Tab Hunter turns 80 today. In his honor, Turner Classic Movies is airing five of his films. The first of the batch, Phil Karlson’s Western Gunman’s Walk, is on right now. Hunter and The Time Tunnel‘s James Darren play rancher Van Heflin’s sons.
Next is Ride the Wild Surf, starring Hunter and teen idol Fabian as a couple of dudes riding waves in Hawaii. Featuring some cool surfing footage and tons of corny dialogue, Ride the Wild Surf is a guilty pleasure.
In his highly readable autobiography, Tab Hunter: Confidential, Hunter says his brother Walt – a former surfer – was his inspiration for the role. (Not that Hunter actually had to do any surfing.) He adds that director Don Taylor (Elizabeth Taylor’s husband-to-be in Father of the Bride) had to step away for a week due to a death in the family, so Phil Karlson was brought in as a temporary replacement. Karlson directed “the only halfway decent scene I had,” in which Hunter tells his future mother-in-law that he’s no beach bum. The Ride the Wild Surf cast includes Barbara Eden, Shelley Fabares, Peter Brown, and Catherine McLeod.
I haven’t watched either Return to Treasure Island or Battle Cry. The former is notable as the last film in the long career of German filmmaker E. A. Dupont (Varieté, Moulin Rouge); directed by Raoul Walsh, the latter was one of the major releases of the mid-’50s. The extensive cast in this war drama includes numerous well-known names of the time, among them Van Heflin, Dorothy Malone, Mona Freeman, and Aldo Ray. In his autobiography, Hunter also says that brother Walt – a military man – was the inspiration for his character in Battle Cry.
Well, even though I can’t exactly recommend any of the Tab Hunter movies showing tonight, I do heartily recommend Tab Hunter: Confidential (Eddie Muller got “written with” credit), in which Hunter candidly discusses his movies, life as a “gay” actor in the Hollywood of the ’50s, his outing by the gossip rag Confidential, his relationship with Anthony Perkins, and his “conservative” worldview, among other facets of his life. Hunter also says he “hates labels”; hence the quotation marks in this paragraph.
Schedule (ET) and synopses from the TCM website:
8:00 PM GUNMAN’S WALK (1958) A rancher’s rebellious son tries to teach him that violence is no longer an answer. Dir.: Phil Karlson Cast: Van Heflin, Tab Hunter, Kathryn Grant. Color. 95 mins Letterbox Format
10:00 PM RIDE THE WILD SURF (1964) Three young surfers travel to Hawaii in search of love and the perfect wave. Dir.: Don Taylor Cast: Fabian, Shelley Fabares, Tab Hunter. Color. 102 mins
12:00 AM RETURN TO TREASURE ISLAND (1954)
A student vies with crooks for buried treasure. Dir.: E. A. Dupont Cast: Tab Hunter, Dawn Addams, Porter Hall.
1:30 AM BATTLE CRY (1955) A group of Marines eagerly await deployment during World War II. Dir.: Raoul Walsh Cast: Van Heflin, Aldo Ray, Mona Freeman. Color. 148 min. Letterbox Format
4:15 AM THE GOLDEN ARROW (1964) An Arabian bandit discovers he’s the long lost son of a Sultan. Dir.: Antonio Margheriti Cast: Tab Hunter, Rossana Podestà , Umberto Melnati. Color. 91 mins Letterbox Format