Aside from long stretches of dialog and no underscoring, a common practice in early talkies, "The Great Gabbo," though not considered a musical, has its share of production numbers. What makes this 1929 movie stand out among other musicals at that time is that the orchestration during the stage numbers doesn't sound at all like the usual 1920s score but more-so something from the Ziegfeld Follies. The choreography, compliments by Maurice L. Kusell, unfortunately, does not have the creativity of a Busby Berkeley, for that mainly the girls on stage simply walk back and forth carrying umbrellas, do some dancing and ballet, but there are never any closeups and the camera seldom moves or intercuts, making some of the eight to ten minute production numbers appear to be a little longer than its time length. The tunes itself, however, aren't really bad to listen to, although none of them became popular on the Hit Parade. The opening credits listing mentions sequences in Multicolor, but the entire movie itself can be seen today only in black and white.
The songs (By Paul Titsworth, Lynn Cowan, Don McNamee and King Zany) from the existing film print include: "I'm Laughing" and "The Lollipop Song-Ickey" (both sung by Otto); "Every Now and Then" (sung by Marjorie Kane and Donald Douglas); "I'm in Love With You" (sung by Douglas and Betty Compson); "The New Step" (sung by Kane); "Caught in the Web of Love" (sung by Douglas and Compton/ chorus); "I'm in Love With You" (dance number); and a finale that includes a montage of dance numbers, including the cut number of "The Ga-Ga Bird" which is shown briefly. Of all the songs, only "Caught in the Web of Love" has a slow score, but a production number that sets Douglas and Compton as human spiders dancing in front of a giant spider web. "I'm in Love With You" is one of the better songs presented in the movie, that would be sometimes edited out from some TV prints. Marjorie "Babe" Kane (famous for her role as WC Fields' daughter in the comedy short THE DENTIST in 1932) supplies some comedy, songs and taps.
THE GREAT GABBO is Von Stroheim's show all the way, monocle and all, but not the voice that accompanies his dummy, Otto. In spite of slow spots, it's an interesting drama, original in theme and premise. One wonders if Rod Serling, host of TV's "The Twilight Zone" of the 1960s, had seen this movie, since there is an episode that I recall that involves a performer obsessed by his dummy and having conversations with it, for which the dummy runs and later ruins his life and career.
I last saw THE GREAT GABBO on Cable TV's The Nostalgia Channel in the early 1990s, and it used to be one of the movies shown on Public Television's SPROCKETS back in the early 1980s. This rarely seen antique, a real curio at best, can be found on video cassette through various distributors. For a best VHS or DVD print with clearer picture and sound quality, with restored opening and exit music (but minus the reported color sequences), the best recommendation is to obtain a copy from the KINO Video Company. (**)