Sunday, October 25, 2015

Tab Hunter returns to MFAH -- sort of -- in The Loved One

When Tab Hunter was in Houston last summer for the QFest screening of Tab Hunter Confidential at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, I was fortunate enough to be included among the invitees at a private brunch where the semi-retired '50s heartthrob was the guest of honor. We chatted about various aspects of his stage and screen career, including his co-starring stint apposite Tallulah Bankhead in the ill-starred 1964 Broadway production of Tennessee Williams' The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore (a play eventually filmed in 1968 by director Joseph Losey as Boom!, an equally ill-starred Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor vehicle). The production was a resounding flop, but Hunter continues to speak highly, and respectfully, of its director, the late Tony Richardson.

Hunter credits Richardson -- who also directed Tom Jones, A Taste of Honey, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and several other notable films -- for tossing him a lifeline during a low point in his career during the early 1960s. As he notes in his autobiography:

"Just when it seemed I might never make another movie, Tony Richardson came to the rescue. He'd been hired to adapt Evelyn Waugh's black comedy [novel] about the mortuary business, The Loved One, He stocked the cast with stars in cameo roles. Mine was only two days' work, playing a cemetery tour guide.

"How oddly fitting, considering that my movie career was dead."

Unfortunately, Hunter had to wait a few years -- until 1981, when John Waters cast him opposite Divine in Polyester -- before he made anything resembling a movie comeback. The Loved One, aptly advertised as "The motion picture with something to offend everyone," was roasted by critics and ignored by moviegoers during its initial theatrical run in 1965, and did precious little for the careers of Robert Morse, Rod Steiger and everyone else involved. 

But when I first saw The Loved One, when I was around 13 years old, I thought it was absolutely hilarious. (Yeah, I was a weird kid.) Subsequent reviewings during my adulthood have only reinforced my original impression that it was a movie way ahead of its time. (Steiger, it should be noted, seemed genuinely amused years ago when I told him during an interview how much I enjoyed his performance as Mr. Joyboy, a flamboyant mortician with mother issues.) Indeed, I am pleased to see that The Loved One has gained an admiring cult following over the years, and is periodically screened in classy venues like... well, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where it will be presented at 7 pm. Monday, Oct. 26

Take a look at the trailer, and tell me, honestly: How could you possibly not want to see this one?

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