No one’s ever put a list of musical themes, adapted or original, in a list before, so I thought I’d be the first! All are whistled solo, not part of any songs, and while most are from movies, there are two from TV, and one from the golden days of radio. [Editor’s Note: I tried my best to find clips and audio for this list, but couldn’t always find just the right one. If any readers know where to locate missing or a better example of the audio, please comment below.]
10. A Fistful of Dollars
This first film of Sergio Leone’s “Man With No Name” trilogy not only made Clint Eastwood a superstar but also put Ennio Morricone in the movie music pantheon. I choose it because that whistled theme sets up the sardonic, ironic tone of the movie practically all by itself.
I like this whistled theme also, though it’s the opposite of Morricones. The late Jerry Goldsmith numbered a few westerns among his scores, and this is one of his best. The jaunty whistle, accompanied by jew’s-harp, is one of the sunniest themes.
8. The Bridge on the River Kwai
Some may think the whistling of Kenneth Alford’s “Colonel Bogey March” corny, but I find it one of the all-time great movie scenes. I love how it expresses the defiant pride, even in defeat, of the British prisoners, even though David Lean’s film will deal it in an ironic way
7. The Whistler’s radio show theme
Radio, of necessity, needed sounds that would make their mark upon the mind’s ear of the listener. The Shadow’s laugh, Benny’s screechy violin, Fibber McGee’s closet…and that eerie, slightly off-key whistle by the eponymous host, once heard, never to be forgotten, which is why I put this only selection from old-time radio on the list.
6. The Andy Griffith Show theme
Who can forget that folksy whistled theme, perhaps Earle Hagen’s best-loved one? Titled “The Fishin’ Hole”, it speaks of pole fishing on summer days and all the mythical joys of Southern small town life. I don’t think lovers of classic TV will argue with me about this choice, which is one of my favorite TV tunes for the reasons above.
5. The Ed, Edd and Eddy theme
By itself, I don’t think this Cartoon Network series is any great shakes. But I confess, I can’t resist that jazzy, swinging whistled theme! (I’d love to know its whistler!) In fact, I think it’s way too cool for this kind of show. I just love how it swings to its own insouciant beat.
4. Twisted Nerve
If you recognize the tune whistled by Daryl Hannah as she goes to kill Uma Thurman in “Kill Bill”, it was from Bernard Herrmann’s score for the 1968 thriller “Twisted Nerve”. It was whistled by a brain damaged psychopath before he struck (with two precedents, below). Herrmann, a master of sonic terror (“Psycho”), can even chill you with a simple whistled tune, a big reason why his theme’s on my list.
3. The Zazie on the Metro theme
This early 60’s French comedy was one of the late Louis Malle’s first. I adore the carefree Gallic charm of that whistled theme, with its soupcon of sorrow at the brevity of childhood.
2. Scarface (1932)
Editor: The movie clip is no longer avaialble, but you can hear the whistle in this new clip.
Not De Palma’s remake but the original Hughes-Hawks film. Who could forget Tony Camonte’s whistling the Sextet from Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” before his killings? I just love that quietly flamboyant touch (but was it inspired by the No. 1 whistle below?)
1. M (1931)
Fritz Lang, by his own admission, didn’t know beans about music. Yet, when he tackled this first German sound film, he decided to give Peter Lorre’s killer a whistled motif to announce his presence. Ironically, Lorre couldn’t whistle so Lang himself wound up performing Grieg’s “Mountain King” theme from “Peer Gynt”. No matter, it’s still the number one example of sonic chills, which is why I put it at Number One.
Written by Terry Bigham