From the “Phantom of the Opera” to “The Tree of Life,” the organ has a distinguished history in film, not only in musical scores but on the screen itself. Whatever its role, be it as a musical instrument or as a prop, its presence lends an extra dimension to a movie. My presentation, Image is Everything: The Pipe Organ on Film, includes a fifty-minute video of film clips, with background materials and a brief talk about how Hollywood views the pipe organ, and how those views may affect our own self-image as organists.
Below is a list of films that feature scenes with a pipe organ:
The Abominable Dr. Phibes, 1971, with Vincent Price. A supposedly dead concert organist reappears and wreaks havoc among those he blames for his late wife’s demise. There are several wonderful scenes of Vincent Price playing a stylized organ (dubbed with real organ music, both popular and classical). The sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, contains similar scenes.
Alexander Nevsky, 1938, directed by Sergei Eisenstein. Music by Sergei Prokofiev. A sinister organist employed by the invading papist armies is briefly featured playing a tiny positif organ, pumped by two hooded individuals. One of the rare Prokofiev scores that includes organ music.
Angel in My Pocket, 1969. Andy Griffith is a new minister at a church and procures an organ from a local theatre to increase attendance.
Arthur, 1981, starring Dudley Moore. There is a wedding scene shot on location at St. Bartholomew’s Church in NYC. Jack Ossewaarde, St. Bart’s Music Director at the time, is seen playing.
August Rush, 2007, directed by Kirsten Sheridan. A young musical prodigy uses his gifts to help find his birth parents. There is a scene of him finding his way up to an organ loft and improvising on a large organ.
Bach and Broccoli (Bach et Bottine), 1986, directed by André Mélançon, about the home life of a bureaucrat, who also plays the organ, and his off-beat family.
Bank Robber, 1993, starring Judge Reinhold. In a bank lobby, a matronly woman is seen playing a Baldwin spinet organ in a live take.
Bathing Beauty, 1944, with Red Skelton, Esther Williams and Ethel Smith. Ethel plays “Tico Tico,” among other selections, on the Hammond.
Beauty And The Beast/Enchanted Christmas, 1997. This shouldn’t even be on this list, since it’s one of those Disney direct-to-video productions, never intended for theatrical release and featuring shamelessly bad animation. However, it’s worth mentioning, since the bad guy in the story IS a pipe organ!
Beneath the Planet of the Apes, 1970, with Kim Hunter, James Franciscus. The climactic scene features a bizarre organ, with a “ballistic missile” stop(!) in a mutant cathedral.
The Big Chill, 1983, directed by Lawrence Kasdan, with Jobeth Williams. At a funeral, Williams gets up to play her rendition of the Rolling Stones classic, “You can’t always get what you want.”
The Bishop’s Wife, 1947, directed by Henry Koster, with Cary Grant, Loretta Young, David Niven. An angel takes human form to help a bishop build a new cathedral and restore his marriage. There is a scene in a choir room with a boy choir singing Gounod’s “O Sing to God Your Hymns of Gladness” accompanied by a woman playing a harmonium, but the sound is that of a Hammond.
The Black Cat, 1934, starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. There are two shots of the organ being played, first by Karloff, and later by bit actor John Carradine (featuring the Adagio from BWV 564).
The Blues Brothers, 1980, starring Dan Akroid & John Belushi. A B-3 Hammond organ is seen and heard in several scenes.
The Bostonians, 1981, dir. by James Ivory, with Vanessa Redgrave & Christopher Reeve. The opening credits feature an organist playing variations on “America” on an unnamed four-manual tracker organ (possibly English). Later on, an organist becomes part of an extended scene filmed at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. Since the organ at the music hall was out of commission during filming, the sound was recorded at Mechanics Hall, Worcester, MA. The recorded organists are David Beyer and Nigel Allcoat.
