December 27, 1982 12:00 PM

It says something about 1982 that the biggest movie romance of the year could just as easily have been made in 1942. But An Officer and a Gentleman put a spit-shine on the old Hollywood shoe of bad-boy-redeemed-by-good-girl. What moistened all those eyes was the electric pairing of actress Debra Winger with arguably the most corrosive actor in the trade: Richard Gere.

Ever since he brandished a switchblade in front of Diane Keaton in 1977’s Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Gere, 32, has been touted as more than just another pretty face. But his poster boy aura in Days of Heaven, Yanks and American Gigolo didn’t disguise a sullen demeanor. Gere was openly unappreciative of the young girls and gays who first championed him, feeling, as he puts it, “like the flavor of the month.”

Yet the film marks a professional watershed for Gere, who cuts through what the New York Times called “his manner of detachment.” Perhaps Gere had matured or his acclaimed 1980 Broadway stint in Bent had sharpened his skills. Either way, the public responded. Officer has grossed an astonishing $100 million to date, exceeded only by E.T. in box office clout.

Offscreen, Gere sees Brazilian artist Sylvia Martins, 27, and aloofly keeps the press at bay. But Valerie Kaprisky, 19, his co-star in the forthcoming remake of Breathless, believes Gere’s Officer success may change all that: “He’s so happy that at last people realize he’s a human being.”

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