Combustible Celluloid
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With: Erich von Stroheim, Betty Compson, Donald Douglas, Marjorie Kane
Written by: Hugh Herbert, based on a story by Ben Hecht
Directed by: James Cruze
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 92
Date: 09/12/1929

The Great Gabbo (1929)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Dummy Ache

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This very early talkie musical is notable for the casting of Erich von Stroheim, just as his incendiary directing career was about to flame out for good, and thereby starting his career as eccentric character actor. He gives a bonkers performance as Gabbo, a volatile, egocentric ventriloquist, who communicates with his dummy Otto as if he were real. He chases away his faithful assistant (Betty Compson) with his monstrous behavior, and two years later, when he makes the big time, he tries to win her back. The movie has some crazy, amazing stuff in it, like Otto's "Icky" song and Gabbo's hallucination sequence, but it drags an awful lot. Most of the songs are centered around Compson and her jealous beau, and they go on and on without much cinematic invention.

Kino Lorber's 2021 Blu-ray rescues another public domain film and makes it watchable. There are only a few cosmetic blemishes on the video transfer, and the audio is as strong as can be, given the antique recording equipment of the time. There are much-needed English subtitles, and a commentary track by Richard Barrios, an expert on early film musicals.

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