Brief Encounter, 1945, with Celia Johnson, includes a brief scene in a cinema with a woman playing a bit of “March Militaire” on an organ. The Wurlitzer used was in the Metropole, in London. James Whitebread recorded the music
Brittania of Billingsgate, contains a brief scene in which the 4 manual (15 rank) Compton at the Gaumont Palace, Hammersmith, London comes up out of the pit, played by Stanley Tudor
Brother of Sleep (Schlafes Bruder), 1995, an Austrian film directed by Joseph Vilsmaier, from a novel by Robert Schneider, about a young man whose hearing is so acute he can see sounds as well as hear them, and who effortlessly improvises on the organ. The centerpiece of the film is a scene where the protagonist, Elias, plays a Toccata in a contest which almost literally blows the audience away. The scene is filmed at St. Barbara’s Church, Kutná Hora, Czech Republic. Music by Enjott Schneider, Harald Feller is the organist.
Calendar Girls, 2003, directed by Nigel Cole, contains two scenes with organs, one filmed in a large assembly hall, probably in London, and the other filmed in a small country church. The latter scene involves one of the characters having a chat while she prepares to play a service.
Carnival of Souls, 1962, directed by Herk Harvey, with Candace Hilligoss. This cult film was an independent feature produced in connection with Centron Studios, an industrial film company in Lawrence, Kansas. The central character is a church organist who survives a deadly car accident and is beset by nightmarish visions. Part of film takes place in the Reuter Organ Shop and in Trinity Episcopal Church, both in Lawrence. The entire score is composed of solo organ music performed by Gene Edwards.
Casper, 1995, starring Christina Ricci and Bill Pullman. The facade pipes of the organ in the library were built by John Hupalo, an organ builder from the San Francisco Bay Area
Castle in the Desert, 1942, a Charlie Chan film, shows a scene of a lady playing a bulky, large grand piano-sized instrument, but the sound is that of a pipe organ. It is possibly a 1930’s Estey Minuette Grand, which was really a 3 rank pipe organ (2 manual with pedals) in a large grand piano case.
Castle Keep, 1969, directed by Sidney Pollack, with Burt Lancaster. A US Army unit is dispatched to hold a castle in the Loire Valley in France. There are several scenes of a large pipe organ being played by one of the soldiers(!). Both castle and organ are destroyed at the end of the film.
Chappaqua, 1966. The poet Allen Ginsberg plays a harmonium and chants along.
Chariots of Fire, 1981, directed by Hugh Hudson. Scene at the very end of the film with the organ in a London Church accompanying Parry’s “Jerusalem.” Another scene, filmed at Eton College, shows a glimpse of the organ in the assembly hall.
A Christmas Without Snow, 1980. This made for TV Movie with John Houseman and Michael Learned was filmed in San Francisco and is about a divorced housewife who joins a church choir. The organ plays a key part in the film, and was recorded at St. John’s Church in Ross, California, with R. Jay Williamson playing.
The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach, 1967, directed by Jean–Marie Strauss, with Gustav Leonhardt, Paolo Carlini, Christiana Lang, and music by Johann Sebastian Bach. The “actors” in this German/Italian co-production are all famous musicians. Gustav Leonhardt, in a wooden performance as J.S. Bach, plays several organs in the film. Thankfully, he never quit his day job.
The Comedy of Terrors,1963. Shady funeral parlor directors Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, & Peter Lorre employ a wheezy old reed organ at their establishment.
The Commitments, 1991, directed by Alan Parker. The movie is about an Irish band that specializes in soul music. The band’s keyboard player is seen playing “Whiter Shade of Pale” at the organ of Dublin’s St. Francis Xavier Church, Upper Gardner Street. It is not clear if the sound is of the actual organ, or if it is dubbed, but there is a brief shot of the console.
Cryin’ for the Carolines (Spooney Tunes), 1930, produced by Leon Schlesinger, with Milton Charles, “The Singing Organist.” One of only seven such shorts produced by Schlesinger for Warner Bros., in which Charles sings and plays a Wurlitzer in a mix of live-action and incredibly static animation. These so-called “Spooney Tunes” later gave way to the infamous “Looney Tunes.” All these early cartoons featured songs in the Warner catalogue and were intended to boost sheet music sales for the company.
Cuban Pete, 1946, with Desi Arnaz, & Ethel Smith as herself playing “The Breeze and I.” She plays the Hammond on a revolving turntable.
Daredevil, 2003, starring Ben Affleck, features a scene involving a fight while the characters walk(!) on the tops of 32 foot metal flues.
