RUTH ROMAN / TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY ( 1951 )

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[ 12 / 22 / 22  ~  9 / 9 / 99 ]

There’s nothing like diving into a series of films in one fell swoop to watch the breadth of a talented performer or director. I did this with RUTH ROMAN. I call her The Mighty Roman. I find her a very commanding presence. Her darkness could be part of it. She’s sable; with a dark touch of Dana Wynter Suzanne Pleshette Gail RussellGail Patrick Jean Simmons / Barbara Rush~thing going on…all rolled up into one fierce package. Someone in my FaceBook group mentioned another actress who did not have the chops to stare a man down. Well Ruth certainly can. My  God its withering. ruth-romanThere’s a touch of danger in her. Her performances are believable and with conviction. I’m not quite sure why she really wasn’t a bigger star. Why couldn’t she truly break out though she’s done 60+ films. Could it be she was more character actress than leading lady?

Well I’m going with that and nudging Ruthies name as a participant in the “WHAT A CHARACTER!” blogathon. To be included in this peren nial favorite, now in its fifth year, is a big deal for my little blog. Hosted by Aurora of “Once Upon A Screen”, Kellee of “Outspoken and Freckled” and Paula of “Paula’s Cinema Club” this blogathon shines a spotlight on those somewhat unheralded in our cozy little classic film community. So let me showcase the Mighty Roman here and later talk about one of my favorite films of hers “TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY.”

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Ruth Roman is a Yankee, a New Englander born in Revere, Massachusetts in 1922 ( though different sources cite different years for her birth ).  She studied acting at the Bishop Lee Dramatic School and cut her teeth with the New England Repertory Company before heading out to Hollywood. She tooled around in bit parts in ‘uncredited girl’ roles young actresses are wont to do before getting her break by studio head Dore Schary to appear opposite relative newcomer, Kirk Douglas in CHAMPION.”

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Roman plays housewife to dopey Glenn Ford in “YOUNG MAN WITH IDEAS.” She tones it down. For me it’s a crime to see her wearing an apron, running after three kids and puttering around the house, when she seems like she should be in a board room…but I went with it. Next up she’s a glamorous Nancy Drew trying to figure out if Richard Todd is indeed a murderer in “LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE.” I enjoyed this movie. While in my kitchen I heard the familiar voice of that other tigress, Mercedes McCambridge and ran into the living room to confirm it. Yup. It was her. I love that crazy McCambridge and her staccato delivery. Ruth is a good girl in this; falling in love…and then in fear. She’s light, easy…witty and clever with black shining eyes.

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Ruth does another turn as a good girl in Hitchcocks masterpiece of double trouble: “STRANGERS ON A TRAIN.” Ruth doesnt have much to do in this Hitchcock classic but be the supportive girlfriend. And see…she can be that way too. Again I think she tamps it down to make it plausible for Farley Granger to get a girl like her. ( He really is more suited to a Cathy O’Donnell-type ). But thats okay Ruthie. Youre in a Hitchcock film. Hell, what blondes can do, so can brunettes.  

Roman had a real~life drama on her hands when the cruise ship she was on sunk. In 1956 returning to the States from Europe, the Andrea Dorea collided with MS Stockholm. Roman ran back to her cabin to grab her three year old little boy and put in a lifeboat. The boat took off before Ruth could board it. She got on another lifeboat and was reunited with her son via the Ile de France. Dont know if her career could ever compare to that.

If my preference is seeing Roman on the mean side ~ ( hey, what can I tell ya? ) ~ thenINVITATION” satisfies my need. Starring Dorothy McGuire and Van Johnson, Roman plays Johnson’s ex-fiancee ( Maud ) who is dumped so he can marry McGuire. Roman does not suffer loss easily and is a stone cold bitch when she discovers Johnson only marries McGuire because shes dying. Oh yeah, she makes sure she knows this:

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“Oh, don’t worry, I just happened to be in the building, and dropped into his office. Oh, he’s still yours, at least for the time being. I told you, remember, the day of your wedding, ‘I don’t give up so easily.’ Remember? I said, ‘The first round goes to you, or your father’s money … You can have Dan,’ I said, ‘for about a year on loan.’ And that’s why you’re really here, isn’t it?  Because the year’s dwindling out fast. Only a couple of months left, and you’re scared to death. Well, Ellen, do you think I have given up?”

