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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL -- Movie Review by Porfle

It's one thing to "come out of the closet" nowadays, when being openly gay isn't necessarily a career killer.  But when Tab Hunter was America's number one heartthrob, it could not only end your career but land you in jail.

That's how the documentary TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL (2015) begins, with the celebrated subject attending an all-male party in the Hollywood Hills (old 8mm film footage sets the stage) which was raided by the cops.  Before he knows it, he's behind bars and worrying about how to explain it all to his mother.

How a wildly popular young celebrity known for his boyish masculinity and powerful sex appeal to swooning females copes with being "queer" in a world that considers it both a crime and a mental disorder fuels this cracking good film with a consistent appeal of its own. 

Hunter states at the start that he's never been this open before, and indeed his interview segments are thoughtful, heartfelt, and candid.  In his mid-80s, he retains a hint of the young Tab Hunter who shone brightly as an acting and singing sensation before his downfall and eventual comeback as a John Waters star.

The film's narrative is not just related to his sexuality but is an interesting story about a handsome, likable young guy--who, at first, had only a modicum of actual talent--breaking into the movies and then, due to his sheer charisma and almost angelic good looks, blazing a trail like a shooting star across the Hollywood sky. 

Through it all, as we learn from interview segments by friends and fans such as John Waters, Robert Wagner, Connie Stevens, Debbie Reynolds, George Takei, Rex Reed, Darryl Hickman, Lainie Kazan, Mother Dolores Hart (the WHERE THE BOYS ARE star who became a nun), and many others, Tab never let it go to his head and remained Arthur "Art" Gelien, the humble son of a troubled German mother who raised her two sons alone. 

As one old friend relates, Art was already a hit with the girls before stardom, often getting mobbed in the hallways of his school.  So he seemed destined to be the stuff of countless crushes by teen girls (and boys). 

Tab's secret life is explored in stories of his covert love affairs with men, including another rising star Anthony Perkins (PSYCHO, FEAR STRIKES OUT). We learn of the studio wielding its power to protect his image from such media sharks as "Confidential" magazine, the model for L.A. CONFIDENTIAL's "Hush-Hush." 

Gossip mag queen Rona Barrett herself is on hand to add her perspective on this, as is actress Venetia Stevenson who served as a "beard" on arranged dates with Tab and Tony. "They created this persona, and that was your job--to be this persona," Tab reveals.  The film also explores his close friendship with Natalie Wood and the one time he almost married a French actress with whom he shared a brief but passionate relationship.

When he quit the studio to go out on his own, Tab lost his immunity from media scrutiny and soon became fair game in the press.  This helped sink his career, which wouldn't see a resurgence until John Waters cast him along with 300-pound transvestite Glenn "Divine" Milstead (PINK FLAMINGOS) as his leading lady in the nuclear family satire POLYESTER, which was a hit. 

Technically, the documentary is another finely-crafted work by Jeffrey Schwarz (I AM DIVINE, SPINE TINGLER! THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY).  The colorful montage of stills, film and television clips, and interview segments is seamless and consistently engaging, making this documentary both informative and fun from start to finish. 

TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL benefits from the way the two main threads of Hunter's life--the dazzling superstardom and the constant fear of being a closeted homosexual--intertwine and affect each other in ways that are sometimes tragic, sometimes inspirational, and always fascinating. And through it all shines Hunter's winning charm, which remains undiminished.

Order Tab Hunter Confidential on iTunes
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Preorder Tab Hunter Confidential on DVD (with optional autograph)


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