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.
Harmonica in the Movies
Roads of Destiny
This Frank Lloyd silent movie shows a harmonica player in a barn dance sequence.
3 Bad Men
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?
King Vidor’s early sound film about Zeke, a cotton sharecropper, features a harmonica in a juke joint scene.
Boxcar Rhapsody-Borrah Minevitch’s Harmonica Rascals
My Shawl-Borrah Minevitch’s Harmonica Rascals
All Quiet on the Western Front
Finn and Caddie-Borrah Minevitch’s Harmonica Rascals
Mickey Mouse plays several instruments including a harmonica.
Sinkin’ in the Bathtub
The Big Stampede
Ride Him, Cowboy
20,000 Years in Sing Sing
Camping-Borrah Minevitch’s Harmonica Rascals
Radio New York-Borrah Minevitch’s Harmonica Rascals
The Telegraph Trail
Where’s That Tiger-Borrah Minevitch’s Harmonica Rascals
Many Happy Returns
The Little Colonel
The Littlest Rebel
Musical Airwaves-Cappy Barra Harmonica Band
One in a Million-Borrah Minevitch’s Harmonica Rascals
La Grande Illusion
Mad About Music-Cappy Barra Harmonica Band
Pepe Le Moko
Pick a Star (aka. Movie Struck)
During Laurel and Hardy’s funny musical skit, a Little Lady harmonica is swallowed and played.
The Singing Marine-Larry Adler
Sunday Night at the Trocadero
Trouble in Texas
Fred Astaire dances and plays a chromatic harmonica during the song “Since They Turned ‘Loch Lomond’ into Swing”.
Rascals-Borrah Minevitch’s Harmonica Rascals
St. Martin’s Lane-Larry Adler
You Can’t Take it With You-Jerry Adler
Gone With the Wind
As Scarlet walks down a street in post-bellum Atlanta, a group of ex-slaves plays various instruments, one of which is a large Wilhelm Thei-like harmonica appropriate for the times.
Dipsy Doodlers-Six Philharmonicas
Smart Politics-Cappy Barra Harmonica Band
While riding on a horse backwards, Harpo Marx plays a harmonica. He also played a song on a Little Lady on the Ed Sullivan Show in the early 1960s.
Hit Parade of 1941-Borrah Minevitch’s Harmonica Rascals
The Saint’s Double Trouble
Tin Pan Alley
Tom Turkey and his Harmonica Humdingers- Borrah Minevitch’s Harmonica Rascals
MGM’s seven-minute cartoon, released on June 8, 1940, features the music and comedy routines of Borah Minnevitch’s Harmonica Rascals.
Meet John Doe
Gary Cooper plays a harmonica playing hobo, John Doe.
Pot o’ Gold
Jimmy Stewart’s character plays the harmonica. At the time, Jerry Adler (1918-2010) prepped Hollywood actors pretending to play the harmonica. He became Jimmy’s instructor and Jimmy actually became a harmonica player. In his book, Living from Hand to Mouth (Bloomington, Indiana: Author House, 2005),
Jerry claims that “when he [James Stewart] finally became a General, he wrote to me and said that the harmonica was his favorite form of relaxation which he played while flying bombing missions over Germany” (115).
To view the life of the downtrodden, a movie director disguises himself as a hobo. Madame Sul-te-wan, one of the other characters, is a harmonica player.
Always in my Heart-Borrah Minevitch’s Harmonica Rascals
Born to Sing
The Fleet’s In
Star Spangled Rhythm
Tramp, Tramp, Tramp
Guadacanal Diary-Leo Diamond
A soldier plays his harmonica.
Top Man-Borrah Minevitch’s Harmonica Rascals
Music for Millions-Larry Adler
Once Upon a Time
Pinky, an orphan, plays the harmonica for his dancing caterpillar Curly.
I Know Where I’m Going-Arthur Chesney
A movie about love and money, a woman and a sailor, in which, Arthur Chesney portrays a harmonica player.
Night Club Girl-Jimmy Mulcay
Rockin’ in the Rockies-Cappy Barra Boys
The Story of GI Joe
A soldier plays his harmonica.
