Film Noir File: Deneuve, Buñuel cast spell with ‘Belle de Jour’

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK: Two by Luis Buñuel as part of Catherine Deneuve Day

Tristana” (1970, Luis Buñuel). Monday, Aug. 12, 10 p.m., (7 p.m.).

Belle de Jour” (1967, Luis Buñuel ). Monday, Aug. 12, 2:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m.).

Icy, ravishing Catherine Deneuve stars in “Belle de Jour.”

The most beautiful movie actress alive paired with the most brilliantly rebellious filmmaker.

That was the incendiary match-up of star Catherine Deneuve and director Luis Buñuel – who were most famous for their 1967 French erotic drama “Belle de Jour.” In that great film, Deneuve – so lovely and so classically, radiantly, sexily blonde that she took up residence in male dreams forever – played Severine, a Parisian wife, who becomes a prostitute during the day to escape her boring bourgeois life and her handsome but boring husband (Jean Sorel). Severine then falls into a world of crime, hypocrisy, dreamlike perversity and peril. It was the most popular, and the best-remembered, film of Buñuel’s entire career.

But they made another film that Buñuel preferred and is one of his most personal: “Tristana (1970). Shot in Spain, based on a novella by famed author Benito Perez Galdos (adapted by Buñuel and Julio Alejandro), this not underrated but definitely underseen film starred Deneuve in a role just as alluring and frightening as the wayward Severine: Tristana, the young orphan seduced, exploited and virtually imprisoned by her guardian Don Lope (Fernando Rey). Don Lope, worldly and egocentric, is an aristocrat of radical political beliefs, whose desire for his ward undermines his ethics – even as Tristana, a seeming victim, turns exploiter herself and exacts a terrible revenge.

“Tristana” earned the admiration of Alfred Hitchcock.

“Tristana” is a masterpiece, but it’s also a grimmer, sadder, more psychologically disturbing picture than “Belle de Jour.” Buñuel, notorious for his audacity, has directed some of the cruelest scenes in cinema, in films like “Un Chien Andalou,” “Los Olvidados” and “Viridiana.“ But he never filmed a more wounding scene than Tristana on the balcony: a sequence that delighted no less an epicure of sadism than Alfred Hitchcock. “Tristana! That leg! That leg!” Hitch exclaimed when the two directors met at a party. Buñuel probably only smiled.

Other Deneuve Day highlights include: “Repulsion” (1965, Roman Polanski), “Mississippi Mermaid” (1969, François Truffaut) and “Un Flic” (1972, Jean-Pierre Melville). See TCM for the full list. Films are in French (“Tristana” in Spanish) with English subtitles. [Read more...]

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Film noir flourishes at TCM film festival in Hollywood

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was a prime location at the TCM fest. Photo by John Nowak

From Marie Windsor’s character in “The Killing” telling her wounded husband (played by Elisha Cook, Jr.) to cab to the hospital because she doesn’t feel like calling an ambulance to Grace Kelly fending off her attacker and foiling the eponymous plot in “Dial M for Murder,” on-screen femmes fatales claimed their power at the TCM Classic Film Festival April 25-28 in Hollywood.

Marie Windsor

The film noir slate was particularly rich as was the experience of seeing these film on the big screen – the lighting, the compositions, the close-ups all popped in a way that just doesn’t happen when you watch these titles on TV. Additionally, the festival does a splendid job of finding guests to introduce the films.

At Thursday’s screening of “The Killing,” actress Coleen Gray shared memories of working with director Stanley Kubrick on what would turn out to be his break-though movie. “I knew he was good,” she said. “The cast is wonderful. The story, the director and the actors are in tune. And look at the cutting – it was cut to create a masterpiece. You go and see it and you bow to Mr. Kubrick.” She added that Kubrick spent much of his directorial energy working with Marie Windsor on her hard-as-nails dame Sherry Peatty.

