Retro Television Reviews: Fantasy Island 1.11 “Reunion/Anniversary”


Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past!  On Tuesdays, I will be reviewing the original Fantasy Island, which ran on ABC from 1977 to 1986.  The entire show is currently streaming on Tubi!

This week, Fantasy Island is all about confronting the mistakes of the past.

Episode 1.11 “Reunion/Anniversary”

(Dir by Allen Baron and John Newland, originally aired on April 29th, 1978)

Before I talk about the two fantasies in this episode, here’s a bit of trivia.  This episode was originally intended to be the first episode of the series.  That perhaps explains why it has a tone that is more similar to the original TV movie than to the more light-hearted episodes that followed.  Just as in the made-for-TV movie, Mr. Roarke is a bit of an enigma in this episode, one who has little trouble manipulating his guests in order to get the results that he wants.  This episode even ends with Tattoo saying, “Thank God,” and Mr. Roarke replying with a mysterious half-smile.  Roarke isn’t quite as sinister as he was in the TV movie but he’s also not quite the cheery host that he would become in later episodes.  Roarke, at one point, also mentions that he has people who research everyone’s fantasy before choosing whether to grant it.  That’s certainly different from later episodes, in which the fantasies are apparently available to anyone who can pay or who has been lucky enough to win Roarke’s sympathy.

Of course, when it came time to air the first season of Fantasy Island, this episode got pushed back and it aired as the eleventh episode.  As a result, it presents a bit of a change-of-pace from the episodes that aired the weeks before.  One can only imagine how someone who decided to start watching the show because of the fantasy where Don Knotts played a private eye reacted to this episode, in which four guests were stalked by a murderer who wore giallo-style black gloves.

The guests being stalked by the murderer are Agnes (Pamela Franklin), Hannah (Hilarie Thompson), Carol (Michele Lee), and Jill (Sue Loyon).  They are all members of the Honeybees, a group of former high school cheerleaders who are having a ten-year reunion.  Their fantasy is to spend the weekend at a recreation of the Beehive, a cabin where they used to hang out while in high school.  Of course, every one of them has a dark secret and, after one of the Honeybees is apparently blown up in a nearby barn, the three remaining Honeybees have to solve the mystery.  It all gets fairly dark and sordid but, fear not!  Mr. Roarke shows up and even takes part in some hand-to-hand combat before revealing the truth about what is going on at the Beehive.

(Again, this is not something that we would normally expect from Mr. Roarke.)

Meanwhile, troubled couple Toni (Lucie Arnaz) and Tom Elgin (Ronny Cox, looking slightly embarrassed) come to the island for their anniversary!  Toni wants to relive the weekend that they got married, when they were still happy and before Tom became a drunk.  All of their old friends are invited to the island and soon, Tom is flirting with another woman while Toni is flirting with another man.  Mr. Roarke even invites Rev. Allen (Stuart Nisbet), the man who performed the original wedding ceremony.  The reverend explains that, due to a mix-up at the licensing office, he wasn’t actually legally allowed to perform marriages when Toni and Tom get married so it turns out that Tom and Toni have been living in sin all this time!  Now, Tom and Toni have to decide whether to get married for real or to go their separate ways.

I vote for separate ways, just because they really do seem to be miserable together.  However, it turns out that Mr. Roarke has a plan to keep this awful couple together.

The decision to move this episode from the start of the season to the latter half was definitely a good one.  It was probably a bit too dark and dramatic to really work as the premiere episode but, as the 11th episode, it provides a nice change-of-pace.  After several comedic and somewhat shallow episodes, this episode emphasizes the dramatic side of Fantasy Island.  In this episode, the ultimate lesson appears to be that fantasies are fun but that it’s far more important to deal with the real world.  In other words, Fantasy Island is a nice place to visit but only Mr. Roarke and Tattoo should live there.

Horror On The Lens: Dead of Night (dir by Dan Curtis)


For today’s horror on the lens, we’re very happy to present to you, Dead of Night!

