Did You Know Hollywood Has Inside Jokes?
Since the 1950’s, there has been a single sound effect that has received a following with numerous sound editors and movie fans, which is known as the Wilhelm Scream.
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In the 1951 Warner Bros. film, Distant Drums, there is a scene in which soldiers are making their way through a swamp in the everglades. One of them is bitten by an alligator and the scream is heard as he is dragged underwater. The movie was directed by Raoul Walsh.
In the usual case of making a movie, the scream that character made was recorded later. There were six short pained screams which were recorded in one take, that was slated as, “man getting bit by an alligator and he screams.” The fifth scream was used for the soldier.
Following Distant Drums, the recording was archived into Warner Bros.’ sound effects library and used over again in many productions.
In the 1953 film The Charge at Feather River, the scream is heard when a soldier named Pvt. Wilhelm, played by Ralph Brooke, gets shot in the leg by an arrow.
Sound effects fan Ben Burtt and his friends in the cinema department at the University of Southern California, Rick Mitchell and Richard Anderson, noticed the same distinctive scream reoccurring in a lot of movies. One of the films the three made together, a swashbuckler parody, The Scarlet Blade in 1974, included the scream which they borrowed from another film’s audio track.
In 1977, Burtt was hired to create sound effects for Star Wars where he had an opportunity to do research at the sound departments of several movie studios. While at Warner Bros. sorting through sound elements to use in the space adventure, he found the original Distant Drums scream, which he called Wilhelm after the character that let out the scream in Charge at Feather River.
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