The Weirdest Hollywood Musicals: #1

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'The Great Gabbo'

‘The Great Gabbo’

No film exemplifies the weirdness of the early musical better than The Great Gabbo (1929), a film that makes explicit the insanity behind all this singing and dancing.  I’m convinced that Erich von Stroheim’s ventriloquist, Gabbo, loses his grip on reality not because he is a crazy ventriloquist (because let’s face it, if the movies have taught us anything, it’s that ventriloquists are always crazy), but because he can’t get the movie’s awful musical numbers out of his mind.

‘The Great Gabbo’

Starting in the film’s second half, the main romantic conflict between Gabbo and his former assistant, Mary, takes a backseat to swirling mountains of madness, a giant spider web swarming with human flies and human spiders and a now-lost but most certainly legendary song sequence called “The Ga Ga Birds.”  When the movie was made, these sequences were supposed to be shown in Multicolor, an early two-strip color system that was supposed to have a more realistic look than Technicolor.  Sadly, these color prints no longer exist, so we are left to watch Betty Compson and Donald Douglas sing “Caught in a Web of Love” in eerie black and white. (

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