Dead Ringer, 1964 directed by Paul Henreid, starring Bette Davis (as both “good” & “evil” twin sisters) features a bar scene with a young lady playing a Hammond (the real player behind the scenes was Andre Previn who also composed the score).
Doubt, 2008, directed by John Patrick Shanley, contains scenes with Robert Ridgell playing the organ in a church in Westchester, NY.
Doucement les basses, 1971, directed by Jacques Deray, with Alain Delon. Delon, playing a priest, plays rock music on a Hammond.
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, 1932, starring Fredric March, who won an Oscar for Best Actor. The film opens showing the hands of Dr. Jekyll playing Bach (Ich ruf zu Dir) on a three manual residence organ (if you look carefully, you will see the painted “pipes” along with real ones). The actor’s (Frederick March’s?) fingers make no attempt to play the Bach score, even though it is seen on the music rack. Later on, March mimes a snippet of the Toccata and Fugue in d minor.
Dracula: Dead and Loving It, 1995, directed by Mel Brooks, with Leslie Nielsen. The “Tango” scene. Enough said.
84 Charing Cross Road, 1987, starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. Judith and Gerre Hancock appear in the film at St. Thomas Church, playing the organ and directing the choir, respectively.
Easy to Wed, 1946, with Ethel Smith playing “Toca tu Samba” on the Hammond.
Ed Wood, 1994, starring Johnny Depp. The film, set in the fifties, features a bizarre party scene with Korla Pandit playing the Hammond.
Empire of the Sun, 1987, directed by Steven Spielberg. Film opens with a scene of a boy choir in a church, accompanied by the organ.
Family Plot, 1976, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. A bishop is kidnapped from a cathedral in San Francisco (Grace Cathedral) during a service. The organ is heard accompanying the choir in a hymn.
Farinelli, Il Castrato, 1995, directed by Gerard Corbiau, with Stefano Dionisi and Jeroen Krabbe. There’s a scene of Krabbe as G.F. Handel, playing a beautiful tracker organ.
Fellini’s Casanova, 1977, directed by Federico Fellini. There is a scene of Casanova, played by Donald Sutherland, as he meets a German duke during a raucous party in a large hall, where the Duke’s courtiers get drunk and play stylized pipe organs. Wonderful score by Nino Rota.
Fellini’s Roma, 1972, features a brilliant scene in an auditorium with a small pipe organ being played by two nuns, accompanying a liturgical fashion show, as only Fellini can envision. Score by Nino Rota.
Female, 1933, directed by Michael Curtiz. The pre-code film is about a rich female CEO (yes, in 1933!) who lives a very stylish life. There is a brief scene of her swimming in her giant indoor pool with one of her male conquests as the house organist plays “Shanghai Lil,” There’s a brief shot of the organist playing the stylized “swallows nest” pipe organ.
Flirtation Walk, 1934, starring Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler. Scene with a marriage in the Chapel at West Point (a mock up) with an organ (also a mock-up).
Four Weddings and a Funeral, 1994, directed by Mike Newell. Predictably, there are several scenes, shot on location around London, that involve organ music at weddings and a beautifully filmed scene at a funeral with an organ framing the background of the shot.
Frances, 1982. With Jessica Lang playing the actress Frances Farmer. There is a scene of the Seattle Paramount with the Wurlitzer playing.
Front Page, 1974, with Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon and Susan Sarandon. Sarandon’s character in the film is a cinema organist.
George White’s Scandals, 1946, with an uncredited Ethel Smith playing “Liza” and “Leave us Leap.”
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, 1966, directed by Alan Rafkin, with Don Knotts, features an extended scene with an organ console being played by an invisible phantom. Comedy ensues.
Ghost Story, 1981, with Fred Astaire. There are two brief scenes, one involving a residence organ which, when played during a heated discussion gives off a decidedly electronic sound and the other which was filmed in an auditorium with a large tracker accompanying a choral concert in a live take.
Giant, 1956, with Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson. A two-manual horseshoe console shown in the Reata residence several times is fleetingly played on two occasions by Chill Wills.
Godfather III, 1990, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Opens with a scene in Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. The original Erben organ is used in that scene, played by Arnold Ostlund.
