Harmonica in the Movies

by Manfred Wewers

Since the beginning of motion pictures and sound in the motion pictures, the harmonica was both seen and heard, played by actors, including cartoon characters, in the movie or by harmonica players on the soundtrack or, sometimes both. Here is my list. Let me know about the ones I have missed and I will gladly add them.
 
1921
Roads of Destiny
This Frank Lloyd silent movie shows a harmonica player in a barn dance sequence.

1928
Steamboat Willie
There is no harmonica in the movie or soundtrack. However, in 1928, Walt Disney (1901-1966) added sound to the big screen in Steamboat Willie featuring a mouse-like cartoon character and the harmonica played a role in that process. In his 1973 book, The Art of Walt Disney, Christopher Finch credits Wilfred Jackson, one of the musical arrangers, with playing the harmonica in the development of the recording technique for the soundtrack (57). Harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler (1914-2001) also claimed that credit in his book. “The cartoon character played the mouth-organ and Brusiloff [Nat Brusiloff, the lead violinist at NBC] had got me the synchronizing job” (It Ain’t Necessarily So 15). Adler’s manager, Sol Hurok (1888-1974) of Hurok Attractions Inc., 730 Fifth Avenue, New York, provided yet another version of the story in his 1959-60 publicity releases in which “[Rudy] Vallee again helped [Larry] to get a job playing the sound for cartoons of Mickey Mouse playing the harmonica” (S. Hurok Presents Larry Adler 1). So, what’s the real story? Did they just get the dates wrong and both versions are correct? 

1929
Hallelujah
King Vidor’s early sound film about Zeke, a cotton sharecropper, features a harmonica in a juke joint scene.

1930
The Shindig
 
1934
Many Happy Returns
 
1937
Pepe Le Moko
Pick a Star (Movie Struck)
The Singing Marine
 
1938
Carefree
 
1939
Gone With the Wind
 
1940
Go West
Tom Turkey and his Harmonica Humdingers
 
1941
Pot o’ Gold
Sullivan’s Travels
 
1943
Guadacanal Diary
Ossessione
 
1944
Music for Millions
 
1945
I Know Where I’m Going
The Story of GI Joe
 
1946
Treasure of the Sierre Madre
 
1947
The Stranger from Ponca City
 
1948
A Southern Yankee
Three Daring Daughters-Whispering Smith
 
1951
The Red Badge of Courage
 
1952
Because You’re Mine
Room for One More
Ruby Gentry
Singin’ in the Rain
 
1953
Calamity Jane
Genevieve
Little Fugitive
Miss Sadie Thompson
Shane
Titanic
The Wild One
 
1954
Drum Beat
The Eddie Cantor Story
The High and the Mighty
Living It Up
Rear Window
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
 
1955
Female on the Beach
Land of the Pharaohs
The Tall Men
To Catch a Thief
We’re No Angels
 
1956
Baby Doll
Bus Stop
Giant
 
1957
The Cranes Are Flying
Old Yeller
Raintree County
Ten Thousand Bedrooms
 
1958
The Big Country
The Mirror has Two Faces
 
1959
Rio Bravo
 
1960
North to Alaska
 
1961
Mysterious Island
 
1962
The Great Chase
Lilies of the Field
The Longest Day
 
1963
55 Days at Peking
How the West Was Won
 
1964
A Fistful of Dollars
King and Country
My Fair Lady
 
1965
Cat Balou
The Cincinnati Kid
A Patch of Blue
Shennandoah
 
1966
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Stagecoach
This Property is Condemned
 
1967
Cool Hand Luke
Flim Flam Man
For a Few Dollars More
In the Heat of the Night
War Wagon
 
1969
Hang ‘Em High
Midnight Cowboy
Once Upon a Time in the West
Paint Your Wagon
The Rievers
Suppport Your Local Sheriff
The Wild Bunch
 
1970
Chisum
Kelly’s Heroes
Little Big Man
Rio Lobo
 
1971
The Night Digger
The Point
Summer of ’42
 
1972
Boxcar Bertha
Buck and the Preacher
The Cowboys
The Getaway
The Lady Sings the Blues
Last Tango in Paris
Man and Boy
MASH
The Other
 
1973
Charley Varick
High Plains Drifter
Oklahoma Crude
Tom Sawyer
Turkish Delight
Westworld
White Lightning
 
1974
Blazing Saddles
 
1975
Apple Dumpling Gang
Everybody Rides the Carousel
Hard Times
 
1976
Bound for Glory
Missouri Breaks
 
1977
Cross of Iron
Looking for Mr. Goodbar
Smokey and the Bandit
 
1978
The Deputy
The Last Waltz
Midnight Express
 
1979
All That Jazz
Chapter Two
The Jerk
Manhattan
The Tin Drum
Two Forces
 
1980
The Blues Brothers
Coal Miner’s Daughter
Heaven’s Gate
Smokey and the Bandit II
Urban Cowboy
 
1981
In Pursuit of D.B. Cooper
My Bloody Valentine
 
1982
Annie
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas
Cannery Row
Forty Eight Hours
Rocky III
 
1983
The Outsiders
The Right Stuff
Smokey and the Bandit III
Sting II
Twilight Zone
 
1984
Draw
Maria’s Lovers
A Soldier’s Story
 
1985
Color Purple
Pale Rider
Silverado
Vagabond
 
1986
Crossroads
Jean de Florette
Manon of the Spring
 
1987
Angel Heart
Empire of the Sun
La Bamba
Overboard
 
1988
Lair of the White Worm
They Live
Time of the Gypsies
 
1989
Born on the Fourth of July
Glory
The Killer
Steel Magnolias
 
1990
Back to the Future III
Dances with Wolves
Godfather III
 
1991
City Slickers
 
1992
One False Move
Under Siege
 
1993
Dennis the Menace
Free Willy
Look Who’s Talking Now
 
1994
Shawshank Redemption
 
1995
Casper
 
1996
Andersonville
Escape from L.A.
The Preacher’s Wife
Tin Cup
Truth about Cats and Dogs
 
1997
Air Force One
For Richer or Poorer
Prince Valiant
Rosewood
 
1998
Blues Harp
Jack Frost
Phantoms
 
1999
Bringing Out the Dead
Once Upon a Christmas
Vishwatma
 
2000
Isn’t She Great
Oh Brother Where Art Thou
 
2001
Eternal Echoes
The Princess Diaries
 
2002
Blood Work
Catch Me If You Can
Windtalker
 
2004
The Big Bounce
Hidalgo
9 Songs
The Notebook
Taking Lives
Without a Paddle
 
2005
Boo
Brokeback Mountain
Joyeux Noel
The Wedding Date
 
2006
Black Snake Moan
Cars
Ultraviolet
 
2007
Atonement
August Rush
Die Faelscher (The Counterfeiters)
Georgia Rule
I Know Who Killed Me
I’m Not There
Into the Wild
Ratatouille
Undisputed II: Last Man Standing
 
2008
Australia
Passchendaele
  
2009
Creation
Hotel for Dogs
 
2013
Pocket Full of Soul