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Recap / The Twilight Zone S 4 E 106 Hes Alive

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Peter Vollmer and his hero.

Rod Serling: Portrait of a bush-league Führer named Peter Vollmer, a sparse little man who feeds off his self-delusions and finds himself perpetually hungry for want of greatness in his diet. And like some goose-stepping predecessors he searches for something to explain his hunger, and to rationalize why a world passes him by without saluting. That something he looks for and finds is in a sewer. In his own twisted and distorted lexicon he calls it faith, strength, truth. But in just a moment Peter Vollmer will ply his trade on another kind of corner, a strange intersection in a shadowland called the Twilight Zone.

Air date: January 24, 1963

Peter Vollmer (Dennis Hopper) is a young Neo-Nazi who is trying to get followers, but is struggling due to being very unassertive and uncharismatic. His elderly friend Ernst Ganz (Ludwig Donath), a Holocaust survivor, knows of his activities and disapproves of them, but allows Peter to regularly crash at his apartment out of pity for him.

Peter is visited by a mysterious, shadowy figure who regularly gives him advice on how to win over crowds. Soon, Peter has many followers. On his benefactor's advice, Peter murders a follower named Nick (Howard Caine) and claims the Jews did it, creating a martyr for his cause and bringing in more followers.

One day, Ernst disrupts one of his rallies and orders everyone to stop this foolishness. Ernst says back when he was young, nobody bothered to stand up to Adolf Hitler when he was doing the things Peter is doing now, and it led to the Holocaust. Now, he will not make that mistake again. Peter tries to get Ernst to go away, but Ernst humiliates him and causes his followers to desert him in disgust.


Later, the shadowy benefactor berates Peter for screwing up. Peter angrily retorts that he is doing all the work and demands his benefactor reveal himself instead of hiding in the darkness like a coward. Enraged, the man says: "Mr. Vollmer, I was writing and delivering speeches decades before you could read or understand them! I was fighting battles when your only struggle was to climb out of a womb! I was taking over the world when your universe was a crib! And as for being in darkness, Mr. Vollmer... I INVENTED darkness!" He steps out of the shadows — revealing he is Adolf Hitler (Curt Conway) himself.

Hitler says he is done giving advice. From now on he gives orders. He hands Peter a gun and orders him to kill the Jew, Ernst, telling Peter that weakness is no longer tolerated. Peter is to become steel.


Peter confronts Ernst in their apartment and threatens him with the gun. Unafraid and mildly disappointed, Ernst tries to persuade him to turn back to the light before it is too late, but Peter shoots him in the gut, declaring that he is made of steel. With his last breaths, Ernst reminds Peter that ideas, like freedom and equality, cannot be killed with a mere bullet.

Hitler congratulates Peter on his kill and asks how he feels. Peter declares that he felt like he was immortal. Hitler roars, "Mr. Vollmer, we are immortal!"

Later, the police confront Peter, saying he is a suspect in Nick's murder. Peter tries to escape and is gunned down. In shock at his pain and blood, Peter goes insane, screaming, "There's something very wrong here... Don't you understand that I'm made out of steel?"

Disappointed, Hitler fades back into the shadows, searching for another candidate to spread his vile messages of hate.

Rod Serling: Where will he go next, this phantom from another time, this resurrected ghost of a previous nightmare? Chicago? Los Angeles? Miami, Florida? Vincennes, Indiana? Syracuse, New York? 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 out 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.

The Trope's Alive:

