Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Sunday Quickie: The Wilhelm Scream




Over the years, you’ve probably heard it hundreds (perhaps thousands) of times, it has become so ubiquitous in films  But few know the story behind `the Wilhelm scream’


It began in the 1951 movie Distant Drums, with a scene showing a soldier dragged under in the swamp by an alligator.


As he is struck, he screams . . . 



The scream was recorded and dubbed into the scene in post production, and legend has it that Sheb (“Purple People Eaters”) Wooley who was an extra on the film, recorded the famous cry.


The scream was saved to Warner Brother’s sound department, and showed up again in a western called Charge At Feather River in 1953.  This time, a solider named `Wilhelm’ stops to light his pipe, and takes an arrow in the thigh for his trouble.


For the next twenty-four years the `Wilhelm scream’ would appear occasionally in movies (sometimes more than once), including:

"The Command" (1954)
"Them!" (1954)
"A Star is Born" (1954)
"Land of the Pharaohs" (1955)
"The Sea Chase" (1955)
"Helen of Troy" (1956)
"Sergeant Rutledge" (1960)
"PT 109" (1963)
"Harper" (1966)
"The Green Berets" (1968)
"The Wild Bunch" (1969)
"Chisum" (1970)
"Impasse" (1970)
"The Scarlet Blade" (1974)
"Hollywood Boulevard" (1976)


Ben Burtt – working on the sound effects for the first Star Wars movie (1977) found it on a reel of tape and used it in the laser fight aboard the Death Star.


Burtt dubbed the the 2 second clip as `the Wilhelm scream’ after the cavalryman in Charge at Feather River.


After that, the scream showed up in other George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg films with regularity.   Other sound effects designers began using it too, as sort of an inside joke among them.  


Pretty soon, you could hear the Wilhelm scream in more than 100 movies and television shows.  And the number is growing.


So a compilation seems in order of a scream that has become a piece of film history.


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