Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Writer: Rod Serling
Cast: Dennis Hopper, Ludwig Donath, Paul Mazursky, Howard Caine, Barnaby Hale, Jay Adler, Wolfe Barzell, Bernard Fein, and Curt Conway
Composer: None (Stock Music)
Air Date: 1/24/1963
Production Code: 4856
Struggling to expand his neo-Nazi movement, Peter Vollmer (Dennis Hopper) receives advice from a shadowy figure with a German accent. After resorting to extreme measures, Peter finally begins to reach an audience of listeners—much to the chagrin of Ernst Ganz (Ludwig Donath), former prisoner at Dachau concentration camp and surrogate father to Peter.
“He’s Alive” may evoke criticism for its lack of subtlety, especially when concealing the true nature of Peter’s new friend. This offering should, however, be commended for the efforts of Dennis Hopper—a talented actor known for Easy Rider—and Curt Conway, whose impression of Adolf Hitler borders on the uncanny.
Hopper deserves praise for his performance, which adds an air of consistency to the uneven character transition of Peter Vollmer. When the protagonist—initially a timid, insecure man-child—suddenly transforms into a confident and powerful speaker, for example, Hopper conveys the fact that a trace of weakness remains in Peter’s personality—an aspect that strengthens the credibility of the final scenes, wherein Peter reverts back to a cowardly state when placed under pressure.
“He’s Alive” never explains why Peter, having been raised by a kindly old Jewish man, develops an ideology based on anti-Semitic beliefs. (Edward Norton’s character in American History X, in contrast, embraces neo-Nazism after his father is murdered by black drug dealers, providing him with a realistic motive for despising minorities and people of color.)
(Spoilers beyond this point)
Despite worshiping the Führer as a godlike figure, Peter takes an inordinate amount of time to discover the identity of his mystery helper—later revealed to be the ghost of Hitler.
Likely intended as a critique of the American Nazi Party founded by George Lincoln Rockwell, “He’s Alive” contains a laudable statement on the shortcomings of fascist, authoritarian systems. There are instances, however, when Rod Serling’s message would likely benefit from an additional layer of insight, allowing modern audiences to understand how rational, intelligent people could accept ideologies inspired by hatred, bigotry, and social Darwinism.
Though well-intended, “He’s Alive” suffers from logical inconsistencies and predictable plot twists. Nevertheless, fans of The Twilight Zone may appreciate this episode for its exceptional performances—specifically from Hopper and Conway.
Overall Quality: 6/10
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