There was film noir aplenty at the TCM festival as well as special guests, panels, a poolside screening and parties. Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda

Fans of Ms. Windsor’s got another chance to connect with her at Friday’s screening of “The Narrow Margin.” The special guest was actress Jacqueline White. Also during that time slot producer Stanley Rubin reminisced about Marilyn Monroe, Robert Mitchum and Otto Preminger before a showing of 1954’s “River of No Return,” a stunning example of CinemaScope’s capabilities.

“[Marilyn] and Otto didn’t like each other and so we became very friendly. She was a perfect lady,” he said, adding that she was friendly and professional with Mitchum as well.

Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe in “River of No Return.”

Watching Monroe and Mitchum, at the height of their physical radiance in this picture, ignited in me a newfound passion for Westerns. (Believe me, this is quite a feat.)

It’s always a toss-up when deciding between a beloved classic and a little-screened rarity. We at FNB decided to mix it up a little and forgo “Notorious,” which I often liken to a glass of Veuve Clicquot, for the chance to see a 1956 Jean Gabin black comedy “La Traversée de Paris.” Gabin is always good, but the film is uneven, without much tension or humor, a bit like a flabby claret.

A much better rare treat was the definitive British film noir “It Always Rains on Sunday,” (1947, Robert Hamer), set in London’s East End, featuring a Jewish family and starring John McCallum as prison escapee Tommy Swann and tough yet oddly dainty Googie Withers as his ex-gf. The Film Noir Foundation’s Eddie Muller introduced the film, noting that it was less a crime flick than an effective portrayal of the plight of the poor and downtrodden.

We watched this with our friend Debra Levine of artsmeme.com. Our verdict: It’s a good, engaging film but what makes it great is the sleek, striking cinematography. “Tommy made some poor choices,” Ms. Levine overheard someone saying as we left the theater. Aah, but we all know that “choice” is but a futile joke in the world of film noir!

Eva Marie Saint discussed “On the Waterfront” with Bob Osborne on Friday night. Photo by John Nowak

Another Friday highlight: the lovely and gracious Eva Marie Saint discussing “On the Waterfront.”

The next morning, early birds were rewarded with a talk by Polly Bergen at the screening of “Cape Fear,” one of Robert Mitchum’s most menacing roles. Later-risers could head to the Egyptian Theatre for the West Coast restoration premiere of 1929’s “The Donovan Affair” with live actors (from Bruce Goldstein and company) and sound effects to recreate the lost soundtrack.

Eddie Muller interviewed Susan Ray at the screening of “They Live by Night.” Photo by John Nowak

Next up was a film noir must-see: “They Live by Night” (1949, Nicholas Ray), the quintessential young-lovers-on-the-run story, with an appearance by his widow Susan Ray and introduction by Eddie Muller. Commenting on Ray’s exploratory directing style, she said: “He did not go in with a preconceived idea of what should happen in a scene. He would set it up, light a fuse and watch. He would prod or provoke if necessary. He didn’t impose truth, he looked for it.”

And on Ray’s interest in telling the stories of young people, often loners or societal outcasts, she noted: “He saw the juice, potential, openness and flexibility of youth and he loved it.” Nick Ray’s gift as a visual poet is never more apparent than when you see “They Live by Night” on the big screen.

Continuing the noir mood was “Tall Target” (1951, Anthony Mann), a period noir, starring Dick Powell, Paula Raymond and Ruby Dee, based on an actual plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln before he could take the oath office in 1861. Film historian Donald Bogle gave an insightful introduction.

Bob Osborne chats with Ann Blyth before Saturday night’s screening of “Mildred Pierce.” Photo by John Nowak

Then it was back to the Egyptian, where the line for “Mildred Pierce,” snaked down a busy side street of Hollywood Boulevard. Special guest actress Ann Blyth said of Joan Crawford, the film’s mega-star: “I have nothing but wonderful memories of her. She was kind to me during the making of the movie and she was kind to me for many years after.”

