‘Tab Hunter Confidential’: Film Review

The golden boy of the fifties recalls a hidden offscreen life.

Returning to SXSW after his 2013 portrait I Am Divine, documentarian Jeffrey Schwarz again visits the John Waters stable with Tab Hunter Confidential, his look at a golden boy who set teenyboppers’ hearts aflutter in the ‘50s while hiding the fact that he was gay. Solid and informative but understandably less colorful than its predecessor, the affectionate film benefits from plenty of face time with its frank, amiably plain-vanilla subject but is unlikely to attract near as much attention as To Be Takei, another doc about an uncloseted actor.

Young readers may barely be aware of Hunter, but he was the biggest thing going for a while — signed to a Warner Bros. contract despite a screen debut in which even his mother admitted “you were lousy”; top of the pop charts with “Young Love,” an awkwardly sung ballad that paled in comparison to a version Sonny James released the same year. (Amazingly, Jack Warner is said to have launched Warner Bros. Records largely to capitalize on the star’s success.) It seems Hunter was just too good-looking and likable not to be a star — especially with a team of WB publicists keeping rumors of his homosexuality away from the mainstream.

The Bottom Line

A friendly but not-too-revealing profile

While Schwarz walks us through Hunter’s career (which cratered after he sought creative fulfillment away from Warner, only to flare up decades later, when Waters cast him in Polyester) Hunter recalls offscreen relationships with Anthony Perkins and the figure skater Ronnie Robertson. Starlets he once pretended to date for publicity drop by, each speaking in glowing terms about this perfect, hunky gentleman; we even meet a fan who won a date with Hunter in a contest, and had the (chaste) night of her life.

If the narrative proceeds at a relatively by-the-numbers pace, with few revelations and considerably less excitement than attended a memoir Hunter penned with Eddie Muller a decade ago, it at least has a heartwarming finale: For the last three decades, Hunter has found fulfillment in a relationship with onetime 20th Century Fox producer Allan Glaser — paying little attention to the movie biz, if any, and working with horses, his passion since before Hollywood came calling.

Production companies: Allan Glaser Productions, Automat Pictures

Director-Editor: Jeffrey Schwarz

Producers: Allan Glaser, Neil Koenigsberg, Jeffrey Schwarz

Director of photography: Nancy Schreiber

Music: Michael “The Millionaire” Cudahy

Sales: Jeffrey Winter

No rating, 90 minutes