Monday, May 10th, 2021

The Fruit Machine : two entirely different queer films with the same name


Two years ago we reviewed Sarah Fodey’s excellent doc about how in the late 1950’s the Royal Canadian Mounted Police invented the ‘Fruit Machine’ to rout out homosexuals.  This inept piece of technology didn’t work at all but it didn’t stop the RCMP and the Canadian Military from having a witchhunt for decades to ‘out’ anyone they suspected as being gay and completely ruining their lives.

This is the Canadian equivalent of the Lavender Scare that pushed US gay men and women into fearing for their lives.  Foley’s account of these unconscionable events makes for tough viewing, but one that we urge everyone to see as it is a crucial part of our community’s history.  You can read our review HERE and to find out where it may be streaming check  http://www.thefruitmachine.ca/


The other FRUIT MACHINE is a 1988 British thriller full of good intentions and some very questionable acting.  Based in Kirby, a grimy working-class suburb of Liverpool, it’s the story of two 16-year-old unlikely best friends, and the only thing they gave in common is that they are both gay.  Michael (Tony Forsyth) is a mummy’s boy and he loves to sit on the couch watching campy old movies with her. whilst she regales him with a story about how John Schlesinger wanted to cast her in a film in her youth.

Eddie is always in trouble with the Police and has just escaped from a Detention center,  at the very same time Micheal (Emile Charles) decides to run away from home to escape his abusive father.  The pair end up in an underground Drag Club called The Fruit Machine where the plot keeps taking the most hard-to-believe twists.  Just after tough boy, Eddie strips down to his underpants to win a dance competition (!) the drag queen owner is stabbed to death by an enormous machete.   The boys witness the killing and as the assassin had strict instructions to ensure nobody had seen him, and the subsequent chase turns the whole thing into a road movie.

Along the way, they befriend  Vincent a very famous closeted opera singer hammily played by Sir Robert Stephens, regarded as one of the greatest British stage actors of all time.  Stephens had just divorced Dame Maggie Smith, so we can only assume he took the role to pay her alimony.  

Vincent takes the boys down to Brighton with him and whilst Eddie, a reluctant rent boy, sleeps with him, Michael goes to the local dolphinarium to fulfill a childhood dream. Even with the machete-wielding assassin in pursuit, Michael gets distracted enough to get involved with a plot to free the dolphin.  

Writer Frank Clarke turns this into an analogy with gay Michael finding his own freedom.  At the same time, director Philip Saville seizes the moment to have a naked Michael swim amongst the dolphins to give the film an unexpected erotic moment.

The movie was doomed not to have a happy ending for anyone except the dolphin was still the norm for any films with gays in them back then (think John Schlesinger).   However, there is something compellingly watchable in this wee British thriller where Sir Robert’s fee was the only thing they seemed to have spent any money on at all

The film is viewable online FREE on YouTube


Posted by queerguru  at  11:22

Genres:  coming of age, documentary, thriller

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