Popcorn, Coke, Raisinets and watching Crawford pull out all the shoulder-padded stops – what more could a noirista wish for?

Sunday morning kicked off with a choice between “Badlands,” “Gilda,” or sleeping in a bit and we hit snooze. Sorry. They don’t call me Lazy Legs for nothing. Our first movie was 1973’s “Scarecrow,” starring Al Pacino and Gene Hackman – it was one of the best and most resonant films we’ve seen in a long time. The acting is tremendous in this great-looking film, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Director Jerry Schatzberg discussed his work in a pre-film chat with Leonard Maltin.

Anthony Dawson and Grace Kelly in “Dial M for Murder.”

Afterward, we managed to catch the very noirish “Safe in Hell” (1931, William Wellman), starring Dorothy Mackaill as a streetwise blonde who holds her own among a slew of unsavory men while she’s hiding out in the Caribbean. Donald Bogle introduced the movie and William Wellman, Jr. answered questions afterward.

A great way to wrap up the fest, before heading to the after-party at the Roosevelt Hotel, was a 3-D presentation of “Dial M for Murder.” Leonard Maltin and the always-entertaining actor-producer-director Norman Lloyd, 98, discussed 3-D and the working methods of Alfred Hitchcock. This Hitchcock gem, a perfect example of his subversive casting, is often underrated so we particularly enjoyed seeing it; we noticed that just about every seat was taken.

Hats off to TCM for another superb film festival! The staff does an excellent job running every aspect of this event and it is much appreciated.

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French thriller ‘In the House’ opens intimate, mysterious doors

In the House/2012/Mandarin Cinéma, Cohen Media Group/ 105 min.

“In the House,” a new thriller by François Ozon, made me think of this quotation from Alfred Hitchcock: “I’m a writer and, therefore, automatically a suspicious character.”

In Ozon’s story-within-a-story film, there are two writers – a 16-year-old student named Claude (Ernst Umhauer), precocious and a bit of a pretty boy, and jaded, middle-aged Germain (Fabrice Luchini). With one poorly received novel under his belt, Germain now teaches in a French high school and struggles to endure his students’ mediocre essays.

But his passion for teaching is reignited when he reads some of Claude’s writing –personal, thoughtful and fresh – and certainly far more promising than the work his classmates produce. Germain shares his enthusiasm with his wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas) when he brings the assignments home at the end of the day and discusses them with her.

Claude has picked a provocative topic: a voyeuristic account of a classmate’s everyday home life, cozy and comfy, unlike Claude’s apparently more deprived situation. By tutoring Rapha (Bastien Ughetto), Claude gains up-close access to the family, observing their seeming contentment as well as sensing the underlying frustrations of Rapha’s sexy and mysterious mom (Emmanuelle Seigner) and his easygoing, jocular dad (Denis Ménochet).

Against his better judgment, Germain encourages and evaluates Claude’s literary efforts, even though he knows it is a risky experiment. Germain lectures him on the process of writing, the purpose of literature. As Claude’s creative muscle builds, the line between reality and fantasy is blurred, and the stakes are gradually, dangerously raised for all the players in this riveting domestic drama.

I am always curious about the work of director-writer François Ozon, perhaps most famous for “Potiche,” “Swimming Pool,” and “8 Women.” He has an easy touch with bold subject matter, a knack for humor (whether deadpan, dark or absurd) and a talent for making well paced, well acted thrillers that reflect his inventive, sometime s cheeky, vision while paying subtle homage to old-school suspense masters like Hitchcock, Henri-Georges Clouzot and Claude Chabrol.

Where Ozon falters slightly with “In the House” is in the movie’s visuals. Perhaps because it’s based on Juan Mayorga’s play, “The Boy in the Last Row,” Ozon’s version feels a bit too theatrical and stagebound. That said, telling the tales are terrific actors (Luchini, Scott Thomas and Seigner in particular). And, driving the suspense, Claude’s true motivation remains intriguingly elusive throughout.

