What memories do you recall when you hear the words: 'harmonica' and 'cinema'? If someone asks you to give a title to a movie scene where a harmonica is being played, would you be able to do that? I bet the first thing that comes to your mind is 'Cˊera una volta il west'.
The harmonica is often related to western movies and we imagine two cowboys in the middle of a duel on a dusty road under the burning sun, with the whining sound of harmonica being played in the background.
While surfing on internet, seeking information on the use of harmonica in cinemas, cartoons or T.V in the past, we come to know that this instrument has been depicted as a warrior together with the actors in several films in the past, or has been used to produce music and compile movie soundtracks since 1940.
In this article I present before you three movies produced during 1941 - 1946.
MEET JOHN DOE - UNITED STATES
This film which, can be categorized among movie genres as a comedy-drama, was directed by Frank Capra in 1941; Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan and Barbara Stanwyck can be entitled as main protagonists. The plot revolves around the story of a journalist who gets dismissed from her job, and in order to re-gain her position invents a fictional character who writes a letter to a newspaper, threatening to commit suicide within a year. The journalist later realizes that she, together with her accomplice, hired to carry out the farce, were manipulated to benefit those executives who run the place where she works.
One short clip of the movie picturizes Cooper and Brennan, sitting around a table facing each other, starting playing harmonica and ocarina in a funny duet. Not to forget the year of this movie, we can assume that this was probably the first time when harmonica was captured on TV.
ONCE UPON A TIME - UNITED STATES
This comedy film was produced by Alexander Hall in 1944. Cary Grant and Janet Blair are most prominent actors among those who performed in this movie. The plot is set around Gerry Flynn, a theatrical director on the verge of his failure, who happens to meet a child on the street. The child, a boy that carries a large caterpillar in a box and convinces the man to look inside the box while he plays the harmonica. Gerry watches as the insect sways on the rythm and decides to engage the child, along with his harmonica and the caterpillar, to create a show and earn the money he needed much to pay his debts. This is one of the few films featuring a child playing harmonica.
THREE LITTLE GIRLS IN BLUE - UNITED STATES
This film was produced in 1946 under the direction of H. Bruce Humberstone and John Brahm. This musical movie is based on the theatrical work done by Stephen Powys (The blind mice). Its cast enlists George Montgomery, Vivian Blaine and Celeste Holm along with Vera Ellen. The plot reveals the story of three sisters, Pam, Liz and Myra, who inherited a chicken farm from their aunt. Soon they realize that what they do have isn't sufficient for them to fulfill their dreams of getting married to rich men; therfore, they devise a plan to rob a wealthy man of his riches. There is a beautiful imagery of the man playing harmonica on the staircase at the back of the building, such a romantic serenade!
Each of these three movies was made in the United States. No wonder that the harmonica is given more importance overseas, not to mention its diffusion with the blues music to which it is often associated.