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Great Gabbo


You can find more information regarding this film on its IMDb page.

The Great Gabbo (1929) is an American early sound film musical drama film directed by James Cruze, based on a story ("The Rival Dummy") by Ben Hecht and starring Erich von Stroheim and Betty Compson.
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 (company) on DVD, now exist only in black and white.

Plot summary

The movie follows brilliant ventriloquism "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
  • Don Douglas as Frank
  • Marjorie Kane as Babe
  • Marbeth Wright as Dancer
  • John F. Hamilton as Neighbour
  • Harry Ross as Performer
  • George Grandee as Otto (voice)


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 Number (music) 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 film 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 at


The Great Gabbo opened to lukewarm reviews. Stroheim received good notices, but the film did nothing to further his career. The New York Times review commented unfavorably on the technical quality of the color sequences.<!-- Sorry, proper cit data not at hand, source is the NYT film reviews book set -->


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 (1959 TV series) ("The Dummy", Season 3, Episode 33, and "Caesar and Me", Season 5, Episode 148); and the 1978 Anthony Hopkins film Magic (1978 film). An episode of The Simpsons, "Krusty Gets Kancelled", featured a ventriloquist's dummy by the name of Gabbo. The Batman villain Ventriloquist (comics) (and his dummy Scarface) are arguably based on the Great Gabbo, also 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"
  • Sung by Marjorie Kane and Don Douglas
  • "I'm In Love With You"
  • Sung by Betty Compson and Don Douglas
    Written by Lynn Cowan and Paul Titsworth
  • "The New Step"
  • Sung by Marjorie Kane and chorus
    Written by Lynn Cowan and Paul Titsworth
  • "I'm Laughing"
  • Sung by Otto the dummy, with Erich von Stroheim
    Written by King Zany and Donald McNamee
  • "Icky" (the lollipop song)
  • Sung by Otto the dummy, with Erich von Stroheim
  • "The Web Of Love"
  • Sung by Betty Compson and Don Douglas
    Written by Lynn Cowan and Paul Titsworth
  • "The Ga Ga Bird"
  • (missing from known prints but major production number glimpsed among Gabbo's hallucinations)

    See also

    • Dead of Night a 1945 British film
    • Knock on Wood (1954 film) a 1954 film
    • "The Dummy" a 1962 episode of The Twilight Zone
    • "Caesar and Me" a 1964 episode of The Twilight Zone
    • Devil Doll (film) a 1964 film
    • Magic (1978 film) a 1978 film
    • Ventriloquist (comics), a nemesis in Batman comics, first appearing in 1988
    • "Krusty Gets Kancelled" a 1993 episode of The Simpsons
    • List of early color feature films

    Category:1929 films
    Category:American films
    Category:German-language films
    Category:English-language films
    Category:Black-and-white films
    Category:Films directed by James Cruze
    Category:1920s musical films
    Category:Musical drama films
    Jonathan Cordish, James Cruze, Henry D. Meyer

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