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I’ve only seen pieces of “THREE SECRETS” many years too long ago. One of my friends has reviewed this film in his cozy corner of my blog. Tell me THIS doesn’t whet your appetite. Roman is comfortable in westerns as proof is in the sasparilla of “BELLE STARR’S DAUGHTER” “COLT .45 “REBEL IN TOWN”, the famed Anthony Mann’s THE FAR COUNTRY” with James Stewart and “DALLAS” with that lovely stalwart tall drink of water…Gary Cooper. Also in the cast, waiting in the wings, is the other side of midnight: Steve Cochran. She worked with the dark, handsome and dangerous Steve Cochran in a film I’d like to look at in detail. “TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY.”

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I had never heard of this movie, didnt know what the heck to expect; its better that way. I was pleasantly surprised. TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY reveals a couple of layers I enjoyed.

THE BOY CAN ACT

STEVE COCHRAN plays an ex-con just released from prison. I always liked Cochran…his lush deep dark looks and tough guy persona. But thats not quite what I got in “Tomorrow…” ( no tough-guy, but still killer looks. ) See, hes been in prison for eighteen years since he was a thirteen-year old boy. So his new life on the outside is really quite an adjustment. And Cochran plays his character as slightly emotionally stunted. He never waivers from that, and it’s always subtly evident; this is a testament to his ( very under-rated ) acting. He pulls it off. ( His dark humor in “Deadly Companions was an eye-opener as well. ) There was a boyishness to him in “Tomorrow…”. He is hurt, defensive, mistrustful. There is a sweetness to him that endeared him to me.

Now remember, he was thirteen when he went into prison eighteen years ago. When it dawned on my thick skull what that “really” meant, I confess it quickened my pulse a bit, seeing how good Cochran looks. And the first woman he falls hard for?

Brittle, hard as nails, bottle blonde Ruth Roman. Mama mia!! The poor lug doesnt know what hit him. Sometimes ten cents a dance is a high price to pay.

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Hes socially awkward, and sweet as well; and that makes for an apt pupil. She sees “something” in this young man. Uhmmmm…mostly, she sees a patsy.

A STAGEDOOR JOHNNY….WITH NO BAUBLES, BANGLES or BRAINS??

Using his prison pay, he buys her a gold-plated watch. She cant let herself be soft; its a hard cold cruel world for a blonde alone. With a twist of fate and Ruthies lies, they are now on the run.

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ON THE LAM

This is some kind of wildly subversive Hitchcockian plot twist. Not only is Cochran, ‘the wrong man’ but he think he IS the man. “Tomorrow Is Another Day” is a unique “on-the-lam” tale because shes tricked him into thinking he must run. He never wants to go back to prison, hes never really ever able to breathe comfortably, he thinks she’s going to tell on him…so hes always on edge. Not the fey-jittery-Farley Granger-edge, but a darker weightier edge. Shes actually kind of holding him hostage with her secret. You feel sorry for him.

The laughs on her when she realizes shes hitched her little caboose to a convicted murderer. Into the frying pan.

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Theyre on the lam. They change clothes and hitch rides. Theyre not out in the open. They do a lot of walking, and hopping on trains. They talk. Hes a survivor in this environment. They register in a seedy motel as man and wife with phony identities. Ruth still holds Cochran at arms length. “Dont get any ideas, Buster” is easier said than done; shes warming up to him. TOM'W ( I )In spite of herself, she slowly falls for Cochran. In an effort to disguise herself from The Law, Ruth dyes her blonde hair brunette. Yay!!! Finally! Its Ruth Roman, dark and lovely as she should be, like we know and love her. Cochrans man/boy gets plenty of ideas. After all, theyre now married ( if in name only )…it has been eighteen years…and it IS Ruth Roman. Ruth turns girlish, asks him if he likes her new hair color. He does. He likes her. He loves her. The wait is over…they really become man and wife here.

TRUST…THE BEGINNING OF LOVE

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Now a brunette, her glam toned down and her softness revealed, Ruth and Cochran catch a break by helping migrant farmers Ray Teal and wife Lurene Tuttle, one of my favorite character actresses. ( See my contribution about her for the 2014 ‘What A Character blogathon at the Once Upon A Screen blog. )  Ruth has softened considerably and Cochran seems more at ease. She’s toned down her hardness and he takes the lead a bit more in their new life together. Even if she has to scold him she never pulls out the beeyotch card, but does it a maternal wifely way. They live the life of lettuce pickers in a small itinerant California community. Whoa! This is far afield from the bright lights of a 40-watt dim and dirty dance hall, and Ruth takes to it. It was easily and subtly done to watch her warm up to Cochran and gain his trust. He begins to trust. She’s wifey now in a little wooden shack…making dinners, sewing patterns, and pregnant to boot. They’re both able to exhale.

