By Daniel Barnes
*Opens today at the Landmark Clay Theatre in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley.
A 1950s heartthrob sold to the public as “six feet of rugged manhood” and chaste, Dobie Gillis-ian heterosexuality, Tab Hunter remained “very closeted” away from the cameras. Now 84 years old and still the embodiment of sun-kissed All-American-ness, Hunter opens up about his life and career in the intimate and entertaining documentary Tab Hunter Confidential. The film sticks close to a well-worn formula of talking heads and clips and pics, but the talking heads are sincere and the clips and pics are brilliantly curated, and Hunter makes for a warmly engaging tour guide. Hunter takes us from his difficult childhood to his overnight successes in film and music, framing the studio system from the perspective of a closeted actor, and finally touches on his later resurgences in 1970s dinner theater and 1980s cult movies. For the most part, Tab Hunter Confidential assumes the personality of its own subject – much like Hunter’s onscreen persona, the film is handsome and uncomplicated and easy to like – but it finds about ten to fifteen minutes of aching dramatic crescendo when Hunter talks about his stormy relationship with Tony Perkins. It’s a story of love and betrayal that could stand on its own, and this otherwise friendly and sedate documentary revs to life in these sequences.