Showing posts with label Ida Lupino. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ida Lupino. Show all posts

Monday, September 3, 2012

7 x 7 – My Favorite Posts


Paula’s Cinema Club tagged me with a 7 x 7 Link award. I have a hard time getting myself organized for these posts, but I was able to find some time to get this done. Similar to the Liebster Award, it’s aim is to help folks “get to know” your blog.

The 7 x 7 Award highlights a blogger’s favorite pieces of work and is passed on to others so that they too can do the same as a way to promote posts and/or blogs.

Unlike the Liebster, the questions do not vary, but like the Liebster, some are more difficult than others. So here we go.

1.Tell everyone something that no one else knows about you.
I was a painfully shy kid. I avoided having contact or conversations at all costs. I would go so far as to walk a block out of my way so I wouldn’t have to say hello or speak to someone. That’s obviously changed. Now it’s hard to shut me up!

2. Link to one of the posts that I think best fits the following categories:
a. Most beautiful piece: Beautiful is a lofty word for a blog post, but one of my best posts was for the Ida Lupino blogathon, “Ida Lupino: A Lasting Legacy in Hollywood.” A big fan of Lupino’s, it gave me a reason to write the post. I was very happy with the results and the response from readers.

b. Most helpful piece: I think my most helpful piece is from a series of post I started called “Classic Films in Context.” I examine a classic film in the context of when it was released, how it was received, and what makes it significant today. The first film I featured was the 1931 version of Cimarron starring Richard Dix and Irene Dunne. Dunne was nominated for Best Actress (first of a total of five nominations) and it’s the film that made her a superstar. Within a year, she totally eclipsed the top-billed Dix, going on to successes in musicals, dramas, and comedies.

c. Most popular piece: By far, my most popular piece is “Becoming Grace Kelly,” a post I wrote in April 2010. It’s had over 6,300 reads, which is mind-boggling to me. The irony is I’m not the biggest Kelly fan—although I am one—in the world. I just thought a lot of people would be interested in a post on the movie star who became a princess, but I never imagined it would be this successful. I timed it to release with the exhibit of her clothes and accessories at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London that year. Almost every month, it’s in the top-five of my most read posts.

d. Most controversial piece: I don’t think I have many controversial posts, but my post on The Hunger Games for the Future Classic Movies blogathon got some interesting conversations going when it was picked up by Movie Fanfare, the blog hosted by Movies Unlimited. Folks were talking big theological issues, which was an area I never touched on, nor did I really consider when writing the post.

e. Surprisingly successful piece: Besides the Kelly post already mentioned, my post on the science fiction classic This Island Earth is another one that ends up in the top-five posts for the week, every once in a while since first posted June 2011.

f. Most underrated piece: “The Truth About “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” a screwball comedy starring Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery hasn’t gotten a lot of love, so to speak. I’m a big fan of Lombard and this comedy, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, of all people. It can stand next to the screwball comedies directed by Howard Hawks, Preston Sturges, and Gregory LaCava any day, in my opinion.

g. Most pride-worthy piece: “Val Lewton: The genius nobody knows” is a post I’m very proud of. Lewton is someone who deserves more recognition. His movies influenced just about every filmmaker working today, including Martin Scorsese who produced a documentary on Lewton several years ago. Honorable mention: “Mitchell Leisen: The Best Director Nobody Knows.” This was my first post to be picked up by Movie Fanfare.

3. Pass this award on to seven other blogs/bloggers:


Another Old Movie Blog
They Don’t Make ’Em Like They Used To
Speakeasy
Once Upon a Screen
The Shades of Black and White
What Happened to Hollywood
Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings

More blogs/bloggers worthy of the award:

Bobby Rivers TV
Carl Rollyson

Cinema_Fanatic
Immortal Ephemera



If you’ve already gotten a 7 x 7, please feel free to pass it along to the deserving blogger of your choice.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Classic Movie Man’s Top Posts of 2011

The Year in Review
As 2011 comes to a close, I thought it would be fun to revisit the top-ten posts of the year. We lost some classic movie legends, including Elizabeth Taylor and Farley Granger. This year, Classic Movie Man taught another film class at Facets Film School: Elegant and Madcap: The Incredible Versatility of Irene Dunne. It was great fun introducing this remarkable actress and movie star to folks who were not familiar with her body of work.

