Season 4, Episode 4 (#106 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4856
Originally aired January 24, 1963
50 years ago tonight, a Neo-Nazi on the rise found a surprise ally straight from the bloody pages of history.
Spoiler alert: It’s Adolf Fucking Hitler.
That’s right: this bigoted malcontent’s only friend in the world is a Jew, which represents a gigantic conflict of interests for him (there’s an understatement!). I’m sure Serling did this to apply some multi-dimensionality to Vollmer’s otherwise superficial character, but frankly it’s confusing, and it essentially ruins the Ernst character’s credibility (who by default would’ve been the hero of the episode) by begging the all-important question: WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK, MAN? What kind of man, Jew or otherwise, would suffer this weasel’s bullshit? I dunno, maybe Ernst is supposed to represent some kind of Christ figure. Wait, that might piss off a few people. Ah well.
So next we find Vollmer lying in the dark, restless and morose. We cut to a close shot of his eyes, where we spy tiny little swastikas superimposed over his eyeballs. It’s at time stamp 14:21; blink and you’ll miss it (Marc Scott Zicree obviously did, since he reports in his Twilight Zone Companion that the shot was filmed but not used; do your goddamned homework, MSZ!). The effect is neat (if a bit gimmicky), but ultimately pointless since it couldn't possibly have been visible on the primitive TV sets found in 1963.
Be on the lookout for a really unsettling visual early in the episode. At the end of the prologue, where we find Vollmer crying behind a dumpster, we dissolve to the usual shot of Serling delivering his opening narration. I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but their faces line up perfectly, so for a split second, we get a Serling-Hopper hybrid that’s frankly bizarre to behold. Ah, the power of the pause button!
In fact, the whole episode is shot well enough, with plenty of shadows. There’s definitely a noirish vibe herein, particularly at the end when a fleeing Vollmer is, um, stopped by the authorities in a back alley (spoiler proximity alert!). How many film noirs end with this exact scene?
I'm a goner, Ma. *sniff*
Unfortunately, there’s not much here for me past the visuals. Serling’s character and plot choices just wreck the story for me. It occurs to me that, had Serling plotted things differently, the results could have been immensely more satisfying. I’ve come up with three different plot deviations…
1. Hitler is actually Vollmer’s alternate personality, a la Fight Club.
2. Eliminate the Ernst character altogether; instead, give Vollmer a good-hearted girlfriend who tries to woo him away from his misguided cause. Vollmer tries to bow out, but is stopped by his subordinate Frank, who shoots him. As he lays there dying, the shadowy advisor appears, reveals himself as Hitler, and reveals that he’s also been advising Frank. Vollmer is weak, like the murdered Nick before him, and will better serve the cause as another martyr.
3. Hitler isn’t just a ghost: he’s an immortal evil entity (perhaps the devil himself) and Hitler is only one of the many forms he has taken on over the centuries. I personally like this one the best; however, season four already has two devil episodes (“Printer’s Devil” and “Of Late I Think of Cliffordville”).
Ultimately, “He’s Alive” doesn’t amount to much more than another holier-than-thou sermon from Serling. I don’t mind a good sermon now and then, but this particular message comes dangerously close to insulting my intelligence. Hatred is evil. Racism is evil. Hitler is evil. Evil can only lead to destruction in the end. Well, duh.
Next week: Ann Jillian keeps her lips zipped.