- Movie Rating -

Garbo Talks (1984)

| October 12, 1984

Garbo doesn’t talk in Garbo Talks.  She doesn’t get a chance.  The reason for this is so glib that I had to wonder why Garbo was even involved.

Garbo Talks sounds like a terrific idea; a dying woman who has spent her life living by the seat of her passions, makes one last request from her son to meet the legendary Greta Garbo who, of course, is a legendary recluse.  Okay, there’s an idea, but this movie goes so wrong in so many directions and finally comes down to a stupid self-serving ending that made me want to punch the screen.

Anne Bancroft, an actress that I have long criticized for overacting, plays Estelle Rolfe a woman in her 60s who has spent her life as an activist but now in her old age has taken to protesting petty nonsense; getting arrested over grocery prices, shaming catcalling construction workers, etc.  She’s a screeching scold who really just needs to take a breath and settle down.  Needless to say, she is frustrating.  You just kind of want to get away from her. 

That’s a problem because the movie is asking us to sympathize with her dying wish.  We don’t like this woman, we don’t care if she gets what she wants, and we’re not 100% sure why she wants it.  Her wish is to meet Greta Garbo.  Why?  “Because, I’m dying!” she tells her son.  That’s a tall order, impossible even, and the fact that she will be dead soon doesn’t seem reason enough to haul Garbo out of the shadows to meet her.

Much of the movie is taken up with her milquetoast son Gilbert (Ron Silver) whose job it is to locate Garbo so that he can get her to his mother’s bedside.  His search is a tiresome series of comedy vignettes in which he disguises himself as a delivery boy, stalks around outside of Garbo’s summer home and tries to get information from the paparazzi.  These scenes are tiresome, unfunny and played as if director Sydney Lumet was going for some kind of low-rent Jaques Tati.  Someone falls off of bicycle and that’s supposed to be funny.

Needless to say, Gilbert locates Garbo and persuades her to come to his mother’s bedside, but the scene is one of the most aggravating anti-climaxes that I have ever seen.  Garbo is seen from the back, wearing a hat and filmed in shadow when seen from the front (it’s not her, Garbo is played by Betty Comden).  She sits down at Bancroft’s bedside and . . . never speaks.  The entire scene is a seven-minute monologue in which the camera slowly pulls in on Bancroft’s face as she talks about her youth, her passion, her life and her annoying habit of comparing herself to Garbo whenever she saw one of her movies.  It’s all about Bancroft and Garbo becomes an afterthought, the camera actually pushes past Garbo so that Bancroft is in full frame.  So, really, why was Garbo even there?  When the actress leaves, Bancroft tells her son that they had a conversation in which Garbo talked about her father, but where was that!?

It is noted that the filmmakers wanted to get the real Greta Garbo for this movie, but only got as far as an associate.  I don’t blame her for not wanting to appear in this movie.  She would have no reason to.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1984) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy, Drama