The Goonies, 1985, directed by Richard Donner. A group; of misfit kids set out to find pirate treasure. They encounter a task in which they must play a correct series of notes on a pipe organ made out of bones lest they fall to their deaths.
Gran Torino, 2008, directed by and starring Clint Eastwood. The funeral scene at the beginning features a pipe organ solo.
The Great Gatsby, 2013, directed by Baz Luhrmann. The introductory party scene in Gatsby’s mansion shows an eccentric-looking organist playing “The Charleston” on a pipe organ (obviously a set-piece) while throngs of partygoers dance.
The Great Race, 1965, with Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, features Lemmon playing on a modified Wurlitzer console that was built by for the film. Another scene is filmed in Salzburg Cathedral with the organ seen and heard during the mock coronation.
The Haunted Mansion, 2003, dir. Rob Minkoff, with Eddie Murphy. An elaborate pipe organ (built on a sound stage) is played by a ghost (Wallace Shawn) accompanying a wedding scene. The music is Wagner’s Bridal Chorus brilliantly transmogrified into a ghoulishly minor key.
Heidi, 1937, with Shirley Temple. Heidi’s grandfather, who built the organ in the local church, plays it for the first time since the death of his wife many years before.
Help, 1965, directed by Richard Lester, featuring the Beatles. Paul McCartney plays a Compton electronic rising from the apartment floor near the film’s beginning.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 2005, directed by Garth Jenings. A pipe organ accompanies an extra-terrestrial church service.
Home Alone, 1990, directed by Chris Columbus. A scene filmed on location at Trinity Methodist Church in Willamette, IL, shows a children’s choir in rehearsal accompanied by a pipe organ. The scene can be viewed here 5 minutes and 30 seconds into the video.
It is Midnight, Dr. Schweitzer, 1952, directed by André Haguet, with Pierre Fresnay. The life story of Albert Schweitzer.
The King of Marvin Gardens, 1972, with Jack Nicholson in a movie which contains a shot of the Atlantic City Convention Hall console, although the sound is a Hammond.
La Dolce Vita, 1960, directed by Federico Fellini. There is a brief scene of an organist playing Bach’s D minor Toccata on a wheezy organ.
Ladder 49, 2004, directed by Jay Russell. There are several scenes of weddings and funerals, with shots of organs, filmed on location in Philadelphia Churches.
Lisztomania, 1975, directed by Ken Russell, with Roger Daltrey and Ringo Starr (as the Pope!). The life of Franz Liszt is revisited and transformed by Russell’s personal vision. Music by Rick Wakeman. English organist and historian Paul Joslin sent me an amusing anecdote about this film, which is reprinted here:
“You might be interested to know that the organ featured in this film was St Pauls Onslow Sq London SW7, where I was organist 1972-77; Rushworth & Dreaper 1937 (organ no longer extant). I walked into the church one Saturday morning to find Ken Russell recording (unbeknown to me) and someone playing the opening of A flat Consolation on the FULL organ including the Tuba! Ken Russell said they were going to use the soundtrack to accompany the composer being shot out of organ pipes! I left them to it hoping I had some organ remaining the next day!”
Mannequin, 1987, with Andrew McCarthy, Kim Cattrall, contains a shot of the Wanamaker Organ, with the mannequin playing.
Man of Flowers, 1983. Norman Kaye plays organ to relax after paying Alyson Best to disrobe while he watches.
Mam’zelle Nitouche, 1931, directed by Marc Allégret, with Raimu, Jainine Marese. The plot involves an organist who has a “second personality” as a composer of operettas. Remade in 1954 with Fernandel as the organist.
The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1934, remade in 1956, both directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Both films climax with the famous scene in Royal Albert Hall featuring the “Storming Cloud” cantata by Arthur Benjamin. The organ in the original film is played by Sir George Thalben-Ball, who can be seen at the console.
The Mark of the Vampire, 1934, directed by Tod Browning, with Lionel Barrymore and Bela Lugosi. This odd film contains several scenes in a castle with one of the supposedly dead characters playing a pipe organ (constructed as part of the movie set). One of the other characters says upon hearing it, “the organ, he was always at the organ.”