The Way to the Stars
They Were Expendable
Tars and Spars-Philharmonica Trio
It Always Rains on Sunday
Hollywood Barn Dance
The Romance of Rosy Ridge-Jerry Adler
The Stranger from Ponca City-Smiley Burnette and Bill Russell
There is a harmonica duel, a show of one-upmanship, between Smiley Burnette (1911-1967) and Bill Russell (1890-1970), both players.
Variety Girl-The Mulcays
The Woman on the Beach
La Terra Trema
Letter from an Unknown Woman
The Naked City
Rose of Santa Rosa-Philharmonica Trio
A Southern Yankee
Red Skelton has a dance scene in which a young Negro boy plays a medley of songs on a harmonica while another dances with Red.
Three Daring Daughters-Larry Adler
Larry Adler plays himself and performs “Roumanian Rhapsody”.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Bad Men of Tombstone
Alice in Wonderland
Drums in the Deep South
I Was an American Spy
Meet Danny Wilson-Danny Welton
In jail, Danny plays harmonica while Frank Sinatra sings.
The Red Badge of Courage
A story about a northern, young man’s coming of age during a Civil War battle. One of the first things you hear, in the opening moments of the film, is a chromatic harmonica in the soundtrack, no doubt played by one of Hollywood’s famous session harmonica players.
Three Desperate Men
Because You’re Mine
High Noon-Jerry Adler
Room for One More
A comedy in which Betsy Drake’s character Anne plays a diatonic harmonica in a Christmas scene.
Ruby Gentry-George Fields
Singin’ in the Rain
Appointment in London
Calamity Jane-Leo Diamond
Do Bigha Zamin
Girls in the Night-Danny Welton
The Juggler-Jerry Adler
Miss Sadie Thompson-Leo Diamond
Shane-Leo Diamond or Jerry Adler
Robert Wagner and Audrey Dalton dance to “Oh, That Navajo Rag” while another passenger accompanies them on a chromatic harmonica. On April 14, 1912, the Titanic sank, taking the life of Alma Paulson, a Swedish woman. “According to Titanic lore, when Paulson realized all the lifeboats were gone, she pulled a harmonica from her pocket and soothed her children with song as the boat went down” (Toughill, Kelly. “DNA Tests Will Try to Identify Three Victims of Titanic Disaster.” Toronto Star 17 May 2001: A1+). By the way, Alma is buried in the Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The Stranger Wore a Gun
The Wages of Fear
The Wild One-Danny Welton
Drum Beat-Leo Diamond
The Eddie Cantor Story-Leo Diamond
The High and the Mighty-Leo Diamond
Living It Up-Leo Diamond
Rear Window-Leo Diamond
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers-Tommy Morgan
Female on the Beach-Leo Diamond
Land of the Pharaohs-Leo Diamond
The Tall Men-George Fields
To Catch a Thief-Leo Diamond
We’re No Angels-Leo Diamond
Bus Stop-Leo Diamond
Jumping for Joy
The Kettles in the Ozarks
Love Me Tender
All Mine to Give
The Cranes Are Flying
Raintree County-George Fields
Run of the Arrow
Ten Thousand Bedrooms-Leo Diamond
The Big Country-Leo Diamond
The Mirror has Two Faces
Nuit De Pigalle-Raisner Trio
Rio Bravo-Tommy Morgan and Leo Diamond
The Alamo-Jerry Adler
Home from the Hill
North to Alaska-Tommy Morgan
Breakfast at Tiffany’s-George Fields
The Gleiwitz Case
The Young Savages
The Great Chase-Larry Adler
Lilies of the Field-Tommy Morgan
The Longest Day-Eddie Manson
A soldier, amongst the mass of soldiers waiting for the launch of the attack, plays a harmonica.
55 Days at Peking-Tommy Reilly
The Hook-Larry Adler
How the West Was Won-Tommy Morgan
Please Don’t Touch Me-The Mulcays
A Fistful of Dollars-Franco De Gemini
Guns at Batasi
King and Country-Larry Adler
Muscle Beach Party
My Fair Lady-Jerry Adler
Cat Balou-Tommy Morgan
The Cincinnati Kid-Tommy Morgan
A Patch of Blue-Tommy Morgan
“The Yellow Rose of Texas” is played during a campfire scene.
