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The Twilight Zone (Episode #111): “Printer’s Devil” (airdate 2/28/63)
The Plot: A newspaper owner facing competition from
the online blogosphere a USA Today-type paper gives up on life and his career until a kindly man with a cigar offers him some help. But of course as we all know, “kindly” in The Twilight Zone means something completely different from what we’re used to.
The Goods: Douglas Winter (Robert Sterling) is the editor/owner of the Dansburg Courier, a small player in the big world of newspaper journalism that’s currently facing bankruptcy in the face of competition and hard economic times. He’s been fighting the trend for a while, but the final bell toll comes with the sudden departure of his ace Linotype man, Andy, who leaves for a job at their biggest rival, the Gazette. Drunk and resigned to his status as a failure, Douglas stops his car on a bridge and contemplates suicide.
Which is exactly when a little man named Mr. Smith (Burgess Meredith) appears and strikes up a conversation. Mr. Smith has led a varied life including stints as both a bank teller and a librarian, and he was even the world’s strongest man for a brief while. But now he’s interested in working at Douglas’ paper and helping to turn it back into a success. His salary demands for the job are pretty reasonable too… he doesn’t want money. He only wants Douglas’ soul.
“I am not now nor have I ever been a gloom cookie.”
Charles Beaumont’s script (from his own short story, “The Devil, You Say?”) follows a pretty straightforward path with little to no surprises along the way. The Dansburg Courier starts doing great business thanks to Mr. Smith’s “nose for news” that gets editions out less than an hour after the event in question happened. A school principal found out as a bigamist, a local man wins a giant jackpot, a young couple who drown on their honeymoon, a devastating fire at the Gazette… that last one begins to get Douglas’ suspicions up, and Mr. Smith sits him down for a chat.
He acknowledges that he is in fact the devil incarnate and that he can make Douglas’ paper and career a huge success in exchange for his very soul. So Douglas signs the incredibly short contract agreeing to Mr. Smith’s terms and discovers that whatever is typed on the recently modified Linotype machine comes true. Everything goes along fine until his co-worker/lover Jackie (Pat Crowley) takes hold of his moral compass and rights it. He’s forced to act when she spurns a devilish advance and her life is put in danger, and one more cautionary tale is wrapped up nice and neat when the devil is sent packing.
This isn’t a bad episode by any means, but as stated above it’s not a very fresh or interesting one either. The whole deal-with-the-devil plotline has been done to death, and it takes something special to stand out in the crowded field. Neither the setup not the resolution here are all that special. What saves it from mediocrity though is Meredith’s voracious and lively performance as the Prince of Darkness. He’s funny, intense and a (compact) physical dynamo. He leers, wise cracks, and hops onto counters with a spry maliciousness that can’t help but also be charming as hell.
The fourth season’s hour-long experiment is a mixed bag this episode. It’s allowed to take its time with the characters and story so it’s not until the thirty minute mark that Mr. Smith makes his pitch and identifies himself. The only problem is that we the viewers know who he is well before then. Still, the episode is worth watching for Meredith’s performance alone. He wouldn’t be this entertaining again for another fifteen years when he played a karate-chopping Lothario in the still excellent Foul Play alongside Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase.
What do you think?
The Trivia: Burgess Meredith appeared on the original Twilight Zone four times, but this is the only episode featuring him as the aggressor. He also played a timid bank teller (“Time Enough at Last”), a timid weakling (“Mr Dingle the Strong”), and a timid librarian (“The Obsolete Man”).
On the Next Episode: “A man with a time machine tries to change important past events.”
We’re running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes over the next several weeks, and we won’t be doing it alone! Our friends at Twitch will be entering the Zone as well on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at Twitch and feel free to also follow along on our Twitter accounts @twitchfilm and @rejectnation.