The Medusa Touch, 1978, directed by Jack Gold, with Richard Burton. This film, about a man who can create destruction by his will alone, has an extended scene filmed at and in Bristol Cathedral. There is a shot which starts at the console being played by then cathedral organist Clifford Harker (pipe organ music is sounding, but it’s clearly not related to what the he is playing) and pans over to the quire.
Melody Time, 1948, Walt Disney Productions. A series of short cartoons, the last one is entitled “Blame it on the Samba” and features a live-action Ethel Smith playing the Hammond Organ and interacting with an animated Donald Duck and others.
Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil, 1997, directed by Clint Eastwood, with Kevin Spacey, John Cusack. Story Takes place in Savannah, GA, with several scenes filmed in the Mercer mansion (or a good imitation on a sound stage). Spacey’s character plays the pipe organ located in the mansion.
Minority Report, 2002, directed by Steven Spielberg, with Tom Cruise. Two scenes feature actor Tim Blake Nelson playing “Jesu, joy of man’s desiring” on an Allen with fake pipes and no pedal board.
Montecassino Abbey, 1946, directed by Arturo Gemmiti, with Zora Piazza. Rev. Luigi De Sario playes on the Cesare Catarinozzi organ  destroyed by American bombs during the war.
Moonrise Kingdom, (2012), directed by Wes Anderson. Several scenes are filmed in the organ loft of Trinity Church, Newport, RI. Although the organ is not actually played, the unmistakable sound of an organ chord accompanies the soundtrack as two runaway children are discovered hiding in the loft.
Mysterious Island, 1961, directed by Cy Endfield, with Herbert Lom as Captain Nemo. A group of adventurers stranded on a strange island run into Captain Nemo and the ship Nautilus (complete with pipe organ). Near the end, Nemo plays snippets of Bach’s Toccata in D minor (with a decidedly electronic sound).
My Summer Story, 1994, with Charles Grodin, Mary Steenburgen. A compilation of some of Jean Shepherd’s stories about growing up in the Midwest, it includes the retelling of “Leopold Doppler and the Great Orpheum Gravy Boat Riot.”
The Naked Runner, 1967, directed by Sidney Furie, with Frank Sinatra, contains a brief scene of a secret agent and his kidnapped charge attending an organ recital at the Alexandra Palace in London.
Nothing But Trouble, 1991, with Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd. Chase is held prisoner by a mad judge (Akroyd). The Judge plays a “pipe” organ with the band Digital Underground.
Once is Not Enough, 1975, directed by Guy Green. A funeral scene takes place in Christ Chapel of Riverside Church, NYC.
One of Our Aircraft is Missing, 1942, directed by Michael Powell. There is an excellent sequence in this film about downed British fliers in the Nazi-controlled Netherlands during WWII. The pilots are hiding in plain sight during a church service, with the help of the congregation, when German soldiers interrupt the proceedings.
The organist distracts the soldiers by playing the Dutch national anthem melody on a 4′ pedal stop. When the soldiers leave, the organist leads the congregation in the anthem. The church and organ are part of a set.
One Foot in Heaven, 1941, with Frederic March. March plays a Methodist Minister and there is an extended scene of a children’s choir singing “Evening Prayer” from Humperdinck’s opera “Hansel und Gretl.” They are accompanied by a teenage girl at a large pipe organ.
The Pink Panther Strikes Again, 1976, Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom. One of Lom’s three films in which he plays an organ (the others being Phantom of the Opera and Mysterious Island). He plays “Tiptoe through the Tulips” near the end of the film as he “dematerializes.”
The Phantom of the Opera, Lon Chaney, 1925. The famous scene of Lon Chaney being “unmasked” at the organ.
The Phantom of the Opera, 1962, with Herbert Lom, contains several scenes of a pipe organ being played by the phantom, with interesting original music.
The Phantom of the Opera, 1998, starring Robert Englund. The Phantom has a one manual organ in his lair which sounds more like a massive church instrument.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, 2006, directed by Gore Verbinski. Davy Jones (played by Bill Nighy) spends some quality time playing an extremely slimy pipe organ in his ship. The following film in the series, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, 2007, also contains a scene of the organ.