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AS USUAL, GREED REARS ITS GREEDY, UGLY HEAD

Cochran’s true identity is discovered by Tuttle and Teal ( sounds like an old vaudeville team, doesn’t it? ) and trust begins to break down with everybody. I love Lurene Tuttle’s acting here. Her character is in conflict about a choice some might find easy to make. That she struggles with this choice, is a testimony to her.

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I have waaay more Ruth Roman films to discover, but I’ve got a good head start. “Tomorrow Is Another Day” weaves a tale of folks trapped by circumstances. Showing the growing love of two distrusting people was an added bonus for me. I heartily recommend this film to you. The Mighty Roman is in good company with other character actors and actresses who rarely get the spotlight. Want to read about ’em? Click onto Aline MacMahon. and Guy Kibbee and read about other great character actors. Start with Day 3 and work your way back to Days 1 and 2:

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SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957)

…what does success smell like?

Thank goodness for the movies, ey? We can see how the other half lives withOUT literally jumping in the cesspool with them.

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I would program SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS on the same movie marquee withAce in the HoleandA Face in the Crowd.They have the same feeling, tone. ( Let me throw inNetwork as a bonus which was my choice for the 2015 version of 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon. ) I find these four movies absolutely timeless because their commentary, criticism and cynicism seems ripped from today’s headline. They shine klieg lights on politics and television and journalism. “Sweet Smell of Success” takes the cake. And to paraphrase J.J. Hunsecker, it’s a cake filled with arsenic. What a fantastic movie.

Venom never went down so smoothly.

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I’ll have you know I tried. I searched and wracked my brains for something in a positive vein to write for 31 Days of Oscar – 2016, hosted by Aurora of Once Upon A Screen, Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled and Paula
of Paula’s Cinema Club. For all you Oscar-philes…this blogathon is the place to be. I wanted to be more positive this go round and cheer for the choices the Academy DID make. Yet here I am again, singing the praises of a movie that should have won an Academy Award on so many fronts: Best Actor (Burt Lancaster), Best Supporting Actor (Tony Curtis), Best Supporting Actress (Barbara Nichols ), Best Picture, Best Director
(Alexander Mackendrick) and Best Cinematography ( James Wong Howe. )

Here are the actual Academy Award winners for 1957. I know it’s all apples and oranges. And I’m not saying that some of these winners and nominees weren’t deserved. But I could swap out several of these oranges for my apples, which you can see ——>  here.

Did’ja see what I mean?

I’ll take this movie on in its totality. You may know this story already, and if you don’t…there will be spoilers. If you want, see the movie first and then come back to me. I’ll wait for you on the Couch.

Tony Curtis as Sidney Falco

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When we’re introduced to Sidney Falco, we see his name on the office door. Taped on. Straightaway….so tacky and so temporary. It says a lot about Mr. Falco. To see Sidney in action is truly a thing of destructive beauty. He’s like a runaway train careening towards a cliff. Sidney is like a shark searching for prey, ever-moving. I think of the great job Edmond OBrien did in “The Barefoot Contessa” as the sweaty and jittery agent. But our Sidney is played like one cool cat.

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I would put Sidney Falco on a double bill with Widmark’s Harry Fabian ( in “Night and the City” ) and call it: “CADS, WEASELS and FAST TALKERS.” Harry Fabian and Sidney Falco are both “ideas” guys; users and manipulators. But if I had to choose one I’d go with Tony Curtis. Sidney is awfullllly good-looking. I like the meta aspect of the film commenting on Sidney’s / Curtis’ good looks. Curtis also imbues Sidney with charm and boyishness. He’s a beautiful shark…a survivor who thinks quick on his feet in any situation. You can see his neurons popping and sparking as he rubs his thumb over his forehead or wrings his hands, or bites a fingernail.

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Sidney jumps into cabs like disposable limousines and breezes into 21 or Toots Shor like he’s going to the corner bodega for milk, yet he’s too cheap to check his coat. He knows everyone and everyone knows him. He knows the lingo ( he doesn’t say “Daddy-O” though) and it suits him. He lives in a ring-a-ding ding way ( a one-man Rat Pack ) and walks amidst the nightlife like a prince…of fools. He sucks up to whomever. He’s a sycophant.

