Season 4, Episode 9 (#111 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4864
Originally aired February 28, 1963
After entertaining us with multiple manifestations during the first two seasons of The Twilight Zone, His Satanic Majesty (a.k.a. Ol’ Scratch, Beelzebub, Lucifer, The Prince of Darkness, The Devil; he answers to all of them) apparently took last year off. Happily (or not, depending on your religious/spiritual inclination), he/she/it makes up for it by appearing twice this season.
50 years ago tonight, The Evil One visited the city of Danzburg under the name “Mr. Smith.” His target? One Douglas Winter, editor of the failing Danzburg Courier. Winter’s just lost his linotype operator to the competing Danzburg Gazette, effectively spelling the end of his paper. Full of self-loathing and liquor, Winter is poised to jump off a bridge… until Smith shows up out of nowhere, looking for a job. It seems he’s an expert linotype operator and a crack reporter to boot.
With Smith on board, The Courier quickly becomes the town’s top newspaper, consistently scooping The Gazette. Winter’s long-suffering girlfriend Jackie doesn't trust Smith; in fact, she suspects he’s behind the very catastrophes he’s reporting. When Winter confronts him, Smith lays his cards on the table: he’ll continue providing his services, guaranteeing permanent success for The Courier, in exchange for Winter’s soul.
Smith’s diabolical work on The Courier comes with an interesting twist: he isn't directly influencing events in Danzburg; rather, he’s “made some modifications” to the paper’s linotype machine that causes whatever is typed into it to come true. This ultimately causes Smith’s plans to unravel, as the linotype machine twists reality regardless of who uses it. Some may cry deus ex machina, but I think it’s a nice touch.
"Printer's Devil" is scored with an impressive array of CBS library cues, including selections from previous TZ scores "The Big Tall Wish" and "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room" (the latter is put to great use to build suspense during act four; both are composed by Jerry Goldsmith). CBS Music Director Lud Gluskin had an amazing knack for choosing preexisting music for episodes for which original scores hadn't been commissioned. "Printer's Devil" is a perfect example of this: the entire score, stock though it is, is imminently listenable on its own (happily, it's isolated on the season four Definitive DVD and blu-ray sets for our listening pleasure).
This is the fourth and final TZ appearance by the great Burgess Meredith: he’s previously graced “Time Enough at Last” and “The Obsolete Man” (he also starred in the dreadful “Mr. Dingle, the Strong,” but we try not to talk about that ‘round here). He’s just marvelous as the (literally) devilish Mr. Smith, particularly in his completely unapologetic horndoggedness. Note his unsubtle ogling of the waitress, about whom he observes: “She moves quick for a big one.” Later, he whispers something (presumably highly inappropriate and/or offensive) into Jackie’s ear, which prompts her to slap him (after all these years, I still wonder what exactly he said!). This is my favorite of Meredith’s four TZ performances (yes, even over his brilliant work as the obsolete Romney Wordsworth). Meredith is probably remembered best as either The Penguin on TV’s Batman or as boxing trainer Mickey in 1976’s Rocky.
Robert Sterling is suitably morose as Douglas Winter in his only Twilight Zone appearance. Genre fans may remember him as Captain Lee Crane in 1961’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
The editor of the competing Danzburg Gazette is played by Ray Teal, who is probably best remembered as Sheriff Roy Coffee on TV’s Bonanza.
TZ babe alert! Winter’s girlfriend Jackie is played by Patricia Crowley, and she’s a fine looking specimen indeed; unfortunately, she spends the entire episode frowning and complaining. She appeared on TV’s Bonanza a mere four days before “Printer’s Devil” aired (“The Actress” on 2/24/1963); unfortunately Sheriff Coffee wasn’t in that episode.
The actor falling asleep at the wheel in act four is uncredited, but he looked damn familiar to me, so I tried tracking him down… to no initial avail (IMDB, Wikipedia, The TZ Café, even the ever-useful Martin Grams Jr. book…. nothing, nada, zip). However, after much digging, I’m convinced that he’s David Armstrong, who almost ran over the mechanical grandma in season three’s “I Sing the Body Electric” (Jesus, somebody revoke this guy’s driver’s license!). He also appeared as an uncredited extra in “To Serve Man” and was Simon Oakland’s stunt double in “The Rip Van Winkle Caper.” His greatest TZ moment, however, came in “The Trade-Ins,” in which he had a speaking role as the surgeon who successfully turns Joseph Schildkraut into Edson Stroll.
“Printer’s Devil” is great fun, maybe not quite top-tier Zone, but quite good all the same (Meredith’s performance advances it several notches, just as Julie Newmar will do for “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville” in a few weeks). If you’re keeping track, this puts us exactly halfway through season four.
Next week: Dane Andrews tries to assassinate Hitler but burns down a school instead. D’oh!