The other night at the brand-new Half Price Books on Westport Road in Louisville, I scored The Great Gabbo, a 1929 film that is both a dark psychological drama and a quasi-Broadway musical. The Great Gabbo is a miserable old ventriloquist who people consider insane because he believes his dummy, Otto, to be alive. And yet, the dummy apparently is alive - it moves and speaks even when in a chair by itself with no one operating it. It's never made clear whether this is only happening in Gabbo's deranged mind or not.
Erich Von Stroheim, soon to be a washed-up showbiz failure, plays a washed-up showbiz failure here in his first talkie picture. At the other end of his career, he appeared in Sunset Boulevard, a story about another washed-up showbiz failure, and in that film, the old footage shown of Norma Desmond's glory days are actually leftover footage from Stroheim's never-finished Queen Kelly film, which was cancelled by studio heads and began Stroheim's descent into failure. Everything fucks back in on itself.
By the way, Stroheim's Hollywood failure was not because of lack of talent - in fact, I maintain he was a genius. But like the bull-headed character he plays in The Great Gabbo, he was too stubborn to compromise his artistic vision and so ended up with most of his productions canceled or edited into useless shadows of their former selves (His ten-hour extravaganza Greed was edited by the studio into an incomprensible two hour version which, through no fault of Stroheim's, subsequently bombed).
Anyway. If you enjoy (as I do) scary German men screaming at puppets and showgirls, interspersed with surreal vaudeville dance numbers in insect costumes, then you'll be pleased to know that The Great Gabbo is one of those delightfully low-budget DVDs cranked out by Alpha Video and is available dirt cheap.
- - JSH.
- - JSH.