Film Score: Georges Delerue Cinematography: Victor J. Kemper
Starring: Ryan O’Neal, John Hurt, Kenneth McMillan and Robyn Douglass
Partners is a little known film that I only picked up because of the presence of Robyn Douglass. It’s a gay themed comedy that not only predates Chuck and Larry by twenty-five years, but it makes that film look even more juvenile than it already is by comparison. One of the interesting things about the film is that it was panned by reviewers at the time--Gene Siskel called in one of the worst films of 1982--and yet audience reaction through the years has been mostly positive. In reality, it’s not a good film. The pacing, for one, is bad and the story plods along. The premise of the police case the detectives are trying to solve is utterly unbelievable, as are the gay stereotypes. But with the exception of a couple of very bad jokes, there is a certain charm to the film that keeps from turning audiences off. James Burrows is a hugely successful television director, filming episodes of some of the most popular shows in TV history for the last forty years. And the film definitely has a TV movie style. To its credit, though, it tries to take its subject matter seriously especially in the perception of gender by Ryan O’Neal. He learns what it feels like to be an object of desire by men and it makes him appreciate the plight of women all the more. At the same time the film’s obvious purpose is that of showing the bonding he does with John Hurt.
The film begins with police detective Ryan O’Neal being called into the office by his captain, Kenneth McMillan. While he’s waiting, John Hurt is called in as well, refuses to sit next to him, and shows no interest in the sexy receptionist. Once inside the office, McMillan tells O’Neal that they need to catch a killer who has murdered a gay man and that he needs to go undercover living with a gay police officer: Hurt. The two of them dislike each other immediately, O’Neal because he’s a homophobe, and Hurt because he doesn’t want to come out of the closet. The two check in to the hotel where the murder happened, and the manager, Michael McGuire, takes an instant liking to O’Neal. The investigation gets underway when McGuire tells them he saw flashes from the bungalow, indicative of photography. Next they rent an apartment in a gay building and a housewarming party leads them to the murdered man’s roommate, Darrell Larson, who tells him the murdered man was a model for a magazine called Man’s Man. This eventually puts them on to another male model, James Remar, and so O’Neal reluctantly decides to become a decoy by posing for the magazine. The photographer is none other than Robyn Douglass. O’Neal doesn’t want to strip for her, but that’s the job. Then they fall for each other and it puts the investigation at risk . . . as well as Hurt’s feelings.
Of the two leads, John Hurt is clearly superior. His performance is subdued, but very believable. Ryan O’Neal, on the other hand, is saddled with his usual lack of ability and isn’t able to generate much in the way of audience identification with his character. I came to the film through the wonderful Robyn Douglass. This role came after her debut in Breaking Away, but before her starring turn in the TV movie Her Life as a Man. She’s not really used well here, playing a rather vacuous and over made up photographer. Still, it’s nice to see her in one of her few film appearances. There are also some very recognizable character actors in bit parts. Martin Kove, two years before The Karate Kid, plays a male model, while Sydney Lassick, best known as Cheswick from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, plays a photographic assistant. The hotel manager, Michael McGuire, has been almost exclusively a television actor throughout his career, but has done one a few features, most memorably as Charlie Parker’s agent in Clint Eastwood’s Bird. As for the production itself, it is merely serviceable, with a forgettable score by Georges Delerue. Partners, while an embarrassment in its day, is nevertheless a failure that has a good heart and is worth giving a chance. Just make sure you know what to expect going in.