“In the House” opened Friday in New York and LA at the Landmark.

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Retro window dressing …

In April Vogue: Tobey Maguire and Carolyn Murphy reprise “Rear Window.” Click here to see the whole series.

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The Noir File: A plan to swap murders in Alfred Hitchcock’s great thriller ‘Strangers on a Train’

By Michael Wilmington and Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir, sort of noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All movies below are from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

Farley Granger and Robert Walker chat over lunch in “Strangers on a Train.”

Strangers on a Train” (1951, Alfred Hitchcock). Tuesday, April 2, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.).

Tuesday, March 26

6 a.m. (3 a.m.): “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950, John Huston). With Sterling Hayden, Sam Jaffe and Marilyn Monroe.

12:45 p.m. (9:45 a.m.): “Crime Wave” (1954, Andre De Toth). One of De Toth’s best noirs. In this grim L.A.-shot cops-and-robbers thriller, Gene Nelson plays an ex-con trying to go straight, but stymied by a brutal cop (Sterling Hayden), who wants to nail him for a stick-up and murder committed not by Nelson but by his old prison mates. (The gang, a top-notch crock of crooks, includes Ted De Corsia, Charles Bronson and Timothy Carey). As for Hayden, this is one of his great “heavy” roles. As a cop who won’t give up, while confidently ruining the life of an innocent man, he’s maniacal, terrifying.

Thursday, March 28

7:45 a.m. (4:45 a.m.): “Dead Ringer” (1964, Paul Henreid). Two twin sisters, one obscenely rich, and one financially strapped, have been off each other’s radar for years, ever since bitchy rich Margaret stole bitter not-rich Edith’s wealthy fiancé. Then they meet up at the hubby’s L. A. funeral. Since both sisters are played by Bette Davis, we can expect the same kind of elegant switcheroo (one twin playing another) she pulled in the superior “A Stolen Life” (1946, Curtis Bernhardt), which plays at 11:30 a.m. (8:30 a.m.). Expect to have some fun, despite the fact, or maybe because of it, that the whole story is so implausible, even William Castle might have ducked it.

Bette manages the double role with skill, style and sizzle – though her “Now Voyager” co-star/chum Paul Henreid directs the whole thing without much inspiration, or even inspired silliness. But then again, why ask for the moon, when you have the stars? [Read more...]

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‘Bates Motel’ prequel series starts next week on A&E

I’m looking forward to watching “Bates Motel,” A&E’s prequel series inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960). Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore star; the series starts March 18.

“I got into this wanting to defend who that woman was,” says Farmiga, as quoted in Entertainment Weekly earlier this year. “[In the show] she was just such a beautiful portrait of valiant maternity to me … [it's] a beautiful love letter between a mother and her son, and that’s that’s how I perceive the character. There’s an Edvard Munch painting of the Madonna. It’s really warped and it kind of exudes the sacred and the profane and it’s just psychologically gripping, and that’s what I was so drawn to with Norma. She’s a playground for an actress.”

You can see a preview of the series here. And for now I’m putting roadtrips on the back burner.

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Kim Novak, natural-born star, honored with TCM tribute

One way to Kim Novak’s heart was through first editions.

Airing tonight: Kim Novak: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival. Taped at last year’s festival in Hollywood, this one-hour interview special kicks off a tribute night to Novak. Here, Michael Wilmington shares his appreciation for this actress.

My favorite Kim Novak line comes in “Pal Joey,” Columbia’s dubiously altered, shamefully bowdlerized but still entertaining adaptation of the great musical classic. Novak’s Linda English says to Frank Sinatra’s cabaret Casanova Joey Evans, in a girlish, amused, deliberately non-provocative voice, “You’re right. I do have a great shape. Confidentially, I’m stacked.”

Kim Novak as Judy in Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” (1958).