From 1977, this television film is a horror anthology, made up of three stories directed by Dan Curtis and written by Richard Matheson.  In the first story, a youngish Ed Begley, Jr. travels through time.  In the 2nd story, Patrick Macnee plays a man whose wife is apparently being menaced by a vampire.  And in the third story, Joan Hackett plays a mother who brings her dead son back to life, just to discover that sometimes it’s best to just let sleeping corpses lies.

The entire anthology is good, though the third story is clearly the best and the most frightening.  Not only is it scary but it’s got a great twist ending.

Enjoy!

An Offer You Can Refuse #10: Gambling House (dir by Ted Tetzlaff)


The 1950 film noir, Gambling House, begins with the aftermath of a murder.

A man’s been gunned down in an illegal gambling house.  The murderer is gangster named Joe Farrow (William Bendix) but Farrow has no intention of going to prison.  Fortunately, another gambler was wounded during the shoot out.  Marc Fury (Victor Mature) will survive his injury but he might not survive being a witness.  However, Farrow sends his gunmen to make Fury an offer.  If Fury agrees to take the rap for the shooting, he’ll not only live but Farrow will pay him a good deal of money.  Fury agrees because …. well, what else is he going to do?

Fury is arrested for the murder.  He pleads self-defense and he’s acquitted at the trial.  So far, so good, right?  However, there’s always a complication.  First off, there’s the fact that Farrow wasn’t exactly being honest when he promised to pay Fury.  Farrow has no intention of giving Fury any money.  In fact, now that Fury has been acquitted and the case is officially closed, it might be more convenient just to have Fury killed.

The other problem is that Fury’s trial brings him to the attention of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.  The INS takes a look at Fury’s record and they discover that he’s not Marc Fury at all!  (I know, it’s a shock.  Who would think that a name like Marc Fury would be fake?)  It turns out that his original name was Marc Furiotta and he was born in Italy.  His family came to the U.S. when Marc was a child.  Marc always assumed that he was a citizen but it turns out that his parents were never naturalized and therefore, Marc is in the country illegally!  INS wants to deport him.  Marc wants to stay in the United States.

Fortunately, Marc will have a chance to try to convince a judge to let him stay in the United States, despite his lengthy criminal record.  Until his hearing (or until he makes bail), he’ll be detained at Ellis Island.  Marc soon finds himself stuck on Ellis Island, presumably right underneath the base of the Statue of Liberty.  (I know the Statue of Liberty isn’t actually on Ellis Island but the imagery just got stuck in my head while I was writing this review and I’ll be damned if I’m going to take it out.)  He’s surrounded by earnest immigrants who can’t wait to become American citizens and that awakens his own patriotic feelings.  He also meets a social worker named Lynn (Terry Moore) and he falls in love with her.  When he appears before the judge, he explains that he can’t put into words why he wants to stay in America.  He just know that he does.   Awwww, what a wonderful story …. oh wait.  He’s still got Joe Farrow trying to kill him, doesn’t he?

Gambling House is an odd film.  Actually, it’s something like three different films at once.  On the one hand, it’s a low-budget film noir, with menacing tough guys and a morally ambiguous hero and an outwardly respectable villain who is actually a member of the mob.  On the other hand, it’s an earnest legal drama about an immigrant who comes to love his adoptive country.  And then, on the other hand (that’s right, this movie has three hands), it’s a romcom where cynical Marc ends up falling for idealistic Lynn.

That’s a lot for one, low-budget 90-minute film to carry on its shoulder and sadly, Gambling House struggles to balance all of its different elements.  It gets off to a good start, with Victor Mature delivering all of his lines with a scornful disdainful for anyone who looks at him.  And the scenes with William Bendix as the mob boss are effective.  But none of those scenes seem to belong in the same movie with Marc waiting on Ellis Island and Lynn explaining why she wants to help people become citizens.  In the end, this is a film about many things but none of those things are really explored in that much depth.

