It may be difficult to take Edward Bernds' directorial career -- highlighted as it is by the short films of the Three Stooges and the features of the Bowery Boys, as well as such camp classics as Queen of Outer Space -- entirely seriously. As a pop culture influence, however, Bernds had few peers, even if he was seldom ranked even near the top of B-movie directors -- it's a safe bet, however, that virtually every baby boomer viewer saw his work at some point growing up, and that most of them enjoyed a lot of it.
Edward Bernds started out at Columbia Pictures in the sound department at the end of the '20s and was responsible for mixing the sound on such early talkies as Roy William Neill's 1929 Wall Street and Erle C. Kenton's The Song of Love, released that same year. His studio assignments involved him in such high-profile features as Dirigible, Platinum Blonde, The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Lady for a Day, and It Happened One Night (the latter featuring a bravura example of early cinematic sound mixing in a key singalong sequence on a bus), all directed by Frank Capra, and Howard Hawks' Twentieth Century, up through 1934. Although he continued to work on major features, including Leo McCarey's The Awful Truth and Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, until the end of the '30s, his career was never quite the same after 1934. That year he was assigned as the soundman on Woman Haters, the first Columbia short starring Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Jerome "Curly" Howard, a newly signed trio of comedians also known as the Three Stooges. An odd mix of musical, verse dialogue, and mayhem, Woman Haters was a success, mostly because the mayhem was executed as theatrically and artfully as the music. For the next decade, Bernds was largely responsible for supporting the trio with an array of brilliantly edited, split-second-timed sound effects that gave their brand of roughhouse humor the surreal, cartoon-like edge that came to identify their work.
To judge the importance of Bernds' contribution as a soundman to the Stooges' movies, compare the eye pokes and face slaps. It's a sign of the unusual nature and arc of Bernds' career that one would have a serious analytical discussion about eye pokes and face slaps in determining his success, as in their Columbia shorts, which were usually accompanied by a loud, plucked violin string or a ridiculously loud smacking noise, respectively, to the more "realistic" unaccompanied eye pokes and face slaps in their MGM and Fox films. It's the same three performers (or two or the three the same) in all three groups of films, committing the same mayhem on each other, but the Columbia mayhem is funnier all the way around because of the sound effects Bernds created and used in their movies. Similar accolades may be given to the noises he used to accompany the hammer hits (anvil clanging), punches in the stomach (kettle drum), and other examples of slapstick activity that littered their movies. Indeed, given studio chief Harry Cohn's well-documented personal appreciation of the Stooges' work, Bernds and the trio might well have been able to take credit for a major percentage of whatever laughter regularly emanated from Cohn's office across the years that followed.
In 1945, Bernds moved up to the director's chair on the Three Stooges short Micro-Phonies, a film that, appropriately enough, had the trio using their own sound "dubbing" technique to help a lady friend land a singing job. The resulting film was one of the most successful and satisfying of their releases in what was otherwise something of a declining period for the trio, in tandem with the failing health of Curly Howard, who was usually regarded as the funniest of the Stooges.
Bernds directed most of the Stooges' shorts that followed, and he was a major help in maintaining the quality of the trio's work when Shemp Howard finally replaced his ailing brother in the act in 1947. Over the next seven years, he guided the trio thr