Stacked she certainly was: a willowy but sumptuous blonde bombshell with short-cropped platinum hair and a 37-inch bosom that never knew a brassiere (“That’s right!” her “Vertigo” director Alfred Hitchcock once said tartly to François Truffaut. “She’s particularly proud of that!”)

Novak, born in 1933, was a Chicago railroad worker’s daughter and a natural beauty with haunting eyes and a vulnerable air, who became a movie star in her early twenties, with 1954’s film noir “Pushover” directed by her lover Richard Quine.

She then became a megastar with 1955’s “Picnic,” directed by the explosive Joshua Logan, in which – as playwright William Inge’s small-town Kansas princess Madge – Novak danced her way into the hearts and loins of William Holden’s ex-football star/drifter Hal, and many more of the males of a susceptible nation.

Her movies of course capitalize on the classic Novak image: a gorgeous fair-haired girl who’s a little troubled by her own long-legged, statuesque beauty, a bit hesitant about pushing herself forward, slinky and self-conscious, sometimes suspicious of men, a traffic-stopping but vulnerable glamour girl with brains and surprising sensitivity.

Like Marilyn Monroe, who often played it dumb, the real-life Novak was a reader. (Sinatra, one of her dates, wooed her with first editions, while Sammy Davis Jr. hit the jackpot in one of the more famous secret love affairs of the ’50s.)

Kim Novak became a megastar with 1955’s “Picnic.” By 1964, she was considered past her prime.

By 1964, she was considered past her prime and, when she played Polly the Pistol, the girlish hooker (with the belly-button jewel and the requisite heart of gold) in Billy Wilder’s “Kiss Me, Stupid,” she shared in the movie’s lousy notices.

Today “Kiss Me” is rightly regarded as a flawed classic, and if original star Peter Sellers hadn’t had his heart attack and dropped out in mid shooting, we might see it as a masterpiece, as some of the French do (“Embrasse-moi, Idiote!”)

But maybe she was too much a creation of the ’50s, of the last fugitive years of the Golden Age, a kind of platinum blonde Jekyll and Hyde. Kim Novak could play it naïve and lower class, or tony and glamorous, and sometimes she played both in the same movie, as in her masterpiece, as Madeleine/Judy in Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”

She perhaps wasn’t a natural actress. She gave some awkward performances. But she was a natural-born star. Kim was one of the movie dream girls of my youth, and I still get a pang looking at her. Confidentially, she’s stacked.

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The Noir File: Bogart and Bacall heat up the big screen in Hawks-Chandler noir classic ‘The Big Sleep’

By Michael Wilmington & Film Noir Blonde

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir, sort of noir and pre-noir on cable TV. All movies below are from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

PICK OF THE WEEK

The Big Sleep” (1946, Howard Hawks). Sunday, March 10, 3:45 a.m. (12:45 a.m.) See review in previous post.

Wednesday, March 6

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): Kim Novak: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival. TCM host Bob Osborne chats with one of Hitchcock’s great blondes, Chicago’s own Kim Novak. Taped at last year’s festival in Hollywood, this one-hour interview special kicks off a tribute night to Novak. After the interview, four of her films will screen: “Bell, Book and Candle” (1958), “Picnic” (1955), “The Man with the Golden Arm” (1955) and “Of Human Bondage” (1964).

Friday, March 8

7:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m.): “Stage Fright” (1950, Alfred Hitchcock). After he left England to make “Rebecca” in 1940 for David Selznick, Hitchcock returned to make only two more features there: the excellent “Frenzy” in 1972, and “Stage Fright” in 1950. The latter is a backstage theater drama with Jane Wyman as a romantic-minded acting student, who tries to help a man on the run (Richard Todd). He’s accused of murdering the husband of a swooningly beautiful actress (Marlene Dietrich). “Stage Fright” is usually considered one of the lesser Hitchcocks, but second-tier Hitch is still better than most films. The pungent London theatrical settings and fine cast (including Alastair Sim, Sybil Thorndyke and Michael Wilding) keep “Stage Fright” an entertaining slice of Htchcockian cake.