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He…will…use…anyone. And does.

Burt Lancaster as J.J. Hunsecker

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His aphorisms. His veiled threats. His manufactured molehill so he could create a mountain in his confrontation with Steve Dallas ( Martin Milner ) the musician who likes J.J.’s sister. His veiled and not so veiled reminders to everyone that he has some dirt on ’em. His symbiotic relationship with Sidney…like a marriage gone bad, but he stays in because he likes to torture and dominate. When J.J. says “I love this dirty town,” it hearkens back ( for me ) to Robert Duvall saying “I love the smell of napalm in the morning” in “Apocalypse Now.” New York as a wasteland of war. Lancaster plays Hunsecker very still as opposed to the kinetic energy of Sidney. Theres much power in his stillness. He doesnt even have to break a sweat to get his cigarette lit.

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Im still stuck on Sidney. I want to watch him think; watch him maneuver, connive, flatter and dump. Its a little tough for me to take my mind off of Tony Curtis performance.

THE WOMEN OF SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS:

Edith Atwater as  Mary, J.J. Hunsecker’s Secretary 

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Sidney tries to get a sneak peak at J.J.’s next column. But she won’t let him. After she turns down his playfully bribing dinner invitation, he tells her:

“Now why should I bribe the woman that holds most of my heart.”

Her response to Sidney describes him best. Her delivery as she berates him is in such a pitch perfect, matter-of-fact way. ( Love her. )

“You’re a real rascal Sidney. Amusing boy, but you haven’t got a drop of respect in you for anything alive. You’re so immersed in the theology of making a fast buck. Not that I don’t sometimes feel you yearn for something better. Oh I don’t mind you looking at the column in advance so long as J.J. doesn’t know. But don’t do it like a little boy stealing money from a gum machine.”

Look at Sidney’s reaction. He’s not upset. He’s not insulted. ( Hell, you cant even INSULT the guy ). He just wants what he wants. Are ya gonna be mad at a two-year old for whining? And don’t tell me THAT scene doesn’t remind you of James Bond and Miss Moneypenny. Shes just as confident as J.J.

Jeff Donnell as Mary, Sidney’s Secretary

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A bit of a sad sack, maternal, caring, very efficient. Sweet lay. Whys she still with him? Oh, because you know…Sidney. ( Check out Donnell’s performance in “In A Lonely Place. Very different, right? ) She tries to be his conscience but thats a losing battle. I want better for her.

Barbara Nichols as Rita, The Cigarette Girl

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Your 50s blonde bombshell. A smart girl just a little dumb around the edges. Shes been used, but she knows the score. She wants Sidney. And that is her misfortune. Barbara Nichols brings a sadness and pathos to the cigarette girl. I think she longs to escape but knows she can’t.  The movie treats her with sympathy. She may be that proverbial ‘dumb blonde’ but I don’t think the movie treats her that way. She has feelings. I think Barbara Nichols did a lot with this small role. Youre telling me they couldnt have swapped out the virginal good girl Diane Varsi for a good-time girl with a heart of gold for a nomination? Tsk! Tsk!

Lurene Tuttle as Loretta, The Columnist’s Wife

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Smart, cynical, astute. She plays the horses and takes a nip or three as compensation for whats NOT happening at home. Shes a pragmatist. The great character actress Lurene Tuttle takes on this small part. See, shes so much more than her cute turn in Psycho. In SSS she turns on a dime. Playing cynical at first, look how she turns on a dime after her characters husband comes clean and confesses to playing footsie with a cigarette girl. I believe his sincerity… he takes all the power away from the blackmailing Sidney. You should see Sidneys face.

I love the gravitas Tuttle lends the scene when she says to her husband:

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Thats the cleanest thing Ive seen you do in years.

Thrilling to watch. Its a gift to be able to do drama and comedy convincingly. Lurene nails it. ( Don’t get me started on Thelma Ritter in Pick-Up On South Street. Grrr! )

Susan Harrison as Susie Hunsecker

SWEET SMELL ( IV )

J.J.’s SISTER…is Snow White in this monstrous fairy tale. And the big bad wolf is her own brother. What big eyes he has… for her. She walks a tightrope of being the damsel in distress…without being all fey and cloying. She was scared of her big brother. Scared of his feelings towards her. ( Can you say Scarface”? ) She had to find a way to break away

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from him. This role and could have gone horribly wrong if played by the wrong actress. I’m not saying Sarah Berhardt should be afraid of Harrison, but she’s fine in this part. You dont want someone as gentle and breakable as Yvette Mimieux. I dont see the tremulous Sandy Dennis. Maybe Shirley Knight could have done it though I dont see a blonde. In any event Harrison does a good job as Susie found her power. Do you remember when Susie finally leaves? She has a raging, impotent raging bull stand in her way; but he couldn’t even hold the door against her as she pulls it slowly open. She could practically brush past J.J. with a feather and he would crumble.

