Perfect Partners (1985): Wife Swap

Perfect by name, but less than perfect by nature Dave checks out a rare Gary Graver misfire and takes some time to pay tribute to its indefatigable star, Jon Martin.

In the interchangeable world of the adult film industry, we’re guilty of not giving enough credit to the journeymen; the dependable male performers who never hit the superstardom of John Holmes, Ron Jeremy, Jamie Gillis and John Leslie, but who remain a welcome sight among the more fleeting stunt-cocks.

Jon Martin is the archetypal actor of this ilk.

Through Gary Graver’s Golden Age filmography, Martin featured in a dozen of the twenty pictures that the filmmaker made. He began with an uncredited role in the iconic ‘V’: The Hot One (1978), and quickly racked up appearances in the likes of Peaches and Cream (1981), Amanda By Night (1981), and Suzie Superstar (1983).

Born in San Francisco in 1947 as Gerald Michael Heath, Martin briefly studied acting with Uta Hagen and Stella Adler in New York before cropping up in a handful of Off-Broadway plays. An audition for the notorious Mitchell brothers opened the door to the porn business, which led to Martin’s first feature role in Behind the Green Door (1972) alongside Marilyn Chambers. Some steady loop work followed courtesy of Jerry Abrams but as the jobs increased, so too did the need for a pseudonym.

“I went by Jerry Ross or something like that,” said Martin in a lengthy interview with the peerless Rialto Report in 2020. “Most of the time I didn’t provide a name – the producer or distributor would just make something up for me. I finally landed on Jon Martin thanks to my mother’s hairdresser. He was gay and his partner, who worked in the New York theater scene, was called John Martin. I liked the sound of two first names – like John Leslie, Leslie being John’s middle name. Anyway, I decided to use this guy’s name but spelled John without the ‘H’ in order to differentiate myself.” [1]

Martin soon scored roles with some of the biggest directors in the XXX game. Anthony Spinelli gave him the lead in Portrait of Seduction (1976), and Alex de Renzy cast him in the smash hit Pretty Peaches (1978).

And then there was Gary.  

Gary Graver’s artistry, flair and creativity isn’t open to debate but there’s still questions about the director’s commitment towards the adult features he made. Martin is fairly clear-cut about Graver’s motivation:

“Gary was a friend as well as someone who directed me on several occasions. I connected with Gary because I dated a still photographer who worked with Sam Weston [aka Anthony Spinelli] named Jackie Giroux, and she went on to date Gary and told him about me. Jackie also went on to become a prolific mainstream actor and producer. Gary wasn’t really a director but he was a brilliant cinematographer. He got away with the light direction by hiring actors who knew their craft and providing time for us to rehearse. However, it was clear that Gary was in the adult business to make money, nothing more.” [1]

Between 1975 and 1984, Graver managed to perfect the ideal balance between art and commerce, shielding his disdain for porn work with a catalogue of exquisitely shot pictures. However, as the industry began to move away from the cash rich era of big screen opulence in favour of shot on tape quickies, Graver’s growing apathy occasionally seeped into his output.

PERFECT PARTNERS is certainly one of the most the most jejune in his denary of depravity from 1985, paling in comparison to the recommendable I Want to be Bad (1985) and Dear Fanny (1985), but ranking above the forgettable Aroused (1985) and Young and Restless II (1985).

Jon (Martin) and Matt (Joey Silvera) are brothers who have spent their lives sharing everything: cars and money and even former girlfriends. There’s one stumbling block to this unique perspective, though, and that’s their wives, Carol (Amber Lynn) and Tina (Sheri St. Claire): two conservative women who the duo suspect won’t be too thrilled sibling swapping.

“My wife’s so good in bed, I’d love Jon to experience her,” pleads Matt to sex therapist Dr. Jean Valjean (Tamara Longley), who, after a little persuasion, agrees to assist the brothers in turning their spouses into insatiably nymphomaniacs. However, there’s a prurient madness to the doctor’s methods, as the boys are about to witness…

Opening with a trademark Graverism a shot of a cityscape that gets progressively tighter until we focus on the suburban landscape that forms the film’s backdrop Perfect Partners‘ sole auteur flourish promises more than this otherwise bland affair delivers. The second sex scene between the separate Duncan couples is a tediously long twenty minutes. Graver switches between bedrooms with little rhythm, and the flat furnishings and drab set decoration do little to inject intensity or passion into Perfect Partners‘ weary first half.

Thankfully, both Martin and Silvera bring a naïve charm to the few scenes of dialogue that pepper the movie, their innocuous desires presented with a likable and appealing sincerity. The inclusion of Jamie Gillis and Mike Horner adds a little colour, but it’s the sun-bleached exteriors of the final shag-a-thon that rewards resolve: a double-ended strap-on sequence (a first for Graver) with a genuinely funny punchline. Coupled with the intro, it’s at least a nice bookend.

USA ● 1985 ● Adult ● 75mins

Amber Lynn, Tamara Longley, Sheri St. Claire, Joey Silvera, Jon Martin ● Dir. Gary Graver ● Wri. John Kaslock

[1] Jon Martin: A San Francisco Trailblazer by Ashley West, The Rialto Report, 5th July 2020.

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