A Prayer for the Dying, 1987, directed by Mike Hodges, with Mickey Rourke. An IRA bomber attempts to blow up a troop truck but the plan goes awry, leaving him badly shaken and wanting an end to violence. There is a scene in a church where the suspect tells the authorities that he’s the church organist. Surprisingly, he sits down and plays Bach’s Little Fugue in G minor, BWV 578. The organ is not identified.
The Private Affairs of Bel Ami, 1947, starring George Sanders. In the plot, Sanders’ character has an affair with the wife of the organist of Notre Dame de Paris. Contains a scene shot in “Notre Dame” (a rather cheap looking set) and the organ console, which is ludicrously made. Jonathan Ambrosino said in a lecture to ATOS that it was made “perhaps for a Martian more than an organist.” On a side note, the score is by the great French composer, Darius Milhaud.
A Private Function, 1985, with Michael Palin, Maggie Smith. Smith plays a three-manual Compton for cinema intermission, with her mother sitting on end of the bench as they rise out of pit.
Prizzi’s Honor, 1986, directed by John Huston. Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner play Mafia hit-people, who meet at a wedding. There is an extended scene, filmed on location at St. Anne’s and the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, NY, of a singer (Alexandra Ivanoff) performing Schubert’s Ave Maria, accompanied by John Karl Hirten playing the E.M. Skinner organ in a live take.
Radioland Murders, 1994, with Brian Benben & George Burns. At station WBN the “hits” just keep coming as people relentlessly drop dead during a live broadcast. There are several shots of the organ and organist.
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, 1938, with Shirley Temple. She shares a scene in a radio studio with the “relief organist” (played by Franklin Pangborn) sitting at a theatre organ console (recently identified by reader Jim Lewis as the Robert Morton organ at Universal Studios). The organist is always ready to jump in but the next act always shows up just in time to go on. Finally, when his big chance comes, he faints dead away!
Rocky III, 1982, with Sylvester Stallone. A Vegas boxing match has a 3 manual Rodgers being played on the side.
Salt, 2010, with Angelina Jolie. An extended scene filmed during a service at St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City, with William Trafka playing the Aeolian- Skinner organ.
Santa Claus the Movie, 1986, with Dudley Moore. There is a scene in which Moore (who actually was an accomplished organist and pianist) is shown playing a large, toy-like organ to entertain the elves in Santa’s factory.
Scorpio, 1973, stars Burt Lancaster as an ex-CIA operative called back for one last assignment. There is a scene in which he meets with one of his contacts in the now defunct America On Wheels roller rink in Alexandria VA. At the time, it was the home of a Wurlitzer which once belonged to the Center theater in NY. Organist Jimmy Boyce is seen playing.
Secret Agent, 1936, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, stars John Gielgud and Peter Lorre. The plot is set when two British agents attempt to make a foreign contact in a remote church and find him dead on an organ console, his hands still playing an endless chord.
Shadowlands 1994, directed by Richard Attenborough, starring Anthony Hopkins as C. S. Lewis, was filmed on location at Magdalen College, Oxford, with several scenes of organs and organ music playing for college services.
Shine, 1996, starring Geoffrey Rush, contains several shots of organs in concert halls in Perth and in London, as well as a scene in a church in which the organist is playing and Rush’s character, the almost forgotten concert pianist David Helfgott, is misbehaving.
The Smallest Show On Earth, 1957, with Margaret Rutherford, Peter Sellers. A young couple inherit an aging cinema in England. They go to a theatre and see and hear a large Compton played for intermission.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937. The Disney classic features the famous “party” scene with the title character and the seven dwarfs dancing to the music of an exotic pipe organ, played by Grumpy.
Some Like It Hot, 1959, directed by Billy Wilder. There’s a wonderful scene of a shady character playing a funeral parlor tracker, only to pull out a stop knob, thereby opening the entire keydesk and facade to reveal a speakeasy in the next room.
Song Without End, 1960, starring Dirk Bogarde as Franz Liszt. There is a scene of Liszt playing Bach’s Passacaglia in C in a church. (Bogarde’s piano/organ playing was dubbed by Roger Woodward).