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DIRECTION & CINEMATOGRAPHY

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I know. Is it really fair of me to compare these two aspects of “Sweet Smell of Success” when I haven’t seen all of the Best Picture nominees? ( I’ve not seen “Sayonara.” ) Yeah, whaddya gonna do about it? I’m writin’ here! “Witness for the Prosecution” is pretty pedestrian looking. Lumet’s “12 Angry Men” is good and tense, but it’s twelve guys in a room sweating in white shirts. Everything looks matte and flat. The scale of “Bridge on the River Kwai” is massive, epic and they filmed on location. To be honest, I’m not really taking anything away from any of the nominees. All the films took effort and creativity. But the look and the feel of “Sweet Smell…” is just beyond beyond, for me. Alexander MacKendrick

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puts us in a petri dish with his direction and James Wong Howe lights the dish. How fluidly Mackendrick moves that camera like a modern-day director. Remember the scene with J.J. and the Senator and his mistress? As for location…what better location than New York City. MacKendrick throws his cast right into the heart of the City that never Sleeps. And at night, to boot.

And who better to capture the night than the master…the great James Wong Howe. Puhleeze! His fellow nominees that year were:

Jack Hildyard ………….  “The Bridge on the River Kwai
William C. Mellor ……… “Peyton Place
Ray June ……………….  “Funny Face
Milton Krasner ………… “An Affair to Remember
Ellsworth Fredericks … “Sayonara

???

Really? Was there any contest that year? He uses deep focus, his palette of black and white and fifty shades of grey reads like sterling silver nitrate dripping from the screen like Mercury. Oooh, I want to drown in those black and whites. He paints the pictures the director sees in his head. I think they were an unbeatable team that year.

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A few years ago I suggested to my friend Lindsey to run, don’t walk, to her local video store and take out Sweet Smell of Success to watch with her mother. ( Yeah, this was a while ago when videostores existed! ) She had never seen the movie before. She texted me her reaction:

“Yes, I did get ‘Sweet Smell of Success.’ Great movie for sure! Although ‘Network’ to me is STILL cutting edge, the dialogue in ‘Success’ is priceless and irreplaceable. Can’t touch the banter between Lancaster and Curtis with a barbwire pole. Lancaster is absolutely steely and stoic with very little compromise, while Curtis is a pretty oil slick just waiting to happen. Still trying to get the residue off my eyes…”

Now folks….if thats not a ringing, unsolicited endorsement for an Academy Award, then I don’t know WHAT is.

Sidney and J.J. are intrinsically locked together. I don’t know which came first the chicken Hunsecker or the egg Falco. The see-saw of loyalties swings like a pendulum do. Definitely J.J. holds out a carrot of success for Sidney who chases it down for all its worth, just out of reach. This movie’s so incisive you can smell the rotting carrot. Hunsecker is willing to put his sister in a mental institution. It’s not that she’s crazy but if he can’t have her NO ONE will. Sidney will continue to feed off J.J.’s scraps, and wheel and deal his way through showbiz like Eve Harrington. Sidney will be there when he falls and Hunsecker is bound to fall. His sister leaving him surely will do him in. He stands on the balcony watching her walk out into the clean cold light of day, as powerless as Andy Griffith screams into the night at the end “A Face in the Crowd.”

I can very well understand why the Academy didn’t even NOMINATE “Sweet Smell of Success.” The moral compass of the movie is very skewed and no institution would reward shining that harsh a light on itself if it wasn’t going to come out smelling like roses. 

BLOGATHON ( 31 DAYS OF OSCAR ) IIThere’s more Oscar talk where THIS comes from. Once Upon A Screen handles the Actors, Outspoken and Freckled features the Snubs. And Paula’s Cinema Club will show the Crafts of moviemaking. There will be a big wind up for Motion Pictures and Directors by both Kellee and Aurora. You’re in the thick of it now, folks. Thanks for reading my leg of the journey.

Here are three reasons to watch “Sweet Smell of Success.” WHY? Because Criterion says so:

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