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The Twilight Zone (Episode #106): “He’s Alive” (airdate 1/24/63)
The Plot: A street-corner neo-Nazi grows disillusioned with the quality of the crowds who listen to his fascist rants before beating the sauerkraut out of him. Then he meets the ghost of man much more adept at raising a furor among the masses.
The Goods: Pete the Nazi (Dennis Hopper) is getting pretty sick of seeing his message of hate ignored by people who’d rather beat him up than buy into his rhetoric. The latest incident leaves him with a busted lip and a bad case of depression, but at his lowest moment he receives a very special visitor. The man stays hidden in the shadows, but he speaks with authority about how to engage the people by identifying with their fears. Pete listens and learns, and soon he’s drawing the crowds and the respect he’s always wanted.
But then the mysterious man in silhouette begins giving Pete orders.
And telling him to kill the kindly old Jew who’s been like a father to Pete since he was a boy.
This episode is one of the many Twilight Zone‘s written by Rod Serling, and the theme here is one of his favorites. Ignorance and bigotry are the twin fuels behind much of mankind’s unrest throughout history, and as long as they’re allowed to propagate and breed like little Nazi rabbits the future looks to be no better.
We’ve seen the story told before, but unlike many of the more memorable episodes this one features a memorable performance. Hopper’s later years saw him become more of a caricature than a true actor, but his early career saw a less comically intense performer capable of truly dramatic range. His role here as a Nazi sympathizer who is in essence a sad little man looking for recognition and respect allowed him to showcase a performance that’s equal parts quiet emotion and bombastic presence. He sells it and gives the story the core it so desperately needs.
And it needs that core because the narrative side of things is lacking. As stated above, the general plot is one we’re familiar with, but the issue spreads to the “twist” as well. It’s The Twilight Zone after all, so when a wannabe Nazi starts seeing a man with a German accent who never steps out of the shadows there really aren’t too many options as to who that man will turn out to be right?
Clearly it’s going to be Udo Kier.
Ok, that’s not true. It’s Adolph Hitler of course, and the episode lets the audience know how much of a shock this is with a grand musical cue. But it’s no surprise to anyone and instead it feels like an empty and obvious revelation.
And this is where season four’s hour-long format becomes a major problem. A thirty minute episode (about twenty two minutes of show) could have milked the man in silhouette for fifteen of those minutes or so and it’d be a bit more powerful. But here Hitler doesn’t walk out of the shadows and reveal himself until the forty minute mark. That’s a ridiculous amount of time to wait for an obvious and anticlimactic reveal.
“He’s Alive” is far from a series-best episode, but thanks to Hopper it does feature one of the show’s most dramatically rendered performances. He alone is enough to make the episode worth watching even when the story feels familiar and predictable.
What do you think?
The Trivia: Director Stuart Rosenberg went on to direct Cool Hand Luke, Brubaker and other notable films.
On the Next Episode: “A mute girl with telepathic abilities is orphaned when her parents die in a fire.” There are enough awesome things in that description for five episodes.
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.