Below are the top-ten Classic Movie Man posts for 2011. Are any of your favorites on this list?

Number 10Classic Movie Man’s Guilty Pleasure: “Devotion” This fictionalization of the lives of the Brontë sisters was short on the facts (according to critics of the day), but is great melodrama with Ida Lupino as Emily and Olivia de Haviland as Charlotte. Paul Henried, Nancy Coleman, and Arthur Kennedy round out the talented cast. The film score by Erich Wolfgand Korngold is lush and beautiful, as is the movie’s overall production.


Number 9Jeanne Crain: More Than Just a Pretty Face. A personal favorite of mine, Crain was one of the most popular movie stars during the late-1940s to early-1950s. So popular was Crain that when she passed away in 2003, Turner Classic Movies’ Robert Osborn called her “the Julia Roberts of the day.” She appeared in some great films, including A Letter to Three Wives, Apartment for Peggy, and Pinky, the latter earning Crain her only Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.

Fred MacMurray
Number 8Farley Granger, star of Hitchcock’s “Strangers on a Train.” Granger was a product of the Hollywood dream factory. Plucked from obscurity and signed to a movie contract by Samuel Goldwyn, he was featured in some popular films during the mid-1940s like The Purple Heart and The North Star. While under contract to Goldwyn, Granger’s best roles were a result of being loaned out to other studios. Two of his most famous films, Rope and Strangers on a Train both directed by Alfred Hitchcock, were made on loan to Warner Bros.

Number 7Fred MacMurray: Nice-Guy Movie Star. Mostly remembered today for his iconic TV role as Steven Douglas in My Three Sons, MacMurray had a substantial movie career. In fact, MacMurray was the highest paid movie star in the world in 1943.

Number 6Ida Lupino: A Lasting Legacy in Hollywood. Lupino not only was a great movie star, but she was a writer, director, and producer of independent films in the late-1940s and 50s. She was one of the only women directors working in Hollywood, directing classic TV episodes of The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Untouchables. In 1966, Lupino finally got a big budget production to direct: The classic comedy The Trouble With Angels starring Rosalind Russell and Halley Mills.

Number 5Classic Movie Man’s Guilty Pleasure: “Elephant Walk.” This action-adventure melodrama starred a very young Elizabeth Taylor, Dana Andrews, and Peter Finch. Released in 1954, the main action takes place on a Ceylon tea plantation run by Finch. Feeling neglected, Taylor turns to overseer Andrews. Some great color cinematography and those stampeding elephants make this a fun movie to watch.

A lovely studio portrait of the very lovely Joan Bennett
Number 4“Jane Eyre”: A Golden Age Classic. One of my favorite classic films, I thought a review was in order when a new version by director Cary Fukunaga released this past spring. Featuring beatuiful black and white cinematography and a wonderful performance from Joan Fontaine as Jane. Orson Welles is a little over-the-top as Rochester, but it doesn’t take anything away from the overall production. It also features a young unbilled Elizabeth Taylor as Jane’s doomed childhood friend Helen.

Number 3Joan Bennett: Almost Scarlet O’Hara, But Always a Star. Bennett almost snagged the role of Scarlet O’Hara, but she got over that disappointment fairly quickly. She starred in musicals, comedies, and dramas, becoming one of the screen’s great femme fatales. Bennett gave terrific performances in three films directed by Fritz Lang: Man Hunt, Scarlet Street, and The Woman in the Window. After her movie glory days were over, she became a pop-culture icon as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard in daytime TV’s Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows. She was also one of the few actresses who could realistically play mother to Elizabeth Taylor (she physically looked as beautiful). She did this twice in Father of the Bride and Father’s Little Dividend.

Elizabeth Taylor
Number 2This Island Earth: 1950s Science Fiction Classic. One of the best flying saucer flicks, the film benefits from a decent script, great special effects, and more than competent performances by the three lead performers: Rex Reason, Faith Domergue, and Jeff Morrow.

