Tab Hunter: Confidential Blu-ray Review
I’m almost ashamed to say that, even as a film critic and certified movie buff, my only knowledge of Tab Hunter came from DAMN YANKEES!, GREASE 2 and a couple of John Waters and Paul Bartel films. And the song “Young Love.” I had missed out on a lot and, thanks to the new documentary TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL, I know what to go out and look for.
Born Arthur Kelm (his first agent helped him change his name), Hunter was an incredibly good looking boy growing up. Interviews with his school mates inform us that he was so fiercely chased by the girls that he would often have to hide in an empty room until class started. Hunter grew up with his older brother and divorced mother in California (he was born in New York but the three moved west after the divorce). Looking for excitement he left school and joined the Coast Guard at age 15. He was discharged after the service learned how old he was.
A chance meeting with an actor leads him to agent Henry Wilson, who dubs the young man “Tab Hunter.” Wilson also represented Rock Hudson and Troy Donohue, renaming both of those men as well (Roy Scheerer, Jr and Merle Johnson, respectively. In fact, Donohue appears as “Merle Johnson” in THE GODFATHER PART II). He is soon cast opposite Linda Darnell in ISLAND OF DESIRE and, despite horrible reviews, his looks get him noticed. It’s after appearing in the film BATTLE CRY that he gains stardom.
But of course, if this was just a film retrospect it wouldn’t be a good film. Hunter was gay and that was a secret that needed to be kept in 1950s Hollywood. Hunter played the game, being seen out on the town with the likes of Natalie Wood and Debbie Reynolds. He also almost considered marrying a French actress who he co-starred with but did not think it was fair to the woman. He did strike up a long time relationship with Tony Perkins, and that is revealed in-depth here. Despite being movie star, Hunter was signed to Dot Records and his first single, “Young Love,” stayed at the top of the charts for (6) weeks. As he was under a 7-year contract with Warner Bros. as the time, studio head Jack Warner banned him from recording, telling him if he wants to make music he needs to make it with him. When Hunter explains that Warners does not have a records division, Warner informs him that “we do NOW!’ Thus was the birth of Warner Bros. Records.
As his career takes off he finds himself more and more in demand. Most of his hit films were made for other studios, with Warner renting him out for $250,000 a film while only paying Hunter his contractual weekly salary. Hunter tries to buy himself out of his contract, inspiring Warner to offer him up as a sacrificial lamb. If you saw the film L.A. CONFIDENTIAL you surely remember “Hush-Hush” magazine and their penchant for finding undesirable things about celebrities. In Hollywood, the magazine known as “Scandal” is pending to run an article about Rock Hudson and his sexual orientation. Wanting to protect Hudson, Warner tells the mag about Hunter’s late night arrest in 1950, hoping they will bite at that and leave Hudson alone. They do, and their article about Hunter’s attendance at a “limp-wristed marijuana party” is pretty much the kiss of death on his career. Or is it?
TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL is full of great interviews. Not only with the title subject but with many of his friends and associates from the past and present. Hunter is very open and there is really no stone left unturned concerning his life or career. I highly recommend this film to anyone who is curious about how the Hollywood of the past worked.
Video: The film is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and looks great. All of the vintage footage has been cleaned up as best as possible and everything looks clean and sharp.
Audio: The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and is well mixed. The interviews a clear and sharp.
Bonus Interviews (36:35): More interviews with Hunter, Reynolds, George Takei, John Waters and others.