGER: Stop thief! I’ll let you go if we bang.
EDDIE: You’re an opera singer? I love Rigoletto! And Maria Callas! And dolphins! I used to visit the Wonderland aquarium! They even changed this movies’ name from The Fruit Machine to Wonderland when it was released in the U.S.! There are dolphins there. Dolphin! Dolphin! DOLPHIN!
MALE OPERA SINGER: Never mind. I’ll bang your friend. (Male Opera Singer bangs Michael.)
MICHAEL: Now give me money or I’ll tell the press you banged a 16 year old boy.
(Echo beats up the opera singer for information. Then does sexy martial arts moves with his machete. Scary music plays. It’s silly.)
ECHO: …

Scene Five: Wonderland Aquarium
EDDIE: DOLPHINS!
WATER SHOW HOSTESS: Watch Sooty the dolphin tear off my top! (Sooty does. It’s weird.)
EDDIE: Don’t make that dolphin touch your breasts! He belongs in the wild with the other gay dolphins! Not trapped in Liverpool with a dad who hates him!
ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Well said! We’ll show those bastards! What’s your name?
EDDIE: Sooty. Me name’s Sooty.
ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Well Sooty, fancy a swim? (She strips naked.)
EDDIE: Hard pass.

DREAM SEQUENCE 3: (Eddie dances with a veil. The sexy dolphin man appears with blue eyes. Then the eyes turn green and angry. Scary music plays.)
EDDIE: So is the dolphin my sexuality? Or my longing for freedom? And why is he angry?

Scene Six: Diner
MICHAEL: I’ve got the money. Let’s leave town.
EDDIE: I can’t. I need to free the dolphin.
MICHAEL: Really? Is that what this film is about now? But we’re like Bonnie and Clyde!
EDDIE: Bette Davis and Joan Crawford! Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe! Dolphin and Dolphin!
MICHAEL: It’s nice to have a conversation. The film’s finally slowing down for some character devel… Hey, where’d you go?

Scene Seven: Wonderland Aquarium at Night
EDDIE: We’ve had three naked women in this movie. It’s time for some penis.
(Eddie strips naked and swims with the dolphins… and the naked sexy dolphin man.)
MICHAEL: Eddie, are you wanking off the dolphins?
EDDIE: Maybe.
ECHO: … ?
MICHAEL: You’re still chasing us? Are you a metaphor for something?
ECHO: … !
(Echo stabs Eddie. Michael knocks Echo into the water. The dolphins surround Echo and drown him.)
EDDIE: Dolphins are awesome!

Act Three: Stupidity

Act Three Dolphin Man.
Dolphin Man? Is that you?

Scene Eight: The Docks

Spoilers

MICHAEL: Eddie you’re bleeding! I’ll get help!
EDDIE: I’m fine. Don’t leave me!
ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: They’re putting that killer dolphin in a truck. Somebody save him!
MICHAEL: I’ll do it for Eddie!
(Michael steals the dolphin truck and drives it off the pier. Sexy naked dolphin man saves Michael from drowning.)
EDDIE: Did you bring help?
MICHAEL: No, you said you were fine, but I saved your dolphin! I did it because I love you!
EDDIE: What exactly is our relationship? The film never took the time to establish… (Dies)
MICHAEL: It’s just not fair! IT’S NOT FAIR!
ANIMAL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: They’re both free now.

DREAM SEQUENCE 4: (Eddie swims naked with the dolphin.)
EDDIE: So could Michael actually see you, or did he just see a regular dolphin?
DOLPHIN MAN: Kid, I’ve no idea.

THE END

[collapse]

Echo and the Dolphin

Conclusion. Echo.
Here’s Echo. Trying to look all cool.

That ending provides a perfect example of the much maligned Bury Your Gays trope. Death was the only way the sad gay man could escape an oppressive society. The remaining gay characters are reduced to victims or predators. It’s a shame because the early scenes at the nightclub feel liberating. Does Echo represent the AIDS virus that ended the sexual revolution? It’s as good an explanation as any. But then what do you make of the dolphin?

Like 1987’s Friends Forever I’m amazed this film exists but I can’t fully recommend it. Friends Forever treated women badly but gave the gay couple some joy. The Fruit Machine leaves everyone miserable. The screenwriter and leads retired shortly after but director Philip Saville and composer Hans Zimmer would go on to thriving careers. Actors Robbie Coltrane (Annabelle) and Bruce Payne (Echo) would also move on to better roles.

You can stream The Fruit Machine on Amazon Prime. I tracked down a used VHS copy. For more reviews of LGBT media click here.

Up next: We’ll look at the wild world of After School Specials! Meet the gay and bisexual teens of The Truth About Alex, What If I’m Gay? and Two Of Us.