Frankie and Johnny
Girl from Tobacco Road-The Mulcays
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly-Franco De Gemini
There is a scene during which a group of Confederate prisoners-of-war is forced to play a song on their instruments, including the harmonica, to cover-up the sounds of the screaming, coming from prisoners who are being brutally beaten.
This Property is Condemned
Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back
Cool Hand Luke-Tommy Morgan
Day of Anger
Flim Flam Man-Tommy Morgan
For a Few Dollars More-Franco De Gemini
In the Heat of the Night-Toots Thielemans
War Wagon-Tommy Morgan
Exotic Ones-The Mulcays
Once Upon a Time in the West-Franco De Gemini
A mysterious character, known as Harmonica, portrayed by Charles Bronson, uses the sound of his harmonica to augment the nature of his character. The harmonica is “used as a symbol of the turmoil bubbling within the character’s mind”, according to William C. Martell in his article “The Twitch: Objects as Emotions” (Now Write! Screenwriting 271).
The Battle of Neretva
Hang ‘Em High-Tommy Morgan
The Over-the-Hill Gang
Paint Your Wagon-Tommy Morgan
The Rievers-Tommy Morgan
Suppport Your Local Sheriff-Tommy Morgan
The Wild Bunch-Tommy Morgan
Kelly’s Heroes-Tommy Morgan
Little Big Man-John Hammond Jr.
Quackster Fortune Has a Cousin in the Bronx-Tommy Reilly
Rio Lobo-Tommy Morgan
Road Builder (The Night Digger)-Tommy Reilly
Summer of ’42-Tommy Morgan
A coming of age movie in which one of the characters, Oscy, stops playing the harmonica. Unfortunately, the negative implication is that the harmonica is a childhood thing best left in the past.
Buck and the Preacher-Tommy Morgan
The Cowboys-Tommy Morgan
The Getaway-Tommy Morgan
The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid
The Lady Sings the Blues-Tommy Morgan
Last Tango in Paris
In a very sensual scene, Marlon Brando, lying in bed, plays “Shennandoah” on a chromatic harmonica for Maria Schneider. The harmonica plays a symbolic role.
Man and Boy-Tommy Morgan
My Way Home
High Plains Drifter-Tommy Morgan
Oklahoma Crude-Tommy Morgan
Tom Sawyer-Tommy Morgan
Turkish Delight-Toots Thielemans
Blazing Saddles-Tommy Morgan
Apple Dumpling Gang-Tommy Morgan
Escape to Witch Mountain
Everybody Rides the Carousel-Larry Adler
Gone with the West (Little Moon & Judd McGraw)-Bernie Fields
The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix
Take a Hard Ride
Born for Hell
Bound for Glory
David Carradine (1936-2009), whose father John Carradine (1906-1988) acted in the 1940 movie The Grapes of Wrath, portrays Woody Guthrie (1912-1967), whose music which included the harmonica during the 1930s, would influence future generations of harmonica-playing folk artists. Several scenes show Woody playing the harmonica and it can also be heard in the soundtrack.
Creature from Black Lake
Missouri Breaks-Tommy Morgan
Cross of Iron
A young Russian boy plays the harmonica for a group of seasoned German soldiers who spare his life against their officer’s wishes.
Looking for Mr. Goodbar-Tommy Morgan
Smokey and the Bandit-Tommy Morgan
The Deputy-George Fields
Dvoboj za Juznu Prugu
The Last Waltz-Paul Butterfield
I Spit on Your Grave
All That Jazz-Tommy Morgan
Butch and Sundance: The Early Days
Chapter Two-Tommy Morgan
Heart to Heart-Tommy Morgan
Kramer vs Kramer-Robert Bonfiglio
The Muppet Movie
Mysterious Island of Beautiful Women
The Tin Drum
Battle Beyond the Stars
The Blues Brothers
Coal Miner’s Daughter-Levon Helm
There is a beautiful roller-skating dancing scene during which the harmonica is prominently featured.
