Garbo Talks is a movie I remember appreciating when I saw it in 1985 on HBO. I didn’t know much about Greta Garbo but it was a cute premise that had potential. Anne Bancroft has always been charming and I liked Ron Silver as the put-upon Gilbert. It gave me good memories. That’s pretty much what I remembered.
Recently, I watched an EXCELLENT documentary on Garbo, explaining her life before, during and after stardom. And how her ironclad disappearance and steadfast decision to stay away from the spotlight for the rest of her life may have been sad to us mortals, but she earned the right to live her life as she saw fit. And that distance should have been respected. It rekindled thoughts of this movie due to the fact it is named, “Garbo Talks”, so I sought it out on DVD these decades later, even though I knew it wasn’t her actually involved with the project. Sometimes, we should leave old memories in the past…
Watching it with a seasoned moviephile’s eyes, the story was a major disappointment. It just… meandered without much of a plot at all. Anne Bancroft plays a bitchy “New Yawk” battle-axe mother/ex-wife that can’t seem to stop going to jail for shoplifting (but it’s the STORE’S fault for overpricing things she doesn’t want to pay for) or berating perfect strangers in front of an entire street corner for being a jerk. It’s one thing to be a strong personality. It’s another to be a total nightmare to anyone you come into contact with, friend or foe.
She’s simply unbearable. She is given a diagnosis of six months to live and instead of planning a kick-ass wake, selling all her assets to give to her doting and poor self-esteemed son, or even giving it all to charity and trying to find grace in God’s eyes for the decades of abuse she’s doled on anyone within her grating personality… instead her dying wish is to make her son track down the seriously elusive Greta Garbo – who absolutely HATED to be noticed btw – and tells her son she wants to meet her. And that’s it. That’s our story.
And poor Gilbert goes on this asinine (and totally creepy) search without a second thought about poor Greta… Gilbert has a job where people basically shove him into a broom closet and continue to overwork the guy to death because he won’t say anything to hurt anyone’s feelings. The guy is married to a princess from California that won’t get a job and won’t tap into her trust fund when they are in dire straits, but berates Gilbert for trying to do the impossible of tracking down Garbo through any and every hairbrained idea to follow every bluster of wind that takes him ever closer to the fabled reclusive Garbo.
Is it worth the journey? Depends on if your self-esteem is so low you resort to bribery, lying, cheating and every other dirty trick to literally stalk the poor legend to death. Seriously, this movie couldn’t be made today. He’d be thrown in the slammer for decades for harassing this poor woman.
I won’t give away the ending but let me say — Anne Bancroft… she did better work in better movies. I will say this movie does have some charms. The supporting characters Gilbert meets along his quest to find Garbo are very adorable and worth watching to see. I kinda fell in love with both the old photographer and Harvey Fierstein, both worth the price of admission. And Ron Silver, who grew up to play lots of heavies and low-lifes in future movies, comes across as genuinely loving son and wants to do the right thing by his overbearing mother.
But, in the end, I just felt this movie was a product of it’s time cashing in on the carefully cultivated and notoriously shy persona of a legend who literally wanted to be left alone in NO uncertain terms. So what does the director do? Not only did he get a resounding silence of a response from anyone who knew Garbo about actually APPEARING in a movie that quite literally ripped off Garbo’s name to sell tickets… But they actually had a STAND-IN playing Garbo (and “Garbo Talks” is not true at all – it wasn’t Garbo in the first place – minor spoiler only if you didn’t read the credits on IMDb telling you it’s a stand-in) so any resemblance of coming full circle with actual truth is a figment of the audience’s imagination.
The last thing I will state about this travesty is this: Greta Garbo’s personal life at the time this movie was created was completely shown in such great detail, including but not limited to her ACTUAL building AND apartment number in New York City, favorite vacation locations down to the exact houses she stayed, her food preferences, her walks into New York antique stores and flea markets…. her ENTIRE personal life was on screen. And Greta was STILL ALIVE when this was filmed.
Honestly. Let’s put aside the genuinely honest, safe fans like you and I who really loved Garbo and would do anything possible to keep her safe and love her from the distance. But think of the reckless propaganda given to crackpots and harmful nuts in the public to potentially endanger a very shy, ultra-private citizen. It is known Garbo would occasionally visit her movies in disguise. Any opinion on whether she would have visited a showing of a movie literally named after her most famous ad campaign in 1931? The panic that poor woman must have felt of watching her entire life on screen and nothing she could do to feel safe again… My heart breaks for the Great Garbo. She deserved soooooo much better.
If you saw this movie in 1984-85 in it’s original run, please try to remember it for what it was. In 2020 and beyond, if you want to know about Greta Garbo, watch one of her AWESOME older movies – Flesh And The Devil, Anna Karenina, Queen Christina, Grand Hotel… and if you wanna hear the ORIGINAL movie that was advertised as “Garbo Talks!” in 1931, watch Anna Christie. Hearing Greta Garbo’s actual lustful, husky, beautiful voice for the first time versus listening to Anne Bancroft robbing the lines at every turn so we CAN’T hear Garbo talk is a travesty. Garbo deserved to be left alone. And SHE was the legend. Movies using her name to sell tickets shouldn’t be allowed to share her name at all. Disappointed.
What do you think of the film? Let us know in the comments below.