The Great Gabbo
|The Great Gabbo|
Original theatrical poster for the film
|Directed by||James Cruze
Erich von Stroheim (uncredited)
|Produced by||Nat Cordish (executive producer)
James Cruze (producer)
Henry D. Meyer (executive producer)
|Written by||Ben Hecht (story "The Rival Dummy")
Hugh Herbert (continuity)
Hugh Herbert (dialogue)
|Starring||Erich von Stroheim
|Music by||Howard Jackson (musical arrangement)
|Cinematography||Ira H. Morgan|
|Distributed by||Sono Art-World Wide Pictures|
|Release dates||12 September 1929|
|Running time||96 minutes|
As originally released by Sono Art-World Wide Pictures, the film featured sequences in Multicolor. The current prints, restored by the Library of Congress and released by Kino International on DVD, now exist only in black and white.
The movie follows brilliant ventriloquist "The Great Gabbo" (Stroheim) who, as he spirals down into madness, increasingly uses his dummy "Otto" as his only means of self-expression—an artist driven insane by his work.
Gabbo's gimmick is his astonishing ability to make Otto talk—and even sing—while Gabbo himself smokes, drinks and eats. Gabbo's girlfriend and assistant (Betty Compson) loves him, but is driven to another performer (Donald Douglas) by Gabbo's deteriorating personality.
- Erich von Stroheim as The Great Gabbo
- Betty Compson as Mary
- Donald Douglas as Frank
- Marjorie Kane as Babe
- John F. Hamilton as Neighbour
Touted in advertising as an "all-dialog singing, dancing and dramatic spectacle", this early sound film oddly interleaves stark drama with gratuitous full-length, large-scale, on-stage musical production numbers such as "Every Now and Then", "I'm in Love with You", "The New Step", "The Web of Love", and the now-missing "The Ga Ga Bird", which was filmed in color. The "Web of Love" number, in which the performers wear stylized spider and fly costumes, is occasionally shown on Classic Arts Showcase. Footage from the dance sequences was re-used with different music in The Girl from Calgary (1932).
The public domain version available on Internet Archive runs 68 minutes, while the original film ran 96 minutes, including the exit music. The opening credits mention "Color sequences by Multicolor", but those sequences are now either lost or have survived only in black-and-white form. Multicolor, based on the earlier Prizma color process, went out of business in 1932; its assets were bought by Cinecolor.
A 94 minute public domain version is now available here.
The Great Gabbo opened to lukewarm reviews. Stroheim received good notices, but the film did nothing to further his career. Photoplay called the film "a bitter disappointment... Cruze seems to have lost his sense of humor, and the lighting and scenario are terrible." Historian Arthur Lennig wrote that The Great Gabbo "betrays little inventiveness and shows few of its actors to advantage." He notes that, due to obvious budget constraints, several line-flubs by cast members made it into the final cut. The New York Times review commented unfavorably on the technical quality of the color sequences.
The film's basic plot and themes would later be resurrected many times, most famously in the British film Dead of Night (1945), two episodes of the popular television series The Twilight Zone ("The Dummy", Season 3, Episode 33, and "Caesar and Me", Season 5, Episode 148); and the 1978 Anthony Hopkins film Magic. An episode of The Simpsons, "Krusty Gets Kancelled", featured a ventriloquist's dummy by the name of Gabbo. The Batman villain Ventriloquist (and his dummy Scarface) are arguably based on the Great Gabbo, depicting the madness that comes from one person living two personas. In Capcom's game "PW:AA And justice for all", Ben has been based entirely on the Great Gabbo as well. There have also been a number of sports personalities called "The Great Gabbo", including American baseball announcer Leo Lassen, Major League Baseball pitcher Frank Gabler and Ed Dorohoy, ice hockey centre for the Montreal Canadiens.
- "Every Now and Then"
- "I'm In Love With You"
- "The New Step"
- "I'm Laughing"
- "Icky" (the lollipop song)
- Sung by Otto the dummy, with Erich von Stroheim
- "The Web Of Love"
- "The Ga Ga Bird"
- (missing from known prints but major production number glimpsed among Gabbo's hallucinations)
- Dead of Night a 1945 British film
- Knock on Wood a 1954 film
- "The Dummy" a 1962 episode of The Twilight Zone
- "Caesar and Me" a 1964 episode of The Twilight Zone
- Devil Doll a 1964 film
- Magic a 1978 film
- The Ventriloquist, a nemesis in Batman comics, first appearing in 1988
- "Krusty Gets Kancelled" a 1993 episode of The Simpsons
- List of early color feature films
- The Great Gabbo at the Internet Movie Database
- The Great Gabbo is available for free download at the Internet Archive