OK, quick, if you have even ever heard of Sal Mineo, what do you know about him?
Among the few details you may have remembered, probably among them is that you heard he was stabbed repeatedly by a gay hustler as part of a drug deal gone bad. Well, that’s not true. (It wasn’t a gay hustler, nor a drug deal, and one stab wound to the heart.)
Actor and auteur James Franco—noted for playing James Dean in the TNT biopic, takes on the last frustrating days of Sal Mineo in a languid, moody and ultimately fantastic look at Mineo’s last days and his impending comeback to the world.
Franco’s insight on James Dean and Sal Mineo is perfect to bring this insightful story to film. It’s not as artsy as some of his other recent pieces (so lambasted and spoofed in his recent Comedy Central Roast), but it does have a distinct artistic element to it that shows a mastery of a guy who is a multi-faceted talent.
Franco has written and directed a handful of arty films: The Broken Tower and As I Lay Dying (the ones I like most), and he is showing increasing maturity in his films every step of the way. He’s almost from the Sofia Coppola school of putting viewers directly into the movie with you (think Somewhere and Lost in Translation).
Some of the scenes in the car with Sal Mineo show the shot from behind the actor’s ear, and the scenery around them is the focal point. “This is where James [Dean] used to take me. I was only 16.”
Franco found a fantastic young actor, Val Lauren, to embody the sexy Mineo. Lauren did his own research on Sal, saying, “He’d say, ‘Look, I don’t want to be labeled as a homosexual or bisexual actor, director, writer; I’m an artist, I’m a human being, and I’m not going to pigeonhole myself for you to understand me and tell you what I am and what I’m not.’”
The reality is that Mineo did tell reporters that he was bisexual toward the end of his life. He had very successful relationships with women, sometimes his famous co-stars, and then he had plenty of sex with men.
In the movie, he talks about picking up a trick on the street and telling his friend he heard a loud splat as they were having sex. “It could have broken the dry wall. It was his cum splatting against the wall. I said ‘We have to do this again’ and fed him a couple of bananas.”
We see Sal working out at the gym to keep his body in shape because he’s nude in the play “PS, Your Cat is Dead” in which he plays a bisexual burglar opposite Keir Dullea. He was possibly taking this play to Broadway, maybe a movie.
He eschewed the dinner theater circuit that he had been doing for years, and saw this as a ticket out of that path.
(In a moment of disclosure, I saw Sal Mineo live in a dinner theater in Clearwater, Florida just a year before his murder and was thrilled to get his autograph. I was a young teen and was smitten.)
While rehearsing on the last day of his life, he recites a line as the burglar, saying, “Oh, I know you swing both ways, every actor I’ve ever met in Hollywood does.”
Unfortunately, it's lacking on the sexual nature of Sal, although it has plenty of sensual tension that is show between him and his friends—but nothing explicitly (unfortunately).
Don’t think of this as a biopic, don’t think of it as a documentary, but it’s another one of the wonderful artistic films that James Franco is adding to his resume that will mark him as an indie film auteur with great depth and insight. It makes us look forward to more.
The 85-minute film is available now on Video On Demand and also has a theatrical release.
Director James Franco
Screenwriter Stacey Miller
Producer(s) Caroline Aragon, Vince Jolivette, Miles Levy
Cast James Franco, Val Lauren, Vince Jolivette, Jim Parrack, Trevor Neuhoff, Stacey Miller, Raymond T. Williams