‘Tab Hunter Confidential’ Reduces an Extraordinary Story to the Ordinary

GameStop, Inc.

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It’s not easy being a teenage idol. Your work is written off as being that of a manufactured pop meant to whet the burgeoning sexual appetite of teenage girls. New opportunities are scarce as people only see you as a teenage idol, even when you’re well into your 30s and 40s. In his career as an actor and singer, Tab Hunter faced all of those challenges, but also had one other challenge – he was a homosexual heartthrob in a time when homosexuality couldn’t just ruin a professional life, it could wind you up in jail. The new documentary Tab Hunter Confidential, an adaptation of Hunter’s autobiography Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, tells the story of the matinee idol’s struggles. However, director Jeffrey Schwarz is unable to make Tab Hunter Confidential into anything more than a by-the-numbers documentary, rendering the whole film as a disappointment.

Hunter tells the story of his life in chronological order, from being raised by his German mother to his ascension to heartthrob to the hard times he faced when he was released from his studio contract. Aside from Hunter, other interview subjects include brief appearances from John Waters, George Takei, Debbie Reynolds, Robert Wagner, and Clint Eastwood, either telling their side of stories or placing Hunter’s cultural significance in perspective. The only moment of the film that isn’t present in chronological order is Hunter recalling attending a secret party in Hollywood that was raided by the police. Arrested on “disorderly conduct,” Hunter’s career is placed in peril, but in the waning days of the studio system the charges were easily kept out of the press. Tab Hunter Confidential doesn’t have enough of these stories, and the rote manner that Hunter’s career is recalled leaves the film feeling like there’s something missing.

There are interesting details about Hunter’s personal and professional life within Tab Hunter Confidential. His friendship with Natalie Wood; his relationship with Anthony Perkins; and the studio turmoil with Warner Bros. that left Hunter a Hollywood outcast working in dinner theater until his acting career was revitalized with a role in John Waters’ Polyester. On the set of a Lust in the Dust, a western comedy co-starring Divine, Hunter met Allan Glaser, who is also a producer on Tab Hunter Confidential, and the two have remained partners for the intervening 20 years. The film concludes with Hunter’s life today, retired from acting and spending his days following his passion of tending to horses.

Tab Hunter Confidential has an interesting story of a different kind of Hollywood and the genuine human toll of forcing people into the closet. But Tab Hunter Confidential isn’t an especially good movie from a filmmaking standpoint as it is a fascinating story is told in the most conventional of ways. The best way for the film to be viewed is as a document of how much society has changed since Hunter’s heyday as a heartthrob, but Tab Hunter Confidential isn’t the vital portrait it sets out to be. It’s simply the extraordinary reduced to the ordinary.

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