Number 1Elizabeth Taylor: Born To Be a Star. With Taylor’s passing, an era passed with her. One of the last great movie stars to come out of the studio system, she epitomized Hollywood style and glamour. Her beautiful looks notwithstanding, Taylor gave some memorable screen performances and won two Best Actress Academy Awards during her long career. As famous for her well-publicized off-screen life, she was the quintessential movie star.

Thanks for reading the Classic Movie Man blog in 2011. I hope you’ll continue to read and follow this blog into 2012 and beyond!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Classic Movie Man’s Guilty Pleasure: “Devotion”

In 1943, Warner Brothers set out to film an account of the Brontë siblings, focusing mainly on the lives of authors Charlotte (Jane Eyre) and Emily (Wuthering Heights). In the 1930s and 1940s, the studio produced many successful historical biographies. Film versions of both Wuthering Heights (1939) and Jane Erye (1943), produced by rival studios, hit box office gold, so wouldn’t a movie on the lives of the authors and real-life sisters be a hit too?  That was part of the thinking behind Devotion, a production that seemed to be doomed from the beginning, but succeeds in spite of itself.

Lupino and DeHavilland Set To Star
Before production started, Warner Brothers had hoped that movie star sisters Joan Fontaine and Olivia DeHavilland would play Emily and Charlotte respectively. Fontaine wasn’t available, so Warner Brothers replaced her with Ida Lupino, who was already under contract to the studio, as was DeHavilland. Nancy Coleman played youngest sister Anne, and Arthur Kennedy played Branwell, the only boy in the Brontë brood. The cast was rounded out with Paul Henried as the Reverend Arthur Nicholls, Sydney Greenstreet as William Makepeace Thackery, and Montagu Love, in his last film role, as Rev. Brontë, patriarch and widowed father of four gifted and complex children.

From left to right: Olivia DeHavilland, Ida Lupino, Nancy Coleman
Top Production
The studio employed some of its top talent for the film’s production. Curtis Bernhardt (Possessed, 1947) was tapped as the director. Oscar-winner, Ernest “Ernie” Haller (Gone With The Wind, 1939) was assigned the cinematography duties, and Perc Westmore was on hand for makeup. The lush score was composed by Erich Wolfgand Korngold who won an Academy Award for scoring The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).

Don't Know Much About History
One of the major criticisms of the film is that it plays fast and loose with the facts, although Hollywood biographies of the period were hardly known for their absolute accuracy. As is often noted, the Brontë sisters were not famous for their attractiveness, but Lupino, DeHavilland, and Coleman are all quite beautiful in the movie. But come on, it’s Hollywood where there are no plain Janes.

For poor girls, they sure have some great clothes!
Poor, But Nicely Dressed
The Brontë’s weren’t wealthy by any stretch; in fact, they were quite poor. Jane Erye’s Lowood school was partly based on the four older sisters’ experiences at the Clergy Daughter’s School at Cowan Bridge, where the eldest Brontë daughters, Maria and Elizabeth became ill and died. Charlotte and Emily returned to Howarth, England, and were homeschooled by their father. The movie version hints at their lower economic circumstances, but the sisters Brontë are always beautifully, if simply, dressed and coiffed.

In the film, older sister Charlotte, as portrayed by DeHavilland, is somewhat self-centered and a bit snobby compared with Lupino’s more cerebral and serious portrayal of Emily. As the youngest sister Anne, Coleman doesn’t have much to go on. Her character has minimal screen time and no real story line to follow. Kennedy’s Branwell is a tortured self-destructive soul. The real Branwell struggled with drugs and alcohol, so Kennedy’s portrayal does seem close to the truth.

Lupino and Paul Henried starred together
in In Our Time (1944)
A Faithful Setter Dog?
As melodrama, Devotion is quite satisfying. Lupino and DeHavilland obviously took their roles seriously and give excellent performances, as does Kennedy. Henried is fine as Nichols, although some critics at the time didn’t find him at his best. Bosley Crowther in his New York Times review said, “Paul Henreid plays Arthur Nicholls with the air of a faithful setter dog.” In the broader context of his review, that was actually a compliment, since Crowther didn’t like the film overall. But Crowther and many other critics couldn’t get past the liberties the screenwriters took with the facts.

