Ray Bradbury Theater: The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl

Episode 7 (Series 3, Episode 1)

First aired 23 January 1988

Production Credits Synopsis Review

"The Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl"

The short story first appeared as "Touch and Go" in Detective Book, November 1948

Its first book appearance was in The Golden Apples of the Sun (1953).

It can also be found in Bradbury Stories (2003).

It can also be found in The Vintage Bradbury (1965).

It can also be found in
Twice 22 (1966).

 

Production Credits

Directed by Gilbert Shilton

Cast:

Acton -Michael Ironside
Huxley - Robert Vaughn
Mary - Sonja Smits
Gun salesman - Barry Greene
Detective - Wally Bondarenko
Doctor - Tom Harvey

Synopsis

As a man and woman approach a house, they are being watched, by a man, Acton.

We next see Acton looking very agitated, backing away from a bowl containing glass fruit. He trips over a corpse. He composes himself and picks up a glass of whisky. He looks down at the corpse and asks, "What are you smiling at?" The corpse does, indeed, look happy. The corpse is Huxley, the man seen entering the house with the woman. Acton drinks, saying "Cheers - and good riddance".

As Acton tips the class, he sees fingerprints all over it. He curses, and polishes the glass with his handkerchief. He puts it down carefully, and wanders over to a table where he picks up a gun.

Flashback to a gun shop: a dealer is selling Acton a gun. Acton seems surprised when the dealer offers him bullets. "I just want to scare him".

The present: Acton puts the gun in his pocket and wanders back to the corpse. He talks to it, calling it "Hux" and "old bean". Then he reaches down and wipes the smile of Huxley's face.

Flashback: Huxley picks up a manuscript and hands it to Acton. We discover that Huxley is an editor, and had promised he would read (but not publish) Acton's story. Acton has spent a whole year shaping the story to Huxley's requirements, but Huxley says it's no good. He tells Acton he has no talent, and never will have. Huxley cryptically says that by leading Acton on he was "doing Mary a favour".

Back in the present, Acton suddenly realises he is leaning on a door frame, touching it with his fingers. Acton remembers being told to close the door, and remembers touching the doorframe as well.

Acton whispers "Fingerprints!" to himself, and begins polishing the door frame with his handkerchief. He is pleased that he has realised he almost made a mistake, and begins gloating to the corpse. As he talks, he begins polishing the floorboards surrounding it.

Flashback: As Huxley is holding an empty glass in each hand, he gets Acton to open the cabinet and remove a bottle of scotch.

The present: Acton recalls the incident, and makes his way to the cabinet to polish the decanter and glasses.

Flashback: Huxley proposes a toast to Mary, who is evidently Acton's wife. Huxley tells Acton to relax: "It's all over between us". Huxley takes various items from the cabinet and hands them to Acton for him to "feel the texture". He shows him a chess set and makes him handle one of the pieces. Acton announces that he has come here to kill Huxley. Huxley is not at all surprised.

The present: Acton sees the chess set and doesn't know which piece to polish. He jubilantly selects one piece to polish, then polishes the table and a nearby chair. He approaches the fruit bowl and polishes one piece of fruit. He looks concerned - he says he didn't touch it, but "better safe than sorry" - he is compelled to return to the bowl and polish each piece. As the clock chimes again, Acton worries that the polishing will take all night. He suddenly realises that he needs to wear gloves to stop adding to the prints.

He heads up the stairs, angering himself when he grabs the banister. Upstairs he see Mary sitting at a mirror, brushing her hair. He sees Huxley reach over and kiss her. He shakes his head - this is his imagination (or memory) playing tricks on him. He begins rummaging through drawers looking for gloves. He finds some, puts them on. As he goes downstairs, he polishes the handrail with his gloved hands. As he turns a corner, he catches sight of Mary and Huxley in a mirror. He continues polishing every surface in sight. He picks up the ming vase he had felt earlier and gleefully polishes it.

He steps back, agitated yet triumphant. "That's everything! I didn't touch anything else...did I?" Acton decides it's time to go, but as he makes his way past the corpse he hears Huxley's voice in his head: "Touch... touch!" There is a knock at the door. Through the frosted glass we see Mary, who calls out to Huxley. Acton hides under the stairs, whispering for her to go away. Eventually she does.

Acton's mind again wanders to the fruit bowl. He tells it "No, I didn't touch you". As he takes the fruit out again, a peach rolls off the table...

Flashback: Husley makes Acton handle a vase. Acton begins to cry, and throws the vase to the floor. Huxley declares that it's time to kill. He takes Acton's hand, places it on the gun in Acton's pocket, and makes Acton point the gun at him. He urges him to pull the trigger, calling Acton a stupid coward. When Acton finally does so, there is just a click. Huxley realises there are no bullets - which he considers further evidence of Acton's cowardice. "What a crumb you are - no wonder Mary loathes you!" Huxley begins to physically attack Acton, and Acton responds, strangling Huxley.

The present: Acton catches the falling peach and polishes it. He thinks about whether Huxley could have made him touch the fruit at the bottom of the bowl, and idly wanders into the next room... where he sees thousands of fingerprints on a black table. Polishing them away, he sees the thousand shards of broken vase on the floor. He declares that he must find every piece.