Though this is a adequately directed and acted film and this is one scene, in which Marc looks at the New York skyline from the holding cell in Ellis Island, that achieves a certain visual poetry, this is still an offer that you can refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob

Cleaning Out The DVR: Let Us Live! (dir by John Brahm)


In the 1939 film, Let Us Live!, Henry Fonda plays Brick Tennant.  Brick is a poor but honest taxi driver who has always lived a law-abiding life and who is looking forward to marrying waitress named Mary Roberts (Maureen O’Sullivan).  However, when a taxi is used as a getaway car in a violent robbery that leaves a policeman dead, Brick finds that he’s a suspect.

At first, Brick isn’t too worried.  It turns out that every taxi driver in Boston is apparently being considered a suspect.  Brick is just 1 out of 120.  However, when the police bring Brick in to take part in a lineup, one of the witnesses insists that Brick and his friend, Joe Linden (Alan Baxter), were involved in the robbery.  Despite the fact that Brick and Mary were at a church, planning their wedding, during the robbery, Brick and Joe are arrested and put on trial for murder.  Despite Brick’s initial faith in the system, he and Joe are convicted and sentenced to die.

On death row, Brick faces the inhumane reality of American justice.  He watches as other prisoners slowly lose their mind as a result of neglect and abuse.  He watches as another prisoner drops dead in front of him, to the indifference of the guards.  Even when Mary tells him that she’s still looking for evidence that will exonerate him, Brick says that he no longer cares.  The state of Massachusetts is determined to kill him and he doesn’t believe that there’s any way stop them.  As Mary puts it, Brick is now dead inside.

Still, Mary continued to investigate.  Helping her is a police detective named Everett (Ralph Bellamy).  Everett comes to realize that two innocent men are sitting on Death Row but will he and Mary be able to find the real culprits before the state executes Brick and Joe?

While watching Let Us Live, I found it impossible not to compare the film to The Wrong Man, another film in which Henry Fonda played an innocent man being railroaded by the system.  Both The Wrong Man and Let Us Live were based on a true stories, though Let Us Live takes considerably more liberty with its source material than The Wong Man does.  Whereas The Wrong Man is a docudrama that’s full of moody atmosphere courtesy of director Alfred Hitchcock, Let Us Live is much more of a fast-paced, melodramatic B-move.

That said, Let Us Live! is still a definitely effective look at how an innocent man can be railroaded by a system that’s often more concerned with getting a quick conviction than actually searching for the truth.  Sadly, the issues that Let Us Live deals with are just as relevant today as they were in 1939.  The film’s power comes from Henry Fonda’s performance as Brick.  It’s truly heart-breaking to watch Brick go from being a cheerful optimist to a man who has been so broken down by American justice that he can’t even bring himself to celebrate the news that he might be released.  The film ends on a grim note, a reminder that some damage cannot be undone.

Let Us Live! is another good but obscure film that I discovered through TCM.  Keep an eye out for it!

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Winner: You Can’t Take It With You (dir by Frank Capra)


(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1938 best picture winner, You Can’t Take It With You!)

“You can’t take it with you.”

If there’s any one belief that defines the worldview of Martin Vanderhof (Lionel Barrymore), it’s this.  It doesn’t matter how much money you make in your life.  It doesn’t matter how successful you are at business or anything else.  The fact of the matter is that, when your time is up, you won’t be able to take any of that stuff with you.  Instead, Grandpa Vanderhof (as he’s called by his large family) believes that the most important thing to do during your lifetime is to make friends and pursue what you’re truly interested in.

Vanderhof has another belief, one that particularly appealed to be me.  He has never paid income tax.  He doesn’t see the point of giving money to the government when he doesn’t feel that they’ll make good use of it.  When an outraged IRS agent (Charles Lane) stops by Vanderhof’s sprawling house and demands that Vanderhof pay his taxes, Vanderhof refuses.  When the IRS man argues that the income tax is necessary to pay for the Presidency, the Congress, and the Supreme Court, Vanderhof offers to give him five dollars.  “Hell yeah!” I shouted at the TV.  With an attitude like that, Vanderhof should have moved down here to Texas.  We would have elected him governor.