A Love That Never Was
In the film, Emily and Charlotte are both in love with Nicholls; however, there is no evidence that Emily was involved with her father’s curate or even had any feelings for him. Charlotte eventually married Nicholls, but she refused his first proposal and some Brontë historians believe Charlotte, although fond of Nichols, was never really in love with him. In the film Charlotte is infatuated with Professor Heger while studying in Brussels. Again there is no evidence that any romance took place. Events are out of order, which bothered purists like Crowther, but for lovers of classic film, Devotion is fun to watch.

DeHavilland starred with John Lund in Too Each His Own,
at Paramount after she successfully sued Warner Brothers.
Loving Lupino and DeHavilland
I love Lupino’s brooding, wistful Emily. When she shows Nicholls the moors and the house in the distance that she calls Wuthering Heights, with Korngold’s score at full tilt, it’s wonderful. Emily’s dream sequences are artfully done, too. The dark mysterious man on horseback haunting Emily looks quite spectacular on the screen. DeHavilland’s snobby and bossy Charlotte can be obnoxious, but she’s far from unlikable. When she professes her love for Profesor Heger, she’s convincing and sincere. Who cares if it didn’t really happen? It’s effective filmmaking.

Three Years on the Shelf
When the film wrapped, Warner Brothers held back its release. There are a few stories explaining their decision. Some say the studio delayed the release because they felt a costume drama wouldn’t play well during the height of World War II. The studios were sensitive about showing too much opulence on the screen during the war years, but rival Twentieth Century Fox released Jane Eyre in 1943 to great reviews and good business. The other, and more intriguing explanation, involves DeHavilland and her lawsuit against the studio. During the studio era, stars signed long-term contracts, typically for a period of seven years. Under that system, actors were paid a weekly salary and expected to perform in movies assigned them. If a star refused a role, they were put on suspension without pay until production of the film they refused to star in was completed. In addition to not paying the star’s salary, studios added time spent on suspension to their contracts, potentially extending them almost indefinitely. DeHavilland was fighting this practice in court.

Banned From the Premier
The story goes that so angry was the studio with DeHavilland that they refused to promote her career during the litigation. Whether or not their anger would go so far as to shelve a big-budget movie like Devotion to make a point, seems over the top. However, movie moguls from the period could be vindictive and spiteful. When the film was finally released, DeHavilland was under contract to Paramount. Warner Brothers wouldn’t let her attend the premier. Even worse, they gave her third billing behind Henried, which would never have happened had she been in the good graces of the brothers Warner. Considering how hot DeHavilland’s career was after she left Warner Brothers, it would have made sense, from a business perspective, to have let her participate in the film’s publicity. Hard to tell if we’ll ever really know the story behind Devotion’s delayed release, but it’s fun speculating.


The Classic Movie Man’s Verdict
Devotion may not be an accurate portrayal of the lives of the most famous of the Brontë sisters, but as film entertainment, it’s a lot of fun. Lupino, DeHavilland, Henried, and the rest of the cast are such pros, they make you care about their characters. Would it have been a better film if they spent more time on historical accuracy? Perhaps, but did audiences complain that both the 1939 version of Wuthering Heights and the 1943 version of Jane Eyre left out major plot points and characters? Hardly. That’s one of the reasons Devotion remains one of my favorite guilty movie pleasures.

What do you think? Is there a classic movie that you love, but the critics hate? Please feel free to share your favorite guilty movie pleasures here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ida Lupino: A Lasting Legacy in Hollywood