Sound Of Music, 1965, directed by Robert Wise, with Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer. The marriage scene (filmed in the Stiftskirche of Mondsee near Salzburg) begins with a shot of the organ. The music (including the organ music) was most likely recorded on the Robert Morton organ in the former Lorin Whitney Studio in Glendale, CA.
Spaceballs, 1987, directed by Mel Brooks. The wedding scene was shot on location at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Pacific Palisades. The Fisk organ is featured, played by a very annoyed organist (recorded by the church’s real organist, Tom Neenan).
Sudden Fear, 1952, directed by David Miller and starring Joan Crawford, contains a scene filmed at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco during an organ concert. The organist is unidentified (possibly Richard Purvis?) and the sound does not appear to be from the museum’s famous Skinner organ.
Sunshine even by night (Il Sole Anche Di Notte), 1990, directed by Paolo & Emilio Taviani, with Julian Sands & Nastassja Kinski. has a scene of a mass with the Concerto in d minor (Bach/Vivaldi) played on a Vegezzi-Bossi organ (1910).
Sunset Boulevard, 1950, directed by Billy Wilder. Erich von Stroheim plays Bach’s Toccata in D minor on a residential pipe organ with gloves on. The organ is part of a set on a sound stage.
Swiss Miss, 1938, directed by John G. Blystone, with Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy. The boys manage to spill soapy water into a pipe organ. A fun sequence ensues.
Taste the Blood of Dracula, 1970, directed by Peter Sasdy, with Christopher Lee. The fifth in Hammer Films’ series about the famous vampire features a scene where he dismantles and throws organ pipes from the balcony of a church at the good guy who is trying to kill him. The sun rises and illuminates a cross, after which Dracula expires.
The Terror, 1928. Warner Bros. second full length all-talking film is about an organist on a murder spree.
The Tree of Life, 2011, directed by Terrence Malick. There are scenes with Brad Pitt playing the organ. The organ scenes were filmed at St. Martin’s Lutheran in Austin, TX (although the church scenes were filmed at the New Sweden Lutheran Church in Manor, TX). The hands seen playing are a cleverly edited combination of Thomas Pavlechko (organist at St. Martin’s), Chris Oelkers and Brad Pitt. The organ music is a recording of Helmut Walcha.
Twelve Monkeys, 1995, directed by Terry Gilliam, with Bruce Willis. The Wanamaker Organ makes an appearance.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 1954. Walt Disney’s version of the Jules Verne novel, directed by Richard Fleischer, with James Mason & Kirk Douglas. Captain Nemo (Mason) plays Bach on the organ in his submarine. The “console” can now be seen in the Disneyland ride “Haunted Mansion”.
Tommy, 1978, directed by Ken Russell, starring the rock group The Who, with Ann Margaret and Oliver Reed. There is a great scene near the end with the late Who drummer Keith Moon playing a “mobile” theater organ console. The song is accompanied solely by a theater organ, played by Gerald Shaw.
Troubled Water, 2008, directed by Erik Poppe. This Danish-made film is about a man recently released from prison who takes a job as a church organist. He develops a rewarding relationship with the priest and her young son. I’ve not seen the film, but the trailer shows a scene, shot from the point of view of the choir loft, in which the protagonist intently plays a four manual organ organ in the church.
The Valley of Gwangi, 1969, directed by James O’Connelly. Cowboys and dinosaurs meet. There is a scene of a nasty dinosaur chasing James Franciscus into a church, followed by a shot of the organ, which sounds, although no one appears to be playing it.
Wicked, Wicked, 1973, directed by Richard Bare. Ethel Smith makes an uncredited appearance as an organist.
Woman of the Year, (1942), with Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn. Kate Hepburn plays a Hammond.
Yanks, 1979, with Richard Gere. The organ is featured for a sing-a-long in a British Cinema.
Younger And Younger, 1993, directed by Percy Adlon, with Donald Sutherland. A man who owns a storage company causes the heart attack of his wife due to his philandering ways. It features scenes of Sutherland playing a Wurlitzer (and having trysts on the bench) in a storage locker. The score makes use of theater organ music.
Some movies in which the organ is seen but not heard
Annie, 1982, features shots of a large concert organ in a mansion, possibly partly shot at the Hubert Parsons estate, “Shadow Lawn “, in West Long Branch, N.J. with its pipe organ console in one of the balconies off the grand court. (a 1928 Aeolian residence organ).
