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GARBO TALKS (director: Sidney Lumet; screenwriter: Larry Grusin; cinematographer: Andrzej Bartkowiak; editor: Andrew Mondshein; music: Cy Coleman; cast: Anne Bancroft (Estelle Rolfe), Ron Silver (Gilbert Rolfe), Carrie Fisher (Lisa Rolfe), Catherine Hicks (Jane Mortimer), Steven Hill (Walter Rolfe), Alice Spivak (Claire Rolfe), John Ring (Garbo Doorman), Howard Da Silva (Angelo Dokakis), Dorothy Loudon (Sonya Apollinar), Harvey Fierstein (Bernie Whitlock), Hermione Gingold (Elizabeth Rennick), Richard B. Shull (Shepard Plotkin), Michael Lombard (Mr. Morganelli), Ed Crowley (Mr. Goldhammer), Maurice Sterman(Dr. Cohen), Betty Comden (Garbo); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Burtt Harris/Elliott Kastner; MGM Home Entertainment; 1984)
It’s a misfire, where seemingly every move Lumet made was a misstep.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A bitter-sweet comedy flatly directly by Sidney Lumet (“Prince of the City”/”Serpico”/”Critical Care”)and limply written by Larry Grusin. It’s a misfire, where seemingly every move Lumet made was a misstep. Though it has a good premise and cast, the execution is lousy. Nothing funny materializes, but there’s plenty of Hollywood idol worship, sentimentality, contrived sketches and thickly laid on schmaltz.

The feisty, liberal crusader, eccentric and overbearing Jewish momma Estelle Rolfe (Anne Bancroft), a divorcee, is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and told she has six months to live. Hospitalized in Manhattan’s New York Hospital, Estelle tells her mild-mannered, dutiful, agreeable accountant son Gilbert (Ron Silver) that her dying wish is to meet the reclusive Greta Garbo. She was her idol since childhood, and someone she still relates to even though the Swedish actress long ago retired.

Gilbert does everything in his power to track down Garbo for three months, which puts more pressure on Gilbert’s already rocky marriage. His nagging, pretentious wife Lisa (Carrie Fisher) wants to go back home to California and doesn’t appreciate hubby spending all that time for a mother-in-law she detests. Gilbert hires at a great cost an old time paparazzi (Howard Da Silva), who once got lucky and got a picture of Garbo on the street. After stalking her building for a week, Gilbert comes up empty. He can’t even get to see the elderly actress when he takes a job as a delivery man for a gourmet grocer that delivers to her building regularly. A trip to Fire Island, where Garbo is known to visit, turns out that Gilbert only meets a lonely gay guy (Harvey Fierstein). Finally an elderly bumbling Shakespearean actress (Hermione Gingold) tells Gilbert that he might find Garbo at a 6th Ave. flea market. Gilbert meets her there and arranges for the legendary actress to visit mom in the hospital, and all goes well (which might be meaningful if it was a dying child granted a last wish to meet an admired celebrity).

Meanwhile this quest has the non-assertive Gilbert gain confidence to daringly divorce his wife, quit his exploitative job and find a new girlfriend in a younger and more sympathetic aspiring actress (Catherine Hicks) who also quit her job at his workplace.

I have no idea what is its point, and found it a bit creepy that it was trying to cash in on the Garbo legend without getting her authorization to do so or paying her for the privilege. This aggressive New York comedy is different and not for all tastes, especially mine.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”