Smokey and the Bandit II
Urban Cowboy-Tommy Morgan
Americana (Around)-Bernie Fields
A Chipmunk Christmas
In Pursuit of D.B. Cooper
My Bloody Valentine
The Night the Lights Went Out in
Georgia-Kirk “Jelly Roll” Johnson
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas-Tommy Morgan
Cannery Row-Tommy Morgan
Forty Eight Hours-Tommy Morgan
Rocky III-Tommy Morgan
The Right Stuff-Tommy Morgan
Smokey and the Bandit III
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Kirk Douglas plays a harmonica-playing gun fighter. The movie begins with the usual stereotypical scene of the cowboy by the campfire playing the harmonica. The soundtrack further features a harmonica throughout the movie.
Places in the Heart-Robert Bonfiglio
A Soldier’s Story-Tommy Morgan
Streets of Fire-Larry Logan
Survivors: The Blues Today
All the Fault of Paradise
Color Purple-Tommy Morgan
One Magic Christmas
Fortunes of War
British novelist Olivia Manning (1908-1980) places the harmonica in Bucharest, Romania, between the Russian and the German armies. In her novel, The Balkan Trilogy, a work of historical fiction, Guy Pringle, a British teacher, is able to purchase a mouth-organ, in a city bereft of the most basic items, for a Jewish student he is sheltering. The student was able “to pick out a tune he had heard on the radio” (480). Guy’s wife Harriet was “annoyed by the mouth-organ” (527) and “complained about the constant noise” (557). In the movie version, Fortunes of War, the harmonica player is able to perfectly imitate the sound of a chromatic harmonica on his diatonic harmonica.
Jean de Florette-Toots Thielemans
Manon Des Sources-Toots Thielemans
Native Son-Rob Papparozzi
Terror at Tenkiller
Empire of the Sun-Tommy Morgan
Hope and Glory
The Kitchen Toto
La Bamba-Tommy Morgan
Law of Desire
Distant Voices, Still Lives
Lair of the White Worm
It seems that vampires do not like the sound of a harmonica. Director Ken Russell has a young boy scout pull out his chromatic harmonica as he is being seduced by a female vampire. He plays her a song, his last song.
Time of the Gypsies
Born on the Fourth of July
This is the story of the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts, the first all-black volunteer Civil War black regiment. A scene depicting camp life shows one of the soldiers playing a harmonica
Steel Magnolias-Tommy Morgan
The Unbelievable Truth
Back to the Future III-Tommy Morgan
Dances with Wolves-Tommy Morgan
Godfather III-Tommy Morgan
The Ballad of the Sad Cafe
City Slickers-Tommy Morgan
A comedic cattle drive with Jack Palance (1919-2006), as cowboy Curly Washburn, who at first tells Billy Crystal to “put that [the harmonica] away”, then ends up singing “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” while Billy plays the harmonica. And of course, they are sitting by the campfire.
Prahaar: The Final Attack
Sarah, Plain and Tall
Straight out of Brooklyn-Rob Papparozzi
Into the West
Like Water for Chocolate
One False Move
Terrorists, led by Tommy Lee Jones, disguised as a harmonica playing band member, seize a nuclear vessel.
Dennis the Menace-Tommy Morgan
Free Willy-Tommy Morgan
Sea creatures like the harmonica. The movie chronicles the adventures of a boy Jesse, an orca Willy, and a harmonica, which unites the two.
Look Who’s Talking Now
Rookie of the Year-Tommy Morgan
Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa
Shawshank Redemption-Tommy Morgan
A prison movie in which Morgan Freeman’s character Red, gets a harmonica from Andy (Tim Robbins) and plays only one note. The harmonica becomes a symbol of hope. Once free, he plays more often (Kirkpatrick, Karey. “The Emotionally Charged Icon.” Ellis
The Great Elephant Escape
Tom and Huck-Rob Papparozzi
In one scene, after a group of northern soldiers is first captured, one soldier plays the harmonica while waiting to be transported to the prison.
Chacun Cherche son Chat
Escape from L.A.
