Immortalized as a romantic leading man, suavely surfacing in everything from frothy Doris Day gems to such lush, dramatic adventures as Giant, Rock Hudson, as many matinee types before him, grew a bit bolder as he aged. The lure of homogenized Hollywood behind him, he accepted darker roles in such projects as the 1971 comic slasher Pretty Maids All in a Row and 1976’s mad scientist inspired Embryo.
It was not these movies that deemed him worthy of immortalization as the subject of a television-film of the week, though. That distinction was due to the late-in-his-life revelation of his homosexuality and his subsequent death from AIDS shortly thereafter. This tragedy fully engaged the shocked public. This was perhaps the first widespread evidence of how blatantly the corporate dream machine could cover up the truth with fantasies and lies. It was also prime evidence of the diversity of the LGBTQIA community – yes, we were choreographers and costume designers, but we were also war heroes and construction workers…and masculine matinee idols.
In consideration of that last occupation, the producers of 1990’s Rock Hudson definitely got their lead casting right. The handsome 6’ 5” Thomas Ian Griffith, who would go on to be a beloved part of the John Carpenter universe due to his powerfully villainous turn in Vampires, was cast as Hudson for the project. Genre fans are also sure to be thrilled with the presence of Andrew Robinson (Hellraiser, Child’s Play 3) as infamous agent Henry Willson and the ever-friendly Thom Mathews (Return of the Living Dead, Friday the 13th: Jason Lives) as Tim Murphy, an amalgamation of Hudson’s early career paramours. Of the three, Mathews, in particular, shines with an honest sensitivity and forthrightness.
The truest pleasures in this production may end there, though. The project itself follows the typical biopic beats – Rock overcoming an indifferent parent (a quirkily curt Diane Ladd), finding outrageous success and then experiencing a disheartening down curve in popularity. Even more blatantly irritating, though, are the scenes involving Phyllis Gates (Daphne Ashbrook), the woman the star married in 1955 to cover up his true orientation. Pretty much universally confirmed as nothing more than a tense business arrangement, the producers here spend many gauzy lensed moments detailing the relationship as a passionate romance. Griffith and Ashbrook flirt and cutely cavort, eventually making love in a tenderly glowing sequence. The actor’s same sex relationships definitely don’t get the same treatment here. Granted, the audience at the time may not have been able to accept the sight of a sweaty man-on-Mathews lip lock, but by playing it safe, this production suffers not only from a sense of falsehood but from a certain blandness, intimately familiar territory to we lovers of tele-films, as well.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!