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The influential summer of 1982 season opens with the abysmal comedy ‘Partners’ — Ultimate Movie Year

John Hurt (left) and Ryan O’Neal aim for all of the low-hanging fruit in the cop comedy, “Partners.” (Paramount Pictures/

Released April 30, 1982
Directed by James Burrows
Where to Watch

While “Jaws” popularized the idea of a summer hit in 1975 and “Star Wars” boosted it into the stratosphere in 1977, our conception of the modern summer blockbuster season began in 1982. At this moment, several movies released week after week would go on to define popular culture, become enormous hits, or profoundly influence their respective genres for decades to come.

From Memorial Day to Independence Day, a murderer’s row of beloved favorites landed in theaters. “Rocky III.” “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” “Poltergeist.” “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.” “The Thing.” “Blade Runner.” There are cult favorites abound, including “Conan the Barbarian,” “The Road Warrior,” “The Secret of NIMH,” “An Officer and a Gentleman,” and more. Over the next few months, we’ll examine many of these movies and the legacies they forged 40 years ago.

Then there’s “Partners.”

Directed by James Burrows, “Partners” begins after a series of murders in the homosexual community. To solve the case, Los Angeles police detective Benson (Ryan O’Neal) is ordered to go undercover with records clerk Kerwin (John Hurt) as a gay couple to discover the perpetrator. Despite their odd-couple scenario, Kerwin develops real feelings for Benson. At the same time, Benson struggles to maintain his staunch record of heterosexuality as he balances his investigation with the pursuit of women.

“Partners” has a similar premise to “Cruising,” the 1980 cop drama by William Friedkin and starring Al Pacino. “Cruising” drew little interest when it was released in theaters, and if producers thought more jokes were the secret ingredient that was missing there, they thought poorly because “Partners” drew even less. While film historians tend to praise older, complex works as “products of their time,” I tell you, dear reader, that “Partners” is both a product of its time and terrible.

Any cliche you could imagine about a CIS male cop engaging with the gay community is here. Benson is furious to drive around in a pink Volkswagen beetle, terrified by unwanted touching and dressing as a leather daddy. He seemingly has more interest in sleeping with women to prove his heterosexuality than solving the case. Likewise, Kerwin cooks and cleans for Benson as he gradually falls in love with him (because, of course, gay men must be attracted to any man, regardless of orientation).

Usually, I would find some aspect of the movie to examine or praise, but “Partners” is dire and worthy of oblivion. It’s a story that goes exactly how you think it would go with no surprises. The entire community around Kerwin treats him with the same unwanted abnormality as Jonathan Merrick, the Elephant Man. As it happens, Hurt earned an Academy Award nomination for portraying Merrick two years earlier. At the very least, he does not embarrass himself in “Partners” by leaning on Kerwin’s humanity without stereotype. It’s the only faint praise I can offer, and needless to say, Hurt didn’t earn additional nominations for his work in “Partners.”

But it is a clear message about the level of treatment and acceptance the LGBTQ community was receiving on screen in the early 80s. It wasn’t well-received then — “Partners” opened in third place with $2.3 million and quickly fell out of the top 10 by the third week, finishing with $6 million total — and it’s painful to watch now. The movie has a 33 percent approval rating by audiences on Rotten Tomatoes and doesn’t even rate critics’ scores.

“(It’s) an insulting depiction of a couple of cops,” said Gene Siskel, who called it one of the worst movies of 1982. “It’s played for laughs and some fun.”

“At the theater preview at which I saw ‘Partners,’ a group of irate patrons hissed and booed the film’s end,” wrote Vincent Canby in The New York Times. “I assume it was not because they were disappointed that the film was over too soon.”

“Partners” is horrendous; as bad of a movie as I’ve highlighted on the Ultimate Movie Year. It’s a difficult start to the movie summer that, in this era, hasn’t even begun yet. It’s going to take decades before Marvel firmly commands the first weekend of May as the official start of the season, but the good news is that it won’t be long before the movies of 1982 knock our socks off week after week.

At the Box Office: To give you a sense of the environment all these classic films were about to be released into, far and away, the biggest movie of the year at this point was “Porky’s,” the Bob Clark-directed sex comedy about a bunch of teenagers concocting a plan to help their friend lose his virginity. “Porky’s” was a huge success when it debuted in March of that year, holding a firm place on the top box office crown for two months straight (pulling in another $4.3 million on this particular weekend). The movie topped out at a $105.5 million domestic run, considerable numbers in those days for an R-rated comedy, and was the sixth highest-grossing film of 1982.

In second place was a sword-and-sorcery adventure, the aptly named “The Sword and the Sorcerer,” with $4.1 million, followed by “Partners.” A music biography about Tom Sullivan, “If You Could See What I Hear,” made fourth place in its second week with $1.7 million.

In fifth and sixth place were two of the biggest Oscar favorites of the previous year and were still making bank months after their original release. “Chariots of Fire,” the British drama about Olympic runners with the classic theme and Best Picture prize, earned $1.6 million for fifth place in its 32nd week. “On Golden Pond,” the family drama starring Henry Fonda, Katherine Hepburn, and Jane Fonda, surpassed the $100 million box office gross threshold with $1.5 million. These days it might be rare for a movie to receive both sales and critical success, but “On Golden Pond” reminds us there was a time when a film could win multiple Academy Awards (including acting honors for Henry Fonda and Hepburn) while packing theaters to become the second-highest-grossing movie of 1981. And to think: there’s not a costume in it!

Next Week: “Paradise”

Originally published at on April 29, 2022.



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