The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy
The Preacher’s Wife-Tommy Morgan
Tin Cup-Tommy Morgan
Truth about Cats and Dogs-Tommy Morgan
Two Days in the Valley-Larry Logan
Air Force One
For Richer or Poorer-Tommy Morgan
Bringing Out the Dead
Magnolia-New World Harmonica Trio
Once Upon a Christmas
Eban and Charley
Isn’t She Great-Tommy Morgan
Oh Brother Where Art Thou
The Cat’s Meow
Eternal Echoes-Tommy Morgan
Felix and Lola
Hearts in Atlantis
In the movie, which is the first chapter of the book, Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins), plays a harmonica while sitting on the porch.
The Princess Diaries
Catch Me If You Can
When Frank Abagnale Jr. (Leonardo DiCaprio) escapes to return home, in a very visual scene he sees his new step-sister playing a harmonica.
DeFord Bailey: A Legend Lost
Joe and Max
A duet with harmonica and flute.
Finding Nemo-Jim Hoke
The harmonica is featured on the soundtrack.
Gaz Bar Blues
The Long Ride Home
The Big Bounce
Viggo Mortensen portrays real-life cowboy Frank Hopkins (1865-1951) who plays his harmonica in a desert oasis scene. Whether Frank actually played the harmonica could be as fabricated as many of the other deeds attributed to him.
Without a Paddle
Brokeback Mountain-Mickey Raphael
Jack Twist, played by Jake Gyllenhall, pulls out a harmonica by the campfire and plays it badly, a fact that is pointed out several times by Ennis Del Mar, played by Heath Ledger (1979-2008). From there on, Ang Lee’s movie becomes a very unconventional western. However, the harmonica playing on the movie’s soundtrack is very good.
A harmonica, a voice and a bagpipe play the emotion provoking “Silent Night”. In a later scene, when the German soldiers are punished for their part in the Christmas truce, a petulant Crown Prince Wilhelm (1882-1951) stomps on and crushes the soldier’s harmonica into the ground.
Skazany na Bluesa
The Wedding Date
Black Snake Moan-Charlie Musselwhite
I Want to Destroy America
August Rush-William Galison and Scott Gordon
A movie about music, in which Maxwell “Wizzard” Wallace (Robin Williams), a music hustler, plays the harmonica in several scenes.
Bangkok Love Story
Die Faelscher (The Counterfeiters)-Hugo Diaz
The story of a Nazi counterfeiting operation in a concentration camp. Great chromatic tango harmonica throughout the movie.
The story of a daughter, mother, grandmother, relationships, secrets and Harlan (Garrett Hedlund) who plays his harmonica while fishing.
I Know Who Killed Me
I’m Not There
Into the Wild
My Boy Jack
Undisputed II: Last Man Standing
The story of an American boxer, who is forced to fight in a Russian jail. Another inmate, in a wheelchair, plays the harmonica. The sounds take you back to Once Upon a Time in The West.
The Brothers Bloom
The harmonica is shown in a typical WWI trench scene.
Shine a Light
Darwin (1809-1882) is writing Origin of the Species. In one scene where Charles interacts with an orangutan at the London zoo, both he and the orangutan play harmonicas. The orangutan plays a chromatic (this is around 1837) that will not be invented for another 80 years. The book version of this interaction differs somewhat.
Hotel for Dogs
The Life and Times of Donald Boots Brasseur
Beyond the Grave
Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
West of Here
Anthony Hopkins appears to like the harmonica, as he again plays it in this movie. He plays it while leaving the cell of his son, incarcerated in an insane asylum.
Down the Shore
Ambush at Dark Canyon
Beauty is Embarrassing
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
We Juke Up in Here
Pocket Full of Soul-Many players
Wolf Creek 2
The Case of Conrad Cooper
My Name is Jonah
A Walk in the Woods
Two old friends hike the Appalachian Trail. Nick Nolte’s character, Katz, plays a little blues on a harp.
Free State of Jones
Set during the U.S. Civil War, it contains the usual harmonica at the campfire and during a dance.
The Lighthouse of the Whales
The Magnificent Seven
Prior to a major battle, a man nervously and briefly plays a harmonica.
USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage
Horn from the Heart: The Paul Butterfield Story-Paul Butterfield