Ida Lupino was a major movie star during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Born in England to a show business family with roots going back to the Renaissance, she came to Hollywood in 1933 as a bleached blond Jean Harlow look-a-like. After a breakout performance in The Light That Failed (1939), Lupino moved on to starring roles at Warner Brothers as one of their top contract players. When she left the studio in the late 1940s, she began thinking about working behind the scenes as a director. Lupino eventually formed her own production company and directed a series of low-budget melodramas. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, she was the only female director of note working in Hollywood.
The story goes that Lupino was signed on at Warner Brothers to keep the lot’s top female star, Bette Davis in line. The truth behind that tale is open to speculation, but Lupino bolstered it by self-deprecatingly calling herself “the poor man’s Bette Davis.” It’s true that some of the roles Davis turned down went to Lupino, but this type of thing happened regularly during the height of the studio system.
In 1940, Lupino starred in They Drive By Night alongside Warner heavy-hitters George Raft and Ann Sheridan. The film also starred Humphrey Bogart, but he was billed fourth behind Lupino. As Lana Carlsen, the unfaithful wife of Alan Hale, Lupino literally tore up the screen. So compelling was her characterization, that movie audiences supposedly applauded when her character breaks down in front of a packed courtroom. With that performance, Lupino showed she was a talent to be reckoned with.
As one of the hottest new stars in the movies, Lupino was cast next as Marie, a hard luck dame with a soft spot for career criminal, Roy “Mad Dog” Earle (Humphrey Bogart ) in High Sierra (1941). So hot was Lupino that she received top billing over Bogart. The movie is credited with making a major star out of Bogart, but Lupino gives a multi-layered performance that showed she could hold her own opposite anyone. As the film progresses and Marie’s love for Earle grows, Lupino’s characterization becomes more complex. We see her vulnerability, her tenderness. A classic that holds up today, High Sierra’s success owes as much to Lupino’s performance as Bogart’s. And you gotta love her close-up at the end, looking luminous in her grief, tinged with happiness for her love who is free at last in death.
Lupino starred in three other films in 1941: The Sea Wolf, Out of the Fog, and Ladies in Retirement on loan to Columbia. Once again, she proved that she could hold her own against the bigger-than-life Edward G. Robinson and John Garfield in The Sea Wolf and Garfield again in Out of the Fog. And like Davis, she wasn’t afraid to immerse herself into the character she was playing even if it meant downplaying her looks, as she did in Ladies in Retirement. Of her performance in that film, The New York Times wrote, “Give Ida Lupino the largest measure of credit, for her role is the clue to the suspense. Perhaps she is too slight to portray the stolid threat that lay in Flora Robson’s original [stage] performance, but she is none the less the thin ribbon of intensity that makes the film hair-raising.”
In 1942 Lupino was loaned out to Twentieth Century Fox for two films. The first was Moontide, costarring French star Jean Gabin, making his American movie debut. The second, Life Begins at Eight-Thirty, costarring Monty Wooley. Both films featured stronger male than female roles, but Lupino’s presence in both did not go unnoticed. Of her performance in Moontide, The New York Times’s Bosley Crowther had this to say: “Miss Lupino makes a taut and sleazy slattern who is prettily revivified by love.” And as Wooley’s handicapped daughter in Life Begins at Eight-Thirty, Crowther said, in his December 10, 1942 review in the Times, that “Miss Lupino plays the crippled daughter with compassion and simplicity.” In 1943, Lupino would star in a film that would bring her great critical acclaim.
The Hard Way (1943) is a tough tale of two sisters trying to escape their dreary and impoverished existence. Ironically the mining town from which they want to escape is called Green Hill, where there is nothing green or leafy. Under the sharp direction of Vincent Sherman, Lupino gives one of her most complex and nuanced performances as Helen Chernen, Katies (Joan Leslie) pushy success-driven sister. Lupino is Katie’s “stage sister,” exploiting the younger sibling’s talent while vicariously living through her. So compelling was Lupino’s performance that she won the New York Film Critics Circle Award in 1943. For some unknown reason, she was overlooked come Oscar time. (Lupino was never nominated for an Academy Award.) In the hands of a lesser actress, Helen would have been merely a villain. The beauty of Lupino’s performance is that while you don’t necessarily like her actions, you understand them. She isn’t perfect for sure, but neither is her sister or the others in the rough and tumble world of show business that they inhabit.
Now an established star at Warner Brothers, Lupino was not always offered the best roles on the lot. Bette Davis was still the queen of the studio and had first refusal on the choicest scripts. Not one to take just any role, Lupino was often put on suspension by the studio. It was during these periods that she became interested in working behind the scenes. A naturally friendly individual, calling everyone she knew “darling,” Lupino learned from the contract directors, cinematographers, and others about the technical side of filmmaking. It would be a while before Lupino would move behind the camera.
In the mid-to late 1940s, Lupino starred alongside some of the top talent at the studio, including Errol Flynn, Olivia DeHavilland, and Paul Henried. One of her best roles during this period was as Petey Brown in The Man I Love (1947), directed by the legendary Raoul Walsh. As the tough-talking club singer, her Petey is the epitome of independence. As the take-charge career woman, Lupino showed she could carry a picture. The Man I Love was popular enough for Jack Warner to offer the actress a four-year exclusive contract. Lupino decided to try her hand as a freelance artist and turned down Warner’s offer.
Her first role after leaving Warner Brothers was the enjoyable and popular success Road House (1948). Released by Twentieth Century Fox and directed by the underrated Jean Negulesco, the film costarred Cornel Wilde, Celeste Holm, and Richard Widmark at his loony best. Lupino plays Lily Stevens, a torch singer from Chicago, slumming at Jeffty’s road house and bowling alley, owned by Widmark’s character. A predatory Widmark stalks Lupino when he finds out that she favors his “best friend,” Wilde, over him. As interesting as this triangle is, some of the film’s most enjoyable moments are when Lupino sings and plays the piano. Her modest gravely voice has an appealing style that is hard to resist.
As the 1940s came to a close and with good roles harder and harder to come by, Lupino formed her own production company with second husband Collier Young. She produced and directed a series of low budget films utilizing the skills she gleaned from working with the male directors at Warner Brothers. The movies Lupino made during this period were gritty and for the time, groundbreaking. Not Wanted (1949) dealt with unwanted pregnancy and Outrage (1950) told the story of a young woman raped on her way home from work, hardly popular themes at the time. Lupino was now the only working woman director and the second to become a member of the Director’s Guild. When television came on the scene, Lupino hit her stride. She directed numerous episodes of popular TV series, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Have Gun Will Travel, The Rifleman, The Untouchables, and Lupino has the distinction of being the only woman to ever direct and star in an episode of The Twilight Zone. Not only did she direct in television, she guest starred on many TV shows herself, staying busy throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Ida Lupino is the only woman to direct an episode of the classic  TV series.
Ida Lupino’s legacy is a long one. As an actress, she has a body of work that holds up alongside the best of her contemporaries. As a director, she paved the way for future generations of women. It’s amazing that the small fragile-looking Lupino had such a strong and wide-reaching influence that continues today. Lupino died of a stroke while being treated for colon cancer on August 3, 1995. She was 77 years old.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Classic film of the week: "Road House" (1948)