Hearing Mary knock at the door again, He rushes to open it - but she is not there. He shouts her name, scaring a man walking a dog. He rushes back into the house and sees countless fingerprints on the banister, and begins polishing.

The police arrive and find Acton upstairs, polishing a silver dinner service. He tells them, "I'm almost done".

As Huxley's body is taken away, Huxley's doctor ("doctor, neighbour, friend") tells a policeman that Huxley only had less than a month to live. He suggests that, in a way, Acton did Huxley a big favour.

Trivial Differences

  • in the story, the corpse appears to be "pleading for the first time in their lives, instead of demanding"
  • in the adaptation, the corpse looks rather happy, or possibly just smug
  • in the story, Acton simply swabs and rubs Huxley's neck
  • in the adaptation, he wipes the smile off his face!
  • in the story, Acton's wife is called Lily
  • in the adaptation, Mrs Acton is Mary
  • in the story, Acton is encouraged to feel the bindings of books and the upholstery of an antique chair
  • in the adaptation, Acton is encouraged to feel vaes, scuptures, pre-Columbian art, chess pieces
  • in the story, Acton looks for gloves intially in Huxley's overcoat, which is hanging in the hall
  • in the story, Acton knows he must be out of Huxley's house by 6am (when Huxley's pick-up for the airport arrives)
  • in the story, Huxley plans to go to Mexico City with Lily
  • in the adaptation, Huxley's says his affair with Mary is over
  • in the story, a drunken friend knocks on Huxley's door
  • in the adaptation, it is Mary who knocks on the door
  • in the story, Acton (from the corner of his eyes) sees fingerprints forming like little webs
  • in the adaptations, big white hand- and fingerprints appear instantaneously
  • in the story, Acton goes further than polishing fruit that he never touched: he climbs up and begins polishing the chandelier
  • in the story, Acton's last act is to polish the doorknob as he is taken away by police
  • in the adaptation, unpolished fingerprints on the doorknob are the last thing we see as Acton is led away.

 

Publicity still: Robert Vaughn, Michael Ironside.

 

Switching Networks

 

Ray Bradbury Theater was away for nearly two years between "Banshee" and "Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl". HBO, the cable network which had shown the first six episodes, dropped the series, despite its critical acclaim and success in 42 countries. Bradbury said "these things are very mysterious".

Wilcox Productions and Atlantis Films set about persuading Granada Television (UK) and Eclipse Programme (France) to invest in the show; having secured their support, they then offered the show to a new network, USA Network, which was looking for a companion piece to its revived version of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

With a per-episode budget of $40,000 one way of saving money was scrapping the Bradbury introductions to the episodes - in place of Bradbury presenting a new intorduction to each episode, the show would save $20,000 (according to Bradbury himself) by using the same generic introduction each week.

Review

This episode was the first of the third batch of Ray Bradbury Theaters, and the first episode following the switch from HBO to USA Network.

Director Gilbert Shilton had previously directed TV shows such as Magnum P.I., Knight Rider, The A Team, and the revived Twilight Zone; and would go on to direct episodes of Due South, Poltergeist: the Legacy and Xena. In "Fruit at the Bottom of the Bowl" he succeeds in keeping a complex story completely understandable. With its combination of flashbacks and a central character who is losing touch with reality, this story needs clarity of direction, and Shilton definitely offers this.

Elements of Bradbury's story and script call for humour, and in fact this episode is a lot funnier than the story usually seems when I read it. In fact, it has some of the comedic values that you find in a good Hitchcock TV show - odd, therefore, that this story was never adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

The fruits in this adaptation are rather unusual: they appear to be made of glass. In Bradbury's original story the fruit is made of wax. Making them more ornamental is consistent with the range of ornaments and baubles that Huxley has all over his house. It also makes them striking to look at, which helps draw our (and Acton's) eye.

One section that needs to be clearer: the fingerprints on the large black dining room table. These don't come out too well on a TV screen - in fact, in the wide shot it's possible that the white specks on the table are bits of the broken vase, and this then blows the discovery that Acton makes when polishing the table.

Full marks to Robert Vaughn for the transition his character undergoes, always calm and understated until he feels Acton rising to the bait. Full marks also to Michael Ironside, with a little reservation at some of the "reaction" acting he had to do on account of so much of the episode taking place in his head.

When the police find Acton in the house, there is a gleaming cutaway of a silver dinner service - and yet in the wide shot, Acton is polishing a sword with the dinner service nowhere to be seen.

The man walking the dog (who bears a passing resemblance ro Ray Bradbury!) turns out to have been Huxley's neghbour and doctor. He has the final dialogue of the episode, but the scene seems unnecessary. It provides some motivation for Huxley's behaviour - but I would prefer to believe that Huxley is just another taunting bully, like Hampton/Huston in "Banshee". The scene may also give some ironic redemption to Acton, in suggesting that he has done something positive in his life, but the guy is completely wrecked by the end of the show, and it seems unlikely that any redemption will be appreciated! Pure speculation here, but I wonder whether Huxley-as-taunting-bully made the episode seems to similar to "Banshee", which was the previous episode aired.

Information source:

Goldberg, L. (1988) "Re-opening the Ray Bradbury Theater", Starlog 128, March 1988.

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