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The Great Gabbo (1929)

Passed  -  Drama | Musical | Romance  -  12 September 1929 (USA)
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Ratings: 6.3/10 from 421 users  
Reviews: 18 user | 14 critic

An insanely, egocentric ventriloquist, even though he is possessed by his wooden dummy, is in love with a dancer who is in love with another. The dummy gives advice to the ventriloquist.


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Credited cast:
Donald Douglas ...
Marjorie Kane ...
Babe (as Margie 'Babe' Kane)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
John F. Hamilton ...
Harry Ross ...


For the ventriloquist Gabbo his wooden dummy Otto is the only means of expression. When he starts relying more and more on Otto, he starts going mad. Written by Stephan Eichenberg <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Musical | Romance







Release Date:

12 September 1929 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Der große Gabbo  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

| (Western Electric Recording)


| (Multicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The "Gaga Bird" production number is presumed lost. Please check your attic. See more »


[first lines]
Mary: Oh, I see a move. Look - eight on the nine, and then your King comes up, and that plays a Queen.
Gabbo: Will you leave these cards alone? You think you can show me something?
See more »


That New Step
Written by Lynn Cowan and Paul Titsworth
Performed by Marjorie Kane and chorus
Also performed as part of the finale
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

An example of Epic Theater at its best. A thinkers musical comedy!
5 November 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The Great Gabbo "The Great Gabbo" is one of the finest examples of American Communist Propaganda films of the early 1900's existent today. It is a master piece of film literature, when you consider the limitations of the technology of the day. Vitaphone, the technology used to cut a vinyl record of the speech or music as the action was filmed, was new and very expensive, and made film editing a nightmarish chore if not impossible.

The script employ's Epic Theater techniques taught by Bertolt Brecht. In this respect it is a thinker's film, the film forces you to think. From the very beginning to the end you are constantly quizzical about behavior, motivation and environment. This is a musical comedy, right? How and why is the title card segment at the beginning of film different from other "musicals". Meet the self-absorbed individualist Gabbo who never acknowledges others who help him gain fame, his ventriloquist dummy Otto, and his stage partner Mary.

We soon realize that Gabbo has very superstitious religious beliefs. While he does not perform a sign of the cross, we know that he operates under the fear of his destined fate from unseen mystical powers. For instance when Mary inadvertently places his hat upon the bed, Gabbo calls Mary a foul name saying "Don't you know that it is bad luck?" Mary, in response, lists a series of activities which might displease and bring about the wrath of an angry immortal. She is more practical stating, "We make our own bad luck." The comparative is the communist environment of the musical theater. Everyone works and does their part for the betterment of the show. Here, once Mary leaves Gabbo, she too climbs to the top and find success in her profession as a singer and dancer with her partner/husband Frank. Gabbo and Mary are both successes in their professions, who then is happier? Who is more honest in their success? Capitalism is treated as an impertinent side note to the values being discussed. Capitalism is the financier management of the show and it seeks gain through investing in both ideals.

The film contrasts individualism versus communism. Many reviews have missed the underpinning effort of the writers and directors to use epic theater, and there blatant agenda to use it to teach the values of communism. They often deride the films production numbers as being unpolished and lacking flair. I ask, how could a film made with the intent to teach communistic ideals express them more eloquently? The ideal of community is not a flawless world, but a world where everyone does what they can to contribute to the whole. Some dancers lag behind the others yet they are there doing there part. Some simply walk from one place to another. The stage is full, busy and the message is understood. The imperfect dance numbers, in the epic theater style, emphasize the communistic ideal not detract from it. Few people would dare be as direct today.

The sad thing about communism's failure is that without community all we have left is individualists who, like Gabbo, are only self-absorbed and care nothing for their neighbor, nor acknowledge supportive people.

This film is a treasure that should be studied over and over. There are so many messages you simply can not absorb them in one viewing.

Watch for Otto's "I'm laughing" song sequence, it is a precursor to Bobby McFerrin's "Don't worry, Be Happy." An interesting comparison is with this film's theater community and with the community environment of Los Angeles in the modern movie "Crash." How are they the same? How are they different? How are messages of these two films different? How are they the same? Think about it.

If you don't own a copy of these films you should. I give "The Great Gabbo" two thumbs up and a black and blue stubbed toe. I guess I'm a little like Mary—accident prone. Oh and have a nice day. Be Happy!

14 of 30 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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