Film review: Tab Hunter Confidential, directed by Jeffrey Schwarz

Tab Hunter Confidential, directed by Jeffrey Schwarz. FilmRise, 2016. DVD. 90 minutes. $14.95.

This superb documentary was inspired by Hunter’s 2005 memoir of the same title, one of the best autobiographies I’ve ever read. Tab Hunter was one of THE most popular film and recording stars of the 1950s, albeit thanks more to his wholesome, gorgeous looks and sweet-natured persona than to his acting or singing ability. But Hollywood’s most eligible bachelor had a secret—guess what? He was gay and closeted throughout his career, though tabloid rumors occasionally threatened. His print memoir revealed all in beautifully-written and often humorous fashion, and this wonderful companion documentary tells Hunter’s story as well.

Hunter’s most famous films included Damn Yankees, and Battle Cry, and he co-starred with Debbie Reynolds, Natalie Wood, and Sophia Loren, among other lovelies. He would have several discreet relationships during those years, most notably with actor Anthony Perkins. When the so-called “studio system” ended, and Hunter was no longer under the “protection” of Warner Brothers, he became more potentially vulnerable to press coverage about his personal life.

While Hunter always cared about his growth as an actor, at that point, he left show business for a more everyday life raising and showing horses, though with dinner theatre, some time on Broadway, and movie bit parts here and there. But thanks to John Waters, Tab Hunter would experience a film comeback of sorts in the 1980s, with his counter-stereotype roles in Polyester and Lust in the Dust. He officially came out via his 2005 memoir, and continues to live quietly with his partner of 30 years.

This documentary features people from Tab Hunter’s life and career, along with a sometimes amusing look at 1950s Hollywood mores. These folks are all interesting to hear, but the clear star of this film is Hunter himself: still remarkably handsome and seemingly decades younger than his 85 years. Most of all, he is a delightful raconteur, offering both humorous and touching anecdotes about most aspects of his world, while also revealing himself as a thoughtful and somewhat shy man, with deep religious faith as a personal bedrock. I don’t make this declaration lightly, but even if this film was a 90-minute interview with Tab Hunter alone, I would have been totally satisfied and delighted. In a word, he is amazing.

This DVD is highly recommended for all performing arts/biography/LGBT audio-visual collections. It’s wonderful time spent with a remarkable man.

Cathy Ritchie

Materials & Collection Management

Dallas (TX) Public Library

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