“ Genre: Sci-Fi & Fantasy / Author: Charles Beaumont / Audiobook published 2010-12-15 by Falcon Picture Group „
Printer's Devil is a 2009 radio adaption of a sixties Twilight Zone episode written by Charles Beaumont and features the voices of Stacey Keach and Bobby Slayton (no, never heard of him either). Printer's Devil was part of the one-off season of The Twilight Zone where the episodes were expanded from 30 minutes to an hour and although some of the 60 minute entries were guilty of outstaying their welcome and padding out their respective premises too much, Printer's Devil was not one of them and is generally regarded to be one of the best of the longer stories (not least for the memorable performance of series regular Burgess Meredith). The story begins with Douglas Winter - the editor of a struggling small town newspaper called the Danzburg Courier - at his wits end. The much richer and vastly more professional Danzburg Gazette has moved into town and practically bankrupted his newspaper. His few remaining staff have quit too, aware that they are part of a sinking ship. Winter drives his car out in the middle of nowhere and drunkenly contemplates throwing himself off a bridge until a stranger named Mr Smith stops him by telling him that the fall probably wouldn't do the job. Smith asks for a ride back into town and tells winter he will give him a loan to save the newspaper. Not only that, but he is also an expert linotypist and news reporter and persuades Winter to give him a job. Business is soon flourishing at the Courier, not least because Smith seems to always get the scoop on disasters, bank robberies and fires before they actually happen. Who is Mr Smith and where does he get his remarkable powers of precognition from?
Charles Beaumont contributed many memorable episodes to the Twilight Zone and Printer's Devil is probably one of his best. It perhaps wraps itself up at the end a little bit too neatly and it isn't perfect by any means (Winter is a bit slow to cotton onto the fact that Smith always had a front page headline about something ten minutes before it actually happens) but it is genuinely interesting and not without an air of menace. Slayton can't possibly fill the shoes of Burgess Meredith but he does a decent enough job. Meredith particularly enjoyed playing Smith because the role was a departure from his usual put upon little man and enabled him to be fiendish, clever and wicked for a change. Mr Smith seems too good to be true in the manner in which he talks Winter out of suicide and then saves the newspaper and he is. What is nice here is the way that Smith seems like an eccentric old man who is trying to do the paper a favour but gradually ends up taking more and more control, especially as he is the only person who can make head nor tail of the strange old fashioned printing presses he has set up, these machines spookily able to predict the future. Whatever Smith types as a headline seems to happen. What is his diabolical secret? It's fairly obvious but fun all the same.
The rattle of the printing presses and the headlines shouted from street corner vendors when some particular disaster has befallen the town add to the pleasant background ambience and you do feel like you in the Courier offices as Winter's small paper turns its fortunes around and becomes a hive of activity again. The two leads here are well served by Beaumont's dialogue in what becomes a battle of wits between them. The relationship between Winter and Smith gradually shifts over the course of the story until Smith seems to be holding all the cards. Has Winter left it too late by not realising just how dangerous this little old man is? The cost will be far greater than his newspaper if he doesn't come up with a solution. Perhaps the best scene here for the actors is one where Smith asks Winter to amuse him by agreeing to a new contract between them. Smith will promise to keep the paper flourishing and all Winter has to do is promise his eternal soul to him. Of course, it's all a bit of nonsense says Smith ('Imagine a grown man believing in the devil!') so why not humour him and sign the contract? It's a good moment as Smith goads Winter about being reluctant to sign the contract with hesitation over such ridiculous notions as souls and the Devil. The Twilight Zone had explored such themes many times before in a whimsical fashion but there is an underlying menace to Printer's Devil that always give the story a big boost.
This audio version is 39 minutes long, rather shorter than the television but without missing anything relevant or crucial to the story. The discrepancy between the the running times of the radio and television versions is I suspect down to the fact the television episode featured three or four scenes of stock footage depicting fires and bank robberies each time one of Smith's eye catching headlines came true. While the medium here affords the producers less scope they do manage to convey a pleasantly anachronistic and authentic air of a small town paper with a rather vague sense of time and place (although I suppose the place is really the Twilight Zone!). Generally though, Printer's Devil works relatively well as a radio drama because the essential core of the story is the relationship between Winter and Smith and their dialogue together. There are not a surfeit of visual cues and revelations here that we miss. This is not a completely straight adaption of the television episode but I didn't notice anything too salient to be absent and felt that it did as good a job as it could to capture the spirit of the original without making it completely identical down to the last tiny detail.
Printer's Devil is another solid addition to this radio series and a good solid 7/10 adaption. You can purchase this as part of one of several bumper Twilight Zone audio cd collections or (at the time of typing) download it individually for £1.19