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The Great Gabbo After the disastrous failure of Queen Kelly, the great silent film director Eric Von Stroheim began to parcel himself out as an actor-for-hire, his directing career in tatters. His first post-Queen Kelly acting job was in this early sound film curio, with Von Stroheim playing The Great Gabbo, a ventriloquist who is gradually going insane, transferring his subliminal urges to his dummy, Otto. Gabbo's lovely assistant Mary (Betty Compson) is in love with him, but Gabbo's reciprocal love for Mary is transformed by Otto into heaps of hateful verbal abuse -- so much so that Mary leaves the act, walking out on Gabbo. Without Mary, Gabbo becomes completely unhinged, eking out retribution upon Otto. The Great Gabbo, made at the height of the early talkie musical revue boom, contains a series of inexplicable and incongruous musical production numbers, clumsily grafted onto this Lon Chaney-esque tale of psychological horror. ~ Paul Brenner, Rovi
Blind Husbands Because of his portrayals of villainous Prussians in pictures such as Hearts of the World and The Heart of Humanity, Erich von Stroheim was already famous as "the man you love to hate." But Stroheim had also been quite busy behind the camera over the years, as an assistant director to D.W. Griffith and art director to Douglas Fairbanks. When he approached Carl Laemmle at Universal Studios with a screenplay entitled The Pinnacle, the mogul wasted no time in agreeing to let Stroheim both star and direct. The result was the auteur's first film, renamed Blind Husbands. In it, Stroheim shows deeper facets to his officer (this time an Austrian) who, underneath the elaborate trappings, is no gentleman. American couple Dr. and Mrs. Armstrong (Sam deGrasse and Francelia Billington) arrive at a retreat in the Alps at the same time as Lieutenant Erich von Steuben (Stroheim). The Lieutenant is a reckless and dissolute soul who sets his cap for Mrs. Armstrong. Since her husband is kindly but neglectful, she is easy prey. Their flirtation is watched over carefully by the guide Sepp (Gibson Gowland), who is indebted to the good doctor, and he manages to keep the wife away from the Lieutenant on the night the four of them spend together in a lodge. The next day when von Steuben and Dr. Armstrong climb the summit, a letter from Mrs. Armstrong falls out of von Steuben's pocket and a fierce battle between the two men takes place on the peak. The doctor cuts the rope binding the two men together, and for his sins, the Lieutenant falls to a terrible death. This picture introduces themes that carried throughout Stroheim's career -- the eternal triangle shows up in most of his films in one form or another, and the climatic struggle between the two men would be repeated in the director's flawed masterpiece, Greed (which starred Gowland as McTeague). The easy decadence and the careful attention to detail would also be constants. Even though this isn't anywhere close to his best work, Blind Husbands was one of the most impressive directorial debuts of all time -- "This picture is exceptional. It marks an epoch," spouted an enthusiastic Variety critic. Stroheim was poised at the dawning edge of the '20s, at ready to give the decade some of its most deliriously debauched dramatic moments. ~ Janiss Garza, Rovi