Tuesday, November 29, 2011

cinema obscura: Sidney Lumet's "Garbo Talks" (1984)

When Sidney Lumet passed last April, the assorted appreciations rhapsodized predictably about his hard-edged New York dramas devoted to the city's outsiders, misfits and miscreants. But nary a word about his three comedies - "Bye Bye Braverman" (1968), "Just Tell Me What You Want" (1980) and, most atypical of all, "Garbo Talks" (1984).

"Bye Bye Braverman" and, to a larger extent, "Just Tell Me What You Want," were admittedly singled out by my friend and colleague Carrie Rickey in her Flickgrrl post for The Philadelphia Inquirer, but both are every bit as rough around the edges as Lumet's dramas. He was a pop-New York virtuoso. The genial, sentimental "Garbo Talks," however, was a real departure for Lumet (not unlike his film version of the musical "The Wiz") in that he suddenly came upon new-found softness and warmth in the familiar haunts of the city.

The premise is a mere wisp. A dutiful son is determined to make his dying mother's final dream come true - namely, to meet Greta Garbo.

I know, I know. On paper, it sounds awful. But in the hands of Anne Bancroft and Ron Silver, as mother and son, it's irresistible.

Carrie Fisher rings in as Silver's wife, from whom he becomes estranged during his single-minded search, and a very desirable Catherine Hicks (who enjoyed a brief movie career and deserved better) is the dream woman who joins him on his adventure. Such New York fixtures as Howard Da Silva, Dorothy Loudon, Harvey Fierstein, Hermione Gingold, Richard B. Shull and Michael Lombard make appearances that add color.

And, best of all, there's musical-comedy legend Betty Comden, that Garbo lookalike, as The Face herself. Uncredited, natch.

"Garbo Talks" receives a rare screening on Turner Classic Movies at 3:45 a.m. (est) on Thursday, December 1st. Worth watching. Worth recording.


Tom said...

Thanks for reviewing this and for the heads up on its airing. Been wanting to watch this for a long time.

joe baltake said...

Tom! Me, too. And the wait is well worth it.

k. holm said...

To me, "Garbo Talks" was a surprising change of style for Lumet. It was like Lumet Lite - big gestures, rich atmosphere, primary colors and vivid acting. In its own way, it was not timid at all, but rather bold, albeit in a different way. He continued doing what he could always do so well.