Women scream when King Kong breaks free on a New York City stage. Joan Davis screams a lot in Hold That Ghost! Doris Day screams just before the Albert Hall assassination attempt in The Man Who Knew Too Much. At the end of Vertigo James Stewart asks Kim Novak “why did you scream?” during that fateful moment at the top of the San Juan Batista bell tower. A nameless woman in Some Like It Hot screams when Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon run across the lobby of the Seminole Ritz. Janet Leigh screams, of course, when the shower curtain is ripped aside in Psycho. One of the witches screams when a knife-wielding Mia Farrow enters the Castevet’s living room at the end of Rosemary’s Baby.
No doubt about it — there was a lot of female screaming going on in 20th Century movies. Which suggests there was some actual real-life, rip-roaring screaming going on from time to time. But you know what? For the most part female screaming was an invented dramatic device that had no abundant basis in fact, and perhaps not even an incidental basis.
In my entire life I heard a woman “scream” exactly once, and that was when I was two or three years old and my mother had opened the driver’s side door on a busy street and a passing car slammed into it and ripped the door off the hinges. And even that wasn’t really a scream — it was more like a frightened “oooggghhh!”
There was another moment on a LAX-to-JFK flight in ’02 or thereabouts that half-qualified. Our 757 jet hit a sizable air pocket and the plane plunged a couple of hundred feet in a twinkling, and a woman sitting next to me went “aawwwhhh!” — another gulpy moan.
When’s the last time a woman screamed in a movie? I can’t actually recall. 20 or 30 years ago? Longer?
I know that women “screaming” has definitely disappeared from the landscape. And that guys, oddly enough, have rushed in and taken their place. The last I heard anyone let go with a falsetto scream was when Lady Gaga‘s dog-walker, Ryan Fischer, was shot during that recent dognapping incident on Sierra Bonita Ave. The last time before that was when that Vietnamese doctor was dragged off that United flight in 2017.