Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
Written by Rod Serling
Starring: Dennis Hopper, Ernst Ganz, Curt Conway, Paul Mazursky
Original Airdate: January 23, 1963
The Twilight Zone episode “He’s Alive” may not belong in the first tier of the show’s archive, but it does return to one of Serling’s paramount themes: Anti-Fascism. A young Dennis Hopper plays a Neo-Nazi who delivers angry street corner speeches blaming all of America’s problems on traitors, minorities, and “international bankers.” But nobody listens to him. Feeling isolated in the world, Peter can only confide in his friend Ludwig, a sensitive musician and holocaust survivor. Later on Peter finds a new mentor who offers him advice on how to build an effective movement.
Hopper’s performance does an excellent job of expressing the innocence and deep sadness of the character-and also the menacing aspect of his naivete. Stoking hate seems to be his only way of connecting with people. Upon the advice of the “Ghost Hitler” Peter starts to build a movement and gains confidence in himself and draws more receptive crowds. The film noir style of the lighting contributes an unsettling undercurrent.
Twilight Zone historian Marc Zicree, author of the must read Twilight Zone Companion, criticizes “He’s Alive” as being unrealistic and preachy. Zicree is especially critical of the implausible friendship between Ludwig and Peter, a Jewish man and a Nazi. Fair enough. Interestingly the same concept was used in the 2002 film Max, imagining Hitler’s life after the First World War and his friendship with a Jewish painter played by John Cusack.
Serling, a WWII veteran haunted by the specter of fascism, used his experiences to comment on the world around him. In the early 1960s the Neo-Nazi movement led by George Lincoln Rockwell was gaining traction (a movement lampooned in Bob Dylan’s “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues”) From the perspective of the current moment in history, the story takes on an even deeper resonance, here’s a passage from Serling’s closing narration:
Where will he go next, this phantom from another time, this resurrected ghost of a previous nightmare . . . Anyplace, everyplace, where there’s hate, where there’s prejudice, where there’s bigotry. He’s alive. He’s alive so long as these evils exist. Remember that when he comes to your town. Remember it when you hear his voice speaking through others. Remember it when you hear a name called, a minority attacked, any blind, unreasoning assault on a people or any human being. He’s alive because through these things we keep him alive.
Zicree, Marc Scott. The Twilight Zone Companion. Los Angeles: Silmon James Press, 1989.