As engaging and unfussy as its star, the documentary "Tab Hunter Confidential" has more appeal as a nostalgic look at Hollywood celebrity than as a major statement about life in and out of the closet.
Director Jeffrey Schwarz ("Vito," "I Am Divine"), with a warm on-camera assist from long-retired actor Tab Hunter, now 84, breezily recounts Hunter's fortuitous, precipitous rise from handsome young stable boy to one of the 1950s' most popular presences in movies ("Battle Cry," "Damn Yankees!") and on pop records ("Young Love").
But for Hunter (born Arthur Gelien), whose all-American, blond good looks made him a matinee idol and poster boy for Eisenhower-era optimism, all was not what it appeared: He was gay.
Interestingly, or at least as presented here, his then-taboo sexuality didn't seem to much hinder his career. Despite secret boyfriends such as figure skater Ronnie Robertson and actor Anthony Perkins, Hunter also had the requisite "girlfriends" (most notably Natalie Wood) and was protected by boss and studio chief Jack Warner. A provocative piece in trashy Confidential magazine also didn't stick.
Only when Hunter bought out his Warner Bros. contract did his career crash-land. By the Swinging '60s, he was an anachronism. He went on to do exploitation films, dinner theater and, later, fun roles in "Grease 2" and opposite Divine in both John Waters' "Polyester" and the western spoof "Lust in the Dust."
Schwarz, who also edited, makes fine use of a myriad of film and TV clips, archival footage, photos and movie memorabilia. He also peppers in brief, supportive chats with such Hunter peers and Hollywood observers as Debbie Reynolds, Robert Wagner, Connie Stevens, Rex Reed and Rona Barrett along with Hunter's longtime partner, producer Allan Glaser.
Schwarz and Hunter never dig all that deep — in fact, it all seems pretty tame by today's reality TV standards — but the film remains an evocative, enjoyable ride.
"Tab Hunter Confidential"
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Playing: Landmark's Nuart Theater, West Los Angeles.