Grandpa Vanderhof is the head of a large and cheerfully eccentric family, all of whom live together under the same roof.  Penny (Spring Byington) writes novels because, years ago, a typewriter was accidentally delivered to the house.  Her husband, Paul (Samuel S. Hinds), has a basement full of fireworks.  Essie (Ann Miller) loves to dance and spends almost the entire movie twirling from room to room.  Her husband, Ed (Dub Taylor), is a xylophone player.

Of course, it’s not just family living in the Vanderhof House.  There’s also Potap Kolenkhov (Mischa Auer), a Russian who is “teaching” Essie how to dance.  There’s Rheba the maid (Lillian Yarbo) and Donald (Eddie Anderson) the handyman.  Actually, the house appears to be open to just about anyone who wants to stay.

And then there’s Penny’s daughter, Alice (Jean Arthur).  Alice is the most “normal” member of the family.  She has just become engaged to Tony Kirby (James Stewart) and she is still trying to figure out how to introduce Tony’s stuffy parents (Edward Arnold and Mary Forbes) to her eccentric family.  What she and Tony don’t know is that Mr. Kirby is currently trying to buy up all the houses that are near a competitor’s factory.  Only one homeowner has refused to sell.  The name of that homeowner?  Martin “Grandpa” Vanderhof.

It all leads, of course, to one chaotic dinner party, one lively night in jail, and a huge fireworks display.  It also leads to true love, which is nice.  Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur are even more adorable here than they were in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

Based on a Pulitzer-winning play by George S. Kaufman, You Can’t Take It With You was the second comedy to win the Oscar for Best Picture.  The first comedy to win was 1934’s It Happened One Night.  It’s probably not coincidence that both of these films were directed by Frank Capra.

Seen today, You Can’t Take It With You seems a bit slight for an Oscar winner.  Grandpa Vanerhof is a lovable eccentric.  Tony’s father is a stuffy businessman.  Hmmm … I wonder whose philosophy is going to be victorious at the end of the movie?  Still, predictability aside, it’s a delightfully enjoyable film.  While it never quite escape its stage origins, it features wonderful performances from all the usual members of the Capra stock company.  James Stewart and Jean Arthur are a charming couple while Lionel Barrymore gives a performance that is so warmly likable that it’s hard to imagine that, just 9 years later, he would be so perfectly cast as the heartless Mr. Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life.  Of course, my favorite member of the member was Essie, mostly because I also like to dance from room to room.  While it’s hard to justify awarding it Best Picture over The Adventures of Robin Hood and Grand Illusion, You Can’t Take It With You is still a wonderfully fun movie.

It’ll make you smile and laugh.  Who can’t appreciate that?

 

Halloween Havoc!: Boris Karloff in THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG (Columbia 1939)


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Bela Lugosi ( see yesterday’s post ) wasn’t the only horror icon who starred in a series of low-budget shockers. Boris Karloff signed a five picture deal with Columbia Pictures that was later dubbed the “Mad Doctor” series and, while several notches above Lugosi’s “Monogram Nine”, they were cookie-cutter flicks intended for the lower half of double feature bills. The first of these was THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG, which sets the tone for the films to follow.

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Karloff plays Dr. Henry Savaard, inventor of a new surgical technique that requires the patient to die, then reviving him with a mechanical heart after performing the operation. This later became standard operating procedure during open-heart surgery, but back in 1939 was considered science fiction! Anyway, Savaard’s young assistant Bob agrees to go through the experimental procedure, but his girlfriend freaks out and calls the cops, claiming Savaard is about to murder…

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The Fabulous Forties #37: Penny Serenade (dir by George Stevens)


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How many tears can be jerked by one tear jerker?

How melodramatic can one melodrama get?

These are the type of questions that I found myself considering as I watched the 36th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set, 1941’s Penny Serenade.

Penny Serenade opens with Julie (Irene Dunne) announcing that she’s planning on leaving her husband, Roger (Cary Grant).  Fortunately, before Julie goes through with her plan, she listens to a song called You Were Meant For Me.  Perhaps not coincidentally, the song is included on an album called The Story Of A Happy Marriage.  As she stares at the spinning vinyl, Julie starts to have flashbacks!