  • Abusive Parents: Peter admits his father was a violent alcoholic who'd slam him against the wall for minor reasons while his mother suffered from some sort of mental disease that left her emotionally absent to him.
  • Allegorical Character: Hitler is the literal manifestation of hatred and prejudice, with his return being only possible when Peter attempts to revive the Nazi movement in his city. Once Peter is killed at the end of the episode, Hitler simply returns to the shadows to seek out another Neo-Nazi. As Ron Serling puts it, Hitler is alive and immortal so long as people continue to practice hatred and prejudice.
  • An Aesop: The point of the episode and its phantasmal Hitler is that Nazism and the prejudices it exploited are alive and well and that the public must be conscious of them if they want to prevent the rise of the next great dictator.
  • As Long as There Is Evil: Serling uses this in his closing narration.
  • Badass Boast: Hitler's "I invented darkness!" rant to Peter, quoted above.
  • Bigotry Exception: Peter is a committed neo-Nazi but the only thing in the world that he loves is Ernst, a survivor of The Holocaust. He even says that Ernst is like a father to him. However, after Ernst disrupts a public meeting and puts the growth of his organization at risk, Peter murders him at the urging of Hitler.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Peter tries to do this to his mysterious mentor, only to run away when he reveals himself to be Hitler.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Hitler claims he invented the darkness and conquered the world before he reveals himself.
  • Casting Gag: Paul Mazursky and Howard Caine, who played the neo-Nazi thugs Frank and Nick Bloss, were Jewish in real life.
  • Chromosome Casting: This episode has no speaking roles for women.
  • Dare to Be Badass: Ernst gives himself this treatment before confronting Peter. As he and a friend sit in a bar across the street from the assembly hall where Peter's rally is taking place, Ernst grimly remarks on how he's heard all this before, and how he's already seen where it leads...and how easy it was, because no one could believe it was happening until it was too late. At that point he realizes that he has to do something while there's still time to stop history from repeating.
    Ernst: But not again. It can't happen again. We mustn't let it.
  • Dramatic Irony: Peter's downfall and death is not caused by the murder of Ernst, the Holocaust survivor who humiliated him at the rally, but by the murder of neo-Nazi follower Nick, who was killed by Peter in a False Flag Operation to blame the Jews.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: The reveal of Hitler's identity.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Peter is reluctant to order Nick's murder, and later agonizes over the possibility of killing Ernst. Possibly subverted in that he goes through with both of these deeds anyway.
  • Evil Is Hammy: It doesn't get much hammier than a Hitler-wannabe orator played by Dennis Hopper.
  • False Flag Operation: At Hitler's urging Peter has chubby Butt-Monkey Nick killed so that he can blame the group's enemies.
  • Hero Antagonist: Ernst and the police.
  • Hijacked by Ganon: The cruel irony of Peter's attempt to resurrect the Nazis as a legitimate political movement is that he doesn't become the new Fuhrer but rather a mere puppet following orders from the old Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler himself. The episode ends with Peter dead and Hitler moving on to find new recruits, not-so subtly implying that so long as there are preachers of hate and intolerance, Hitler might as well be behind it.
  • History Repeats: Ernst believes that no one believed Hitler was much of a threat until it was too late, and then realizes that it could happen again. He manages to stop Peter's movement, but it's implied that Hitler will continue to find a successor and as long as their is hate and prejudice in this world, he might just succeed.
  • Historical Ugliness Update: Curt Conway, who played Hitler, does not look like the real Hitler at all, which is especially obvious when he actually has to stand by a photograph of the real Hitler. He looks old, wrinkled and squat compared to the real deal, though part of it could be justified as how Hitler would have appeared if he lived to the early 1960s.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Not that Hitler needed much help, but the episode portrays him as an incarnation of pure evil, with him boasting of how he invented darkness as well as the implication that he's immortal as long as hatred and prejudice exists. However, it is clear that this is allegorical: the point is to treat actual bigots *as if* they are following "orders" delivered to the future from Hitler's books, ideology and life.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Peter's False Flag Operation, which is to murder Nick and then blame his death on the Jews, backfired. Instead of making a martyr to elevate his neo-Nazi movement, Peter ends up becoming the prime suspect for the police investigation, which ultimately leads to Peter's death.
  • Hypocrite: Peter condemns those who disagree with him as "communists" yet tries to justify his own views as just "differing opinions".
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Peter comes across as one in the opening scene, being unable to win over even the smallest crowd due to his lack of charisma.
  • Manchild: According to Ernst, Peter at his core is still the same sad and lonely boy who still runs to him for comfort. It's the only reason he hasn't entirely given up on Peter yet.
  • Odd Friendship: It doesn't get much odder than a Holocaust survivor and a Neo-Nazi.
  • Oh, Crap!: When Peter's mysterious benefactor steps out of the shadows and reveals his true identity, the look on Peter's face is a bugged-eyed, slack-jawed expression that, frankly, only Dennis Hopper could pull off.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Hitler's ghost appears to Peter in order to help his small, ineffectual neo-Nazi group to grow and gain influence. He's even implied to no longer be a mere ghost, but having become the embodiment of hatred and prejudice itself.
  • Paper Tiger: Peter, as lampshaded by Hitler:
    Hitler: You have the voice of a lion and the instincts of a rabbit.
  • Reaction Shot: During Peter's first speech, as he calls out the actors in his conspiracy theory ("Palestine! Africa! The Vatican!") the camera cuts quickly to someone watching (a Jewish person, a Catholic, and an African-American) and their reactions of a very clear non-verbal "Hey..."
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Ernst delivers one of these to Peter in front of his audience:
    Ernst: I can tell them what you were saying. I've heard it before. On a hundred different street corners. It was drivel then and it is drivel now...
    Well, what is this one here? The new model? A 1963 Führer right off the assembly line? Well, this one is not so new. He's not so fresh. This one is nothing but a cheap copy!
    ... Well, let me tell you about this one.
    About the breed, the species.
    They're all alike. They are all alike...
    Problem children. Sick, sad, neurotics who take applause like a needle...
    Listen to me, Peter. And let them listen. Or else I'll tell them about a quaking, whimpering boy who cried on my couch; who still cries on my couch...
    Yeah, put me down, put me down. Shut me up. Stifle me— why don't you? WHY CAN'T YOU?
    [grabs Peter's armband] Because this is your courage right here. This is your strength. And the torchlights and the crowd and the Sieg heil!
    [Peter hits him] The rebuttal. The only sort of answer your kind knows how to give.
    [turning to audience] This is your Führer. He's yours. I give him to you. A gift from the sewers.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Peter has one throughout the episode, culminating in his death.
  • Villain Protagonist: The main character, Peter, is a violent Neo-Nazi thug.
  • We Didn't Start the Führer: It's implied that "Hitler" is a supernatural demon seeking out Neo-Nazis to advise, hoping to plunge the world into fascism once again. And the closing narration makes it clear that Hitler will continue to live so long as hate and prejudice live as well.
  • While You Were in Diapers: Hitler gives Peter Vollmer a speech to this effect, quoted above.
  • You Cannot Kill An Idea:
    • In his dying words, Ernst tells this to Peter.
    • This also applies to Hitler as Rod Serling's ending narration reminds the audience that he will continue to live so long as hatred and prejudice exist.