Ray Bradbury Theater – Usher II (S4E5)

Almost a triple-spin.  I tried to re-read the original The Fall of the House of Usher, but just couldn’t get through it.  I did give it a skim while waiting in line at Comcast, though. Sadly, I did not have War and Peace or Moby Dick handy.

rbtusherii04The episode starts off with a nice self-referential joke.  Two men — in Bradbury’s universe, presumably firemen  — shovel books into an incinerator.  It is then set to Fahrenheit 451.  Sadly it is all downhill from there.

Stendahl (Patrick Macnee) is reading aloud from Poe’s short story.  I would guess much to his architect’s relief, he stops after the first interminable sentence and shuts the book. The architect, Bigelow, has just built “the 2nd House of Usher” for Stendahl.  By his design it is desolate and terrible and bleak.

bradbury02The names Usher and Poe mean nothing to Bigelow as all Poe’s books were banned and burned 20 years earlier.  Hawthorne, Steinbeck, Vonnegut are all cited as being burned, but one of those things is not like the others.  Tales of fantasy and horror were forbidden — not sure that applies to Steinbeck; unless you are a rabbit.  Or an Okie.

Macnee has filled Usher II with forbidden films and forbidden books.  This draws a visit from Inspector Garrett of the Division of Moral Climates.  They can’t allow Stendahl’s “haunted house” to stand — any sort of horror or fantasy or departure from realism has been outlawed.  Garrett says the house will have to be torn down.  Macnee kills the inspector and replaces him with a robot.

Inspector Gadget — er Garrett — goes back to his office and invites the rest of the Division of Moral Climates to enjoy a fantastical going-away party at Usher II before they tear it down.  Even in the future year of 2005, rules are for little people.  Turns out the Inspector had sent an android to Usher II — so the human Inspector is still alive.  At the party, he witnesses, what I assume is a Masque of the Red Death costume ball.  Also a Pit.  Also a Pendulum.  Also a Premature Burial.  Also etc.  All based on Poe works burned by the Mortal Climates people.

rbtusherii11Stendahl leads Garrett to the basement. Unfortunately for the Inspector, Stendahl is carrying an Amontillado, and he is walled-in just as in Poe’s story.  Macnee jabs him for not having read the story and thus knowing that this was coming, telling him “goose-stepping morons like yourself should try reading books instead of burning them.”  OK, that was Indiana Jones’ father, but the sentiment is the same.

Outside, Stendahl reads aloud the last sentence of Poe’s story and a carriage carries him away from Usher II.

The episode is pretty faithful to the short story except, oh yeah, it takes place on MARS!  It is included in The Martian Chronicles.  The short story is set in 2005 whereas the episode is set in 2125.  I understand it had to be post-dated since the “future” date of 2005 was getting pretty close, but why was it pushed back so far?  Living to see speech codes and political correctness, surely Bradbury didn’t see things getting better.

Strangely, in 2005 on Mars, the story ends with Stendahl leaving Usher II in a helicopter. In 2125 on Earth, he leaves in a horse-drawn carriage.  Maybe the Moral Climate Change people showed up too.


  • First published in the April 1950 issue of Thrilling Wonder stories as Carmnival of Madness.  I suspect it did not originally take place on Mars, and Bradbury added a few words to shoe-horn it into da Chronicles.
  • It seems pretty obvious that the main character was named after Stendhal, a founder of the realism movement in literature.  But why change the spelling? That’s not very realistic.

Ray Bradbury Theater – Mars is Heaven (S4E1)

rbtmarsisheaven01Hal Linden (Barney Miller), or is it Barney Miller (Hal Linden)? No, it’s Hal Linden (Barney Miller), is the captain of a ship heading to Mars.

Linden, playing Captain Black, disembarks along with crew-members Henley and Larson to explore Mars.  After a few seconds, they determine that the atmosphere is “thin for breathing, but there’s enough oxygen.”  Showing the same scientific acumen as the crew of Prometheus, they take off their helmets.

Mars isn’t quite what they expect.  Their landing area is the expected barren red landscape, but then they hear a rooster crowing.  They hear birds.  After a short walk, they see trees, grass, tennis courts.  They’re in Club Red; except without the red.

rbtmarsisheaven02One of the men suggests they somehow landed back on earth.  Captain Black assures him, “we traveled 300 million miles, tracked by telemetry every inch of the way.”  As usual, no one could be troubled to pick up an almanac when this story was filmed.  When Mars is on the other side of the sun, it is still never 300 million miles away.  Even the original short story didn’t use this stat.

One man finds his old tennis racket, one sees his grandfather.  Black sees his younger brother and goes with him back to his parent’s house.  He is reunited with his dead mother and dead father.  It is revealed that the house he has come back to actually burned to the ground years ago, killing his brother.

In the short story, one woman — whatever the Martian equivalent of a blonde is, maybe a redhead — almost gives away the game when she threatens to have her husband come outside and “beat them with all his fists.”  Although, really, she could have meant all two of them.

That night, Linden finally begins to question what they have found on Mars.  He wonders if maybe the Martians knew they were coming.  That they may have used their minds to create this world for the humans.  To put them off-guard, to separate them so they could be picked off by people they trusted.


For some reason, the astronauts wear ASA patches instead of NASA.

As Black leaves the room, an alien hand clasps his shoulder.  We then cut to caskets resting on the barren red Martian soil, 3 helmets atop them.

The idea of finding a replica on earth is old hat now, also having appeared on The Twilight Zone.  When it was published 1948, maybe it was new hat.  I guess the title Mars is Heaven isn’t really a spoiler since it is revealed to not be heaven.

In the story, the Martians inexplicably retain their human form even after the astronauts are dead, and give them a proper burial.  Equally inexplicably, in the episode, we see the coffins but they fade from the shot and disappear completely.


  • Pointless Duplication:  In the story, Black’s brother died 26 years ago.  He is now 26 years old.  The townspeople say the year is 1926.
  • The short story Mars is Heaven was included in The Martian Chronicles as The Third Expedition.
  • Coincidentally, director John Laing is also credited on an episode of The Hitchhiker which I just watched.  The first disk of that series was so awful, I couldn’t bring myself to write about it.  His episode was probably one of the better ones, though.
  • For some reason, Bradbury alone among sci-fi writers is given license to have breathable air on Mars and other basic scientific inaccuracies.