No, not flashbacks of the LSD kind.  (Though, interestingly enough, Cary Grant was reportedly a big fan of LSD…)  Instead, she has flashbacks of her marriage to Roger.  We see how she first met Roger while she was working in a music store.  Roger stopped by the store to tell her that a record was skipping and it was love at first sight.  However, Roger had no interest in getting married.  Or, at the least, he didn’t until Julie opened up a fortune cookie and read the fortune: “You get your wish — a baby!”

Julie continues to stare at the spinning record and we discover that eventually, she and Roger did get married.  Julie did get pregnant but, as the result of an earthquake, she lost the baby.  (Curse you, fortune cookie!  CURSE YOU!)  Meanwhile, Roger took over a small town newspaper and revealed himself to have absolutely no idea how to handle money.

Because of the earthquake, Julie will never be able to have a child.  (DAMN YOU, FORTUNE COOKIE!  DAMN YOU FOR YOUR LIES!)  However, they can still adopt!  She writes to Miss Oliver (Beulah Bondi), the head of the local orphanage.  Julie demands to be given a baby with “blue eyes and curly hair.”  Fortunately, Miss Oliver apparently has a surplus of curly-haired, blue-eyed babies but she’s still reluctant to approve the adoption.  After all, Julie is such a terrible housekeeper!  However, she is impressed by how much both Julie and Roger want a baby so Miss Oliver puts aside her concerns and allows them to have a baby for two years.

At the end of the two years, Roger and Julie have to go to an adoption hearing.  Unfortunately, the paper has gone out of business, the family has absolutely no money, and the fortune cookie has stopped giving advice.  Fortunately, Roger is Cary Grant and who can say no to Cary Grant?  Roger promises the judge that he’ll always love and take care of the baby…

But that’s not all!  The movie is not over yet.  And even as Roger makes his plea, we can’t help but think about the fact that this movie is being told in flashback and that present day Julie is still planning on leaving Roger.  Now, I’m not going to spoil the movie by going into why or revealing what happens in the end.  I’ll just say that it involves more tragedy and more melodrama.  In fact, it includes so much tragedy and so much melodrama, that it starts to get a little exhausting.  How much bad stuff can happen to Cary Grant!?

And the record just keeps spinning…because what goes up must come down, spinning wheel got to go round…

Over the course of his long career, Cary Grant only received two Oscar nominations.  Penny Serenade was his first nomination and, as a fan of Cary Grant’s comedies, it saddens me to say that Cary’s nominated performance really wasn’t that good.  Watching this film, you can tell that Cary felt that this was his chance to prove himself as a dramatic actor and, as a result, he acts the Hell out of every scene.  Of course, Cary’s undying popularity comes from the fact that he rarely seemed to be acting.  His charm was in how natural he was.  In Penny Serenade, he never seems natural.  He’s trying too hard and it’s just odd to see Cary Grant trying too hard.

If you want to see Cary Grant at his best, check out The Awful Truth.  Or maybe The Philadelphia Story.  Those are two great films that prove that Cary Grant was a great actor.  Even a rare misfire of a performance can’t change that fact.

Until next time…

Ride a painted pony, let the spinnin’ wheel spin. … Ride a painted pony, let the spinnin’ wheel turn.

Back to School #4: Rebel Without A Cause (dir by Nicholas Ray)


You may have heard of this one.

Traditionally, films about teenagers tend to age terribly.  The language, the clothes, the attitudes, and even the humor; it’s all usually out-of-date within five years or so.  One need only watch something like A Summer Place to both see how dated a film can become and to see how one generation’s idol can appear rather ludicrous to future generations.  (And yes, I am talking about Troy Donahue…)  What makes Rebel Without A Cause unique is that it’s a movie about teenagers that was released way back in 1955 and yet, nearly 60 years later, it still feels fresh and relatable.

Of course, it helps that the title character is played by James Dean who, to put it lightly, was no Troy Donahue.

