The Great Gabbo

  • 1929
  • 1 HR 11 MIN
  • NR
  • Horror, Musical

This bizarre, often unintentionally funny, and very campy film casts Erich von Stroheim, in his first talkie performance, as The Great Gabbo, a half-crazy ventriloquist who is losing his personality to his own dummy, Otto, while punishing his pretty assistant, Mary (Betty Compson), for imagined wrongs. Gabbo becomes so jealous of his helper that he drives...read more

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This bizarre, often unintentionally funny, and very campy film casts Erich von Stroheim, in his first talkie performance, as The Great Gabbo, a half-crazy ventriloquist who is losing his personality to his own dummy, Otto, while punishing his pretty assistant, Mary (Betty Compson), for

imagined wrongs. Gabbo becomes so jealous of his helper that he drives her from his side, the dummy actually insulting her and heaping so much abuse on her head that she quits the act, even though she loves Gabbo. The ventriloquist loses his identity to the dummy altogether and goes berserk at the

end, smashing the dearest thing to his heart, Otto, the wooden extension of his personality. Poorly produced, with a grainy texture and erratic sound--talkies were then in the experimental stage--THE GREAT GABBO is fascinating merely for von Stroheim's presence. He does the best he can with the

improbable story, which is awkwardly directed by James Cruze, a one-time famous silent screen helmsman who failed to make the transition to talkies. It's crude and disjointed, but there are such priceless scenes as the one in which von Stroheim sings with his dummy onstage. Some absurd attempts at

dance numbers are made, including one maniacal routine titled "The Web of Love," showing scantily clad chorines trapped and writhing in a massive cobweb controlled by an actor dressed in a loose-fitting wild spider costume. To those still responding to the magic name of von Stroheim, a name of

great importance during the silent era, the film was a let-down, offering only another "crazy artist" story. Von Stroheim, who did the film because he was desperate for money, later hated the role, coming to believe it symbolized his own crackup and failure. He tried to buy the rights to the film

years later, presumably to destroy all the prints, but found that someone else had purchased the property--a real-life ventriloquist named Edgar Bergen.

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  • Rating: NR
  • Review: This bizarre, often unintentionally funny, and very campy film casts Erich von Stroheim, in his first talkie performance, as The Great Gabbo, a half-crazy ventriloquist who is losing his personality to his own dummy, Otto, while punishing his pretty assist… (more)

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