The Dansburg Courier has always been Douglas Winter’s dream, a successful small-town syndication built from the ground up. That is where we begin with The Twilight Zone‘s Printer’s Devil, which is Season 4, Episode 9 of the iconic series.
The problem is that Doug is waking up to overdue bills, small headlines, and his linotype operator just walked out on him. His paper faces its demise, about to be squashed by rival publication, The Gazette. Filled with whiskey and despair, Douglas finds himself staring off the ledge of a bridge. Just as he’s about to jump, an odd little man with a cigar appears.
Read All About it! Faustian Bargain!
Shining black eyes and long teeth, the man asks Douglas for a light. With his morbid wit, he talks our suicidal editor off the ledge and into a tavern. Introducing himself as Mr. Smith, also a newspaper man, he boasts of his skills as a linotype operator and reporter.
He proposes to save The Courier, offering to pay off Douglas’ debts, he demonstrates his talents with a few “modifications” to the linotype machine.
Soon subscriptions to The Courier are pouring in as they beat The Gazette to the biggest scoops. Extra editions hit the street to break news of bank robberies and building fires, shortly after they occur. Doug’s dream is coming true at long last, drawing suspicion from everyone.
Speak of The Devil
Burgess Meredith plays the provocative Mr. Smith. Chewing up every scene like the twisted cigar clenched in his teeth. A born character actor, Meredith is beloved as Mickey Goldmill in the Rocky film franchise. Also, Gotham City’s villainous Penguin in the original Batman television series. But he’s also a well known player in The Twilight Zone, appearing in some of the most iconic episodes like “Time Enough at Last” and “The Obsolete Man”. Even lending voice to the narration of Twilight Zone: The Movie.
Versatile and yet recognizable, Burgess Meredith always seems to pop up in overlooked horror films to deliver unforgettable performances. In similar infernal harbinger roles, Burgess appears as Charles Chazen in The Sentinel and Arnold Allardyce in Burnt Offerings. In the British horror anthology, Torture Garden, he portrays Dr. Diabolo in the framing plot, a role similar to Mr. Smith in Twilight Zone‘s Printer’s Devil.
Once the coincidences of slick Smith’s quick headlines pile up, Doug presses him for answers. Though cagey, the journalist pours his editor a drink before presenting a contract. It ensures a lifetime of success for The Courier in exchange for Douglas Winter’s immortal soul. Refusing to believe the absurdity of the wager or even the existence of souls, Doug has another drink. Smith begs to be humored as a rich and eccentric man. Inebriated and amused, Douglas signs his contract. The city of Dansburg crumbles under the paper’s headlines. Smith’s linotype prints the tragedies almost before they happen.
The Large Print Giveth & The Small Print Taketh Away
The Twilight Zone’s Printer’s Devil takes its title from a common idiom of the printing industry. A term with competing theories of its origin. One being a fantastic belief that little devils or imps would haunt printing shops. Mischievously inverting type or omitting full lines, like Titivillus the patron demon of scribes and typos. A more realistic origin theory is an apprentice taking the blame for mistakes. Errand boys or “printer’s devils” learning the ropes and overlooking misspellings and punctuation.
The episode was written by Twilight Zone regular Charles Beaumont. Based on his 1951 short story “The Devil, You Say”. Beaumont authored several scripts for the series such as “The Howling Man”, “Static”, “Miniature”, and “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You” and also penned the screenplays for The Intruder and The Masque of the Red Death.
The Faustian Deal With The Devil trope is a common set up that has inspired many literary and cinematic works of art. Most notable is the short story “The Devil and Daniel Webster” written by Stephen Vincent Benét. This short story gave birth to numerous tales of pressed characters sacrificing spiritual values for power or material gain.
The Simpsons infamously parodied this with their Treehouse of Horror IV segment “The Devil and Homer Simpson”. The season 5 Halloween special would also parody The Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and Night Gallery, another one of Rod Serling’s successful television series.
The paper’s linotype machine falls into the Post-Modern Magik trope. Mr. Smith’s “modifications” alter it in a way where printed news stories would come true. Whether or not it is haunted, cursed, or possessed by a gremlin isn’t clear, but it’s similar to other Twilight Zone episodes. A fortune telling novelty machine predicts a grim future in “Nick of Time” and the inevitable develops in “A Most Unusual Camera”. The latter of the two would inspire R.L. Stine’s Say Cheese and Die! Goosebumps book and “The Tale of The Curious Camera” episode of Are You Afraid of The Dark?
Concluding Thoughts About The Twilight Zone’s Printer’s Devil
Now exit the infernal machine, and with it his satanic majesty, Mr. Smith. The prince of darkness. No less using his nose for news to suss out another desperate soul. Ready to offer his talents and promise great reward to another person standing on the ledge. Ready to make a bargain with The Twilight Zone.
Last Updated on October 20, 2021.