Rebel Without A Cause tells the story of three alienated teenagers trying to survive in the suburbs of Los Angeles.  (“…and they all came from good homes!” the film’s poster informs us.)  Plato (Sal Mineo) is a painfully sensitive 15 year-old who has been abandoned by his parents and is being raised by the family’s maid.  (Since this movie was made in 1955, the fact that Plato is gay is obvious but never explicitly stated.)  Judy (Natalie Wood) is the girlfriend of Buzz (Corey Allen) and is acting out because she feels that’s the only way she can can get her father to pay attention to her.  And then there’s Jim Stark (James Dean), whose family has just moved to Los Angeles and who is constantly in the middle of the fights between his overbearing mother (Ann Doran) and his weak-willed father (Jim Backus).

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During Jim’s first day at high school, he not only manages to make an enemy when Buzz spots him attempting to flirt with Judy but he also gets to go on a field trip to the Griffith Observatory, where the students are told that the entire universe is going to end eventually.  After the field trip, Buzz challenges Jim to a knife fight.  Jim agrees only after the rest of Buzz’s gang (including a young Dennis Hopper) accuse him of being “chicken.”  However, after a security guard breaks up the fight, Buzz challenges Jim to a “chicken run.”

(People in the 50s were obsessed with chickens.)

That night, Jim and Buzz both drive stolen cars towards the edge of a cliff.  The first driver to jump out of his car loses.  Before they start their engines, Buzz smiles and tells Jim, “I like you.”  Yay!  Jim’s finally made a friend!  Uh-oh, Buzz just drove over the cliff and his car exploded!  Well, so much for that friendship.  Now, with Buzz’s gang swearing revenge and their parents incapable of understand what happened, Jim, Judy, and Plato are on the run.  They end up hiding out in an abandoned house and find a brief moment of happiness before the gang and the police show up to ruin everything.

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The challenge of reviewing Rebel Without A Cause is trying to find a new way to say what everybody already knows.  Rebel Without A Cause is a great film that’s distinguished by Nicholas Ray’s sensitive direction and James Dean’s iconic performance in the lead role.  Whenever I see Rebel Without A Cause, I’m always struck by just how much unexpected nuance there is Dean’s interpretation of Jim Stark.  We always think of James Dean as being the epitome of cool and I think we tend to forget that, at least in the beginning of the film, Jim is anything but that.  Instead, he’s awkward and shy.  His attempts to flirt with Judy lead to her calling him “a real yo-yo.”  As much as he tried to fit in with the rest of his classmates, he’s a permanent outsider.  (Just consider what happens with his infamous “moooo” during the presentation at the observatory.)  He has a lot to say but he doesn’t know how to say it and every time that he tries to express what he’s feeling, he’s ignored by adults who don’t have the patience to listen.  Dean brings such a raw intensity to these scenes that I always find myself wanting to reach out and hug him and tell him that everything’s going to be okay, even though I know that it’s not.  Even today, it’s still easy to see why every teenager in the 50s either wanted to be or to be with Jim Stark.

Also, whenever I watch the film, I’m reminded of how much I relate to the character of Judy.  I think that’s because, when I was 16, I might as well have been Judy.  Natalie Wood’s performance might not be as showy as James Dean’s but it’s equally effective.

Of course, one reason why Rebel Without A Cause has become iconic is because James Dean died shortly after filming ended.  (In fact, some of his scenes had to be redubbed by Dennis Hopper, who reportedly could do an exact imitation of Dean’s voice.)  It’s interesting to wonder what would have become of James Dean if he had lived.  Would he have continued to be one of our best actors or would he have eventually been forgotten or forced to appear on television?  Personally, I like to think that James Dean would have remained a great actor but he would have been too much of an iconoclast to remain in Hollywood.  Eventually, in my alternative universe, James Dean moved to Europe and teamed up with Klaus Kinski to star in a series of spaghetti westerns.  And they were great.

As for Rebel Without A Cause, it remains a great movie nearly 60 years after it was first made.  And really, what more needs to be said?

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