The documentary’s scope is much broader than the conflict between Hunter’s queerness and his career.
Jeffrey Schwarz’s (I Am Divine) newest documentary Tab Hunter Confidential opens with the arrest of 1950s heartthrob Tab Hunter. Hunter recounts the night he attended a private party with several other actor friends. He talked about boys dancing with boys and girls dancing with girls, until a police officer arrived to “arrest a bunch of queers.” Hunter talks about his then 19-year-old self sitting in the jail cell worried about how his mother would take the news; her son was gay.
Hunter’s lawyer was more concerned about his blooming career in Hollywood. At the time, Hunter was just as popular with teenage girls as James Dean was. In fact, Hunter was extremely close to getting the staring role in Rebel Without A Cause casted against Natalie Wood. It’s tough to imagine what that movie would be like with the all-American Tab Hunter in bad boy Dean’s infamous role. Maybe it would have worked though, as Hunter and Natalie Wood would make The Burning Hills a year later. That film was one of Hunter’s bigger hits, and the two “dated” in a very public manner. Of course, this was a time when studios would arrange relationships to craft an image for their stars, which is exactly what Warner Brothers did with Hunter and Wood.
As the documentary goes further by spending much time talking about the secret loves of Tab Hunters life including Olympic figure skater Ronnie Robertson, actor Anthony Perkins, and producer Allan Glaser. Glaser, who actually produced Tab Hunter Confidential, first met Hunter when he was 23 and Hunter was in his 50s. It’s all very Bogie and Bacall like minus the cancer, as they are still together to this day. Glaser is one of several well-selected talking heads in this film.
The film includes the likes of Debbie Reynolds, John Waters, George Takei, Portia de Rossi, Noah Wyle, Eddie Muller, and Connie Stevens. Again and again people seem to comment on how kind Hunter is, and his strength of character. The narrative Tab Hunter Confidential crafts seems to affirm this as well. The documentary’s scope is much broader than the conflict between Hunter’s queerness and his career. Even more so, it’s a film about the man’s tenacity. It’s inspiring to see how many times Hunter was able to revitalize his career or overcome a personal tragedy.
Admittedly, I haven’t seen any of Tab Hunter’s films outside of Polyester, which I am a fan of. It was my enthusiasm for queer film and politics, plus a fondness for John Waters that drew me to Tab Hunter Confidential. It’s a well-paced documentary with excellent interviews and a compelling look into what it was like to be homosexual in the 1950s as well as today’s Hollywood. If you have my interests you’ll probably enjoy this feature, too. I’d also find the film easy to recommend to someone who saw Hail, Caesar! and wants more insight on the golden era of Hollywood. Still, I do have some reservations with the film mainly dealing with the production. There’s a synth-based score by Michael Cudahy that is equal parts ill-fitting and uninspired. The film uses footage from past films of Tab Hunter’s that are supposed to punctuate certain emotional beats of the film. All of those moments are completely ham-fisted in a way that makes me seriously question Schwarz’s skills as a director. Still, there’s enough done right here to forgive the film for its blemishes. | Cait Lore
Tab Hunter Confidential is released by Automat Pictures. It is currently available to stream through iTunes, Amazon, and Vudu’a digital services. The iTunes version offers exclusive bonus features. A DVD release is announced for this summer, though no date has been officially announced. You can pre-order your copy from Tab Hunter’s website, which offers an autographed copy