Maybe it's not exaclty a classic, but it is great fun and one of my favorite melodrama's from the late 1940s. Road House stars Ida Lupino in her first role as a "freelance" movie star. After her contract with Warner Bros. ended, Twentieth Century Fox mogul, Darryl F. Zanuck hired Lupino for the lead role of Lily Stevens.

In the film, Lily is hired by Jefty Robbins (Richard Widmark at his looney best) to sing at his road house near the Canadian border. Little does she know that Jefty has more on his mind than hiring a new singer. Enter Pete Morgan (Cornell Wilde), Jefty's friend and road house manager. At first, Pete and Lily are at odds, but soon a romance develops between them, enraging Jefty. Jefty is so crazy with jealousy over Pete and Lily's romance that he sets Pete up and has him arrested and tried for burglary. In a perverted twist, Jefty asks the judge to remand Pete to his custody so he can break him and Lily. Lily and Pete are befriended by coworker Susie Smith (Celeste Holm in a thankless role) who trys to act as a buffer between the two lovers and Jefty.

Lupino's characterization as the hard-edged lounge singer is a hoot. She smokes, drinks, and plays the piano all at the same time, making it seem natural and easy. Not too many actresses could make this work, but Lupino does with great skill, including giving Lily a voice that sounds like whiskey and gravel. The heat generated between Lupino and Wilde is pretty hot, even by today's standards. Director Jean Negulesco keeps the action moving, building things toward the dramatic conclusion.

Road House may not be a classic in the truest scense of the word, but it's a ton of fun and not to be missed. The DVD, part of the Fox Film Noir series, is crisp and sharp with commentary by film historians Kim Morgan and Eddie Muller, who may have had a few drinks at Jefty's before they started talking. A short featurette, Killer Instincts: Richard Widmark and Ida Lupino at Twentieth Century Fox is worth watching.
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