Children of Damned, 1964, directed by Anton Leader. The sequel of The Village of the Damned, a monumental Victorian organ is always visible in the church where alien children are living.
National Treasure, 2004, with Nicolas Cage. After an exterior scene in front of Trinity Church on Wall Street, the action moves to the interior, but it is a different building, although there is a good shot of the lower portion of an organ case.
Nightflyers, 1987. A team of scientist about an interstellar craft are victimized by the ship’s malevolent computer. There is a four-manual pipe organ in the main lounge, which is never played.
Those Ghosts, 1967, directed by Renato Castellani, with Sophia Loren. The marriage scene was located in the Carmine Maggiore Basilica in Naples. We can see the ancient “twin” organs by Felice Cimino, 1714 and Francesco Mascia, 1907.
Tony Rome, 1967, with Frank Sinatra. There’s a shot of a 3-manual Wurlitzer Console in large living room.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit, 1988, with Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd. The theatre Scene (shot in Britain) shows a 3-manual console in an orchestra pit (also the band organ in the climax of the movie).
The Wicker Man, 1973, directed by. Robin Hardy, with Christopher Lee. There is a brief shot of a large residence organ, most likely filmed at Culzean Castle in Ayrshire, Scotland.
Heard but not seen. A few notable uses of the organ in film scores
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), and Mysterious Island (1961) Three different film scores by Bernard Herrmann make extensive use of the organ with orchestra.
The Gadfly, 1955, a Soviet film directed by Alexander Faintsimmer and based on the novel of the same name by Ethel Lilian Voynich. Music by Dmitri Shostakovich. There is a scene that takes place in a church, accompanied by organ music.
The Godfather, Part II, 1974, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, with Al Pacino, Robert Duvall. The baptism scene filmed at Old St. Patrick’s in NY contains Bach’s music in the background played by John Walko.
The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014, directed by Wes Anderson and music by Alexander Desplat. The score features some fun writing for organ solo, played by Simon Johnson and recorded at St. Jude’s Church, Hampstead, U.K.
Eraserhead, 1976, directed by David Lynch. This cult film features snippets of Fats Waller’s historic pipe organ recordings as background music (during the dance of the lady behind the radiator!).
For a Few Dollars More, 1965, directed by Sergio Leone, with Clint Eastwood and Lee van Cleef. Music by Ennio Morricone. There is an extended original organ solo in the film score which takes place during a duel in an abandoned church.
Hell in the Pacific, 1968, directed by John Boorman, with Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune. Featuring Lalo Schifrin’s excellent score, this off-beat film contains an extended sequence accompanied by an original fugue for pipe organ solo.
Interstellar, 2014, directed by Christopher Nolan. The expansive score, by Hans Zimmer, makes good use of the pipe organ, played by Roger Sayer.
Lone wolf McQuade, 1983, directed by Steve Carver, with Chuck Norris. The final karate match between Chuck Norris and David Carradine is accompanied by organ music.
The Moro Affair, 1986, directed by Giuseppe Ferrara. There is a kidnapping scene accompanied by the pedal solo of Bach’s C minor Preludium.
RollerBall, 1975, features the Bach Toccata in d minor accompanying the opening scene.
Slaughterhouse Five, 1972, directed by George Roy Hill. At the end of the film during the crossover to the credits, Glenn Gould is heard playing Bach’s Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott on the organ.
Sabots’ Tree, 1978, directed by Ermanno Olmi, with non–professional actors. The music by Johann Sebastian Bach is played by Fernando Germani.
Streets of Fire, 1984, starring Michael Paré, Diane Lane. An organ is used at the end of the movie, when the girls sings songs about angels and boys.
Tron, 1982. One of the first films to use computerized animation, the music during the credits features an extended pipe organ solo. Wendy (née Walter) Carlos was the composer.
Zardoz, 1974, directed by John Boorman, features a beautifully eerie opening score which is an arrangement (by David Munrow) of the theme from the slow movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, for organ and countertenor. The sound of an organ chord also accompanies the movement, in the film, of a giant stone head.