Humor Risk

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Humor Risk
Marx Brothers 1921.jpg
Humor Risk (1921), was the first film, of the Marx Brothers and is lost, pictured left to right, Zeppo, Groucho, Harpo, and Chico
Directed by Dick Smith
Produced by The Marx Brothers
Al Posen
Max Lippman
Jo Swerling
Written by Jo Swerling
Starring Chico Marx
Groucho Marx
Harpo Marx
Zeppo Marx
Jobyna Ralston
Cinematography A. H. Vallet
Distributed by Caravel Comedies
Release date
  • 1921 (1921)
Running time
2 reels
Country United States
Language Silent film
English intertitles

Humor Risk (1921) was the first Marx Brothers film. The short was never released and is now considered a lost film. The print may have been accidentally thrown away when left in the screening box overnight.[1] Another version of the story says Groucho, unhappy with the film's quality, intentionally burned the negative after a particularly bad premiere screening.

Four of the five Marx Brothers are known to have been in this short film. It was directed by comedy film director Dick Smith (1886-1937), and was the first film written by Jo Swerling, who later co-wrote It's a Wonderful Life, Gone with the Wind and many other films. Jobyna Ralston is most often mentioned as the female lead. However, some sources say that Mildred Davis—star and later wife of Harold Lloyd—was also in the film. The Marxology entry for Humor Risk and the SilentEra entry state that the leading lady could have been one of two other actresses, Esther Ralston or Helen Kane.[2]


Information about the plot of the film is sparse.[3] Filmed in Fort Lee, New Jersey, its title was a spoof of the then-popular Fannie Hurst drama Humoresque, one of the biggest film hits of 1920. In addition, the brothers were working separately, rather than as a team, and did not incorporate their trademark comic personalities for which they later become known.

Harpo played the hero, a detective named Watson who "made his entrance in a high hat, sliding down a coal chute into the basement". Groucho played an "old movie" villain, who "sported a long moustache and was clad in black", while Chico was probably his "chuckling [Italian] henchman". Zeppo portrayed a playboy who was the owner of a nightclub in which most of the action took place, including "a cabaret, [which allowed] the inclusion of a dance number". The final shot showed Groucho "in ball and chain, trudging slowly off into the gloaming". Harpo, in a rare moment of romantic glory, gets the girl in the end.[4]

Humor Risk is also known as Humorisk, as can be seen in both biographies and autobiographies of the Marx Brothers. The Marx Brothers finally broke into success with motion pictures through The Cocoanuts (1929).

See also


  1. ^ Monkey Business: The Lives and Legends of the Marx Brothers (Hardcover), Simon Louvish. Thomas Dunne Books; 1st U.S. edition (2000).
  2. ^ SilentEra entry
  3. ^ Getting the Big Picture; The Film Industry Started Here and Left. Now It's Back, and the State Says the Sequel Is Huge. – New York Times. (1998-10-04). Retrieved on 2011-01-10.
  4. ^ "Humor Risk". Marxology. Retrieved 2007-04-02. 

External links

  • The Marx Brothers’ Lost Film, Humor Risk: Getting to the Bottom of a Mystery in-depth Brenton Film article on the background and whereabouts of the film
  • Marxology entry for Humor Risk
  • Humor Risk on IMDb
  • Humor Risk at SilentEra
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