Audrey Totter’s Claire has the dreariest of of milquetoast husbands (Richard Basehart) in “Tension,” directed by Black List victim John Berry.

9:30 a.m. (6:30 a.m.): “Tension” (1950, John Berry). An obsessed and cuckolded milquetoast (Richard Basehart) bent on murder, becomes ensnared in a twisty shocker of a story. With Cyd Charisse, Barry Sullivan and Audrey Totter; directed by Black List victim John Berry.

11:15 a.m. (8:15 a.m.): “The Narrow Margin” (1952, Richard Fleischer). With Charles McGraw and Marie Windsor.

12:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m.): “Split Second” (1953, Dick Powell). Atmospheric Cold War thriller about an escaped con (Stephen McNally), holding hostages in part of a Nevada A-bomb testing site area. With Alexis Smith and Jan Sterling.

2 p.m. (11 a.m.): “Man in the Attic” (1954, Hugo Fregonese). Jack Palance plays one of the screen’s more ferocious Jack the Rippers.

3:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m.) “Second Chance” (1953, Rudolph Maté). A high-style, high-octane film noir couple – cool Robert Mitchum and hot Linda Darnell – are lovers on the run to Mexico, with the scariest of hit men, Jack Palance, on their trail.

6:30 p.m. (3:30 p.m.): “Suddenly” (1954, Lewis Allen). With Frank Sinatra and Sterling Hayden.

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Happy 80th birthday, Kim Novak!

Lovely Kim Novak in a still from “Vertigo,” one of her most famous movies.

One of our all-time favorite film noir blondes, Kim Novak, turns 80 today. She was born Marilyn Pauline Novak in Chicago, where as a young woman she found work as a model. She moved to Los Angeles to continue modeling but instead became an actress.

Among her many screen credits, she is perhaps best known for her work in “Picnic” (1955), “The Man with the Golden Arm” (1955), “Pal Joey” (1957), “Vertigo” (1958) and “Bell Book and Candle” (1958).

“For every answer,” Novak once said, “I like to bring up a question. Maybe I’m related to Alfred Hitchcock or maybe I got to know him too well, but I think life should be that way.”

TCM will honor Novak with a tribute night and screening of four films on March 6. The evening will open with the premiere of Kim Novak: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival, a one-hour interview special hosted by TCM’s Robert Osborne and taped at last year’s festival in Hollywood.

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The Space airs short films exploring Hitchcock’s early work

In conjunction with the recent U.K. release of the film “Hitchcock” (starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren), The Space, an on-demand digital arts service developed by Arts Council England and the BBC, is offering a special treat for Hitch fans. The Space will air five short films that provide context to the master of suspense and his early work.

“The Pleasure Garden” (1925) was the first full film Hitchcock directed.

The set of short films, commissioned by the British Film Institute, includes:

Alfred Hitchcock from the archive

Hitchcock gives his insight into the workings of Hollywood, talking candidly about stars’ salaries and the difficulty of working with well-known actors.

Hitchcock at the picture palace

Historians Henry K. Miller and Matthew Sweet whisk viewers back to 1920s Britain – the era of the picture palace that saw the young Hitchcock learn his craft, refine his art and establish himself as an innovative, ambitious filmmaker.

Seeds of genius: “The Pleasure Garden”

Film historian Charles Barr and the BFI’s silent film curator Bryony Dixon explore Hitchcock’s distinctive style of visual storytelling, focusing on Hitchcock’s first full-length, finished film “The Pleasure Garden” (1925).

Restoring “The Pleasure Garden”

The unique story of how the BFI restored “The Pleasure Garden,” almost a century after it was made.

Scoring “The Pleasure Garden”

This short film follows composer Daniel Patrick Cohen’s journey to create a new score for this seminal Hitchcock work.

You can watch the films here.

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