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The Blue Dahlia

The Blue Dahlia(1946)

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teaser The Blue Dahlia (1946)

SYNOPSIS

Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd) returns home after serving in World War II to find that his wife Helen (Doris Dowling) has been unfaithful. After an ugly fight between them, Johnny walks out. When Helen is murdered soon after, Johnny is the number one suspect. In a race against time, Johnny must prove his innocence and stay one step ahead of the police. Along the way he joins forces with Joyce Harwood (Veronica Lake), the estranged wife of Helen's lover, to find the real killer.

CAST AND CREW

Director: George Marshall

Producer: John Houseman

Screenplay: Raymond Chandler

Cinematography: Lionel Lindon

Art Designer: Hans Dreier, Walter Tyler

Editing: Arthur Schmidt

Music Composer: Victor Young

Costume Designer: Edith Head

Cast: Alan Ladd (Johnny Morrison), Veronica Lake (Joyce Harwood), William Bendix (Buzz Wanchek), Howard da Silva (Eddie Harwood), Doris Dowling (Helen Morrison), Tom Powers (Capt. Hendrickson), Hugh Beaumont (George Copeland), Howard Freeman (Corelli), Don Costello (Leo), Will Wright ("Dad" Newell), Frank Faylen (the Man), Walter Sande (Heath), Vera Marshe (Blonde), Mae Busch (Jenny the Maid), Gloria Williams (Assistant Maid), Harry Hayden (Mr. Hughes, the Assistant Hotel Manager), George Barton (Cab Driver), Harry Barris (Bellhop), Paul Gustine (Doorman), Roberta Jonay (Girl Hotel Clerk), Milton Kibbee (Night Hotel Clerk), Dick Winslow (Piano Player at Party), Anthony Caruso (Marine Corporal), Matt McHugh (Bartender), Arthur Loft (the Wolf), Stan Johnson (Naval Officer), Ernie Adams (Joe Man in Coveralls), Henry Vroom (Master Sergeant), Jack Clifford (Plainclothesman), George Sorel (Paul, the Captain of Waiters)

B & W - 96 m.

Why THE BLUE DAHLIA is Essential

With an Academy Award-nominated screenplay by Raymond Chandler and actor Alan Ladd at his hard-hitting best, The Blue Dahlia is a first-rate film noir and one of the most intriguing crime dramas of the 1940s.

The Blue Dahlia was the first original screenplay that famed crime novelist Raymond Chandler ever wrote. Crackling with Chandler's trademark dark wit and crisp dialogue, The Blue Dahlia stands out as one of Chandler's most interesting yarns.

The Blue Dahlia was a film vehicle designed especially for Paramount's biggest male star at the time, Alan Ladd. Ladd had recently been discharged from the Army, but was being called back to serve in just eight weeks. When Paramount realized that it didn't have any new Alan Ladd movies to offer the public during his absence, the studio quickly rushed The Blue Dahlia into production. The success of the film helped keep Ladd in the public eye during his absence from Hollywood.

The film marked the third pairing of Paramount stars Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. Moviegoers had loved them together in This Gun For Hire and The Glass Key (both 1942) and couldn't get enough of their on-screen chemistry.

The Blue Dahlia has become inextricably linked to the infamous 1947 Los Angeles murder case known commonly as The Black Dahlia. Victim Elizabeth Short was found dead, her torso severed in half, in January 1947. It has remained an unsolved crime to this day. Elizabeth Short was known as The Black Dahlia before she died because of the dark color of her hair and her penchant for wearing black. The nickname was a play on words of The Blue Dahlia, one of the popular films of the day.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser The Blue Dahlia (1946)

The Blue Dahlia has become inextricably linked to the infamous 1947 Los Angeles murder case known commonly as The Black Dahlia. Victim Elizabeth Short was found dead, her torso severed in half, in January 1947. It has remained an unsolved crime to this day. Elizabeth Short was known as The Black Dahlia before she died because of the dark color of her hair and her penchant for wearing black. The nickname was a play on words of The Blue Dahlia, one of the popular films of the day.

On April 21, 1949 Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake reprised their roles from The Blue Dahlia for a half-hour radio broadcast version of the story for The Screen Guild Theater.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser The Blue Dahlia (1946)

The Blue Dahlia was the first completely original screenplay written by famed crime novelist Raymond Chandler.

Raymond Chandler wrote the screenplay for The Blue Dahlia under the gun for Paramount Pictures. Paramount had found out that their leading male star, Alan Ladd, was being called back into service by the Army and were thrown into a panic when they realized that they had no new Ladd film to release during his absence. Chandler stepped in and pounded out a screenplay in a matter of weeks.

The Blue Dahlia was the third film in which Alan Ladd co-starred with Veronica Lake. The pair had previously worked together on This Gun For Hire and The Glass Key (both 1942).

One of the reasons that Alan Ladd was paired with Veronica Lake was because he was short and she was one of the few actresses in Hollywood who didn't tower over him.

Alan Ladd was reportedly not happy about actress Doris Dowling playing his wife in the film because she was several inches taller than he.

According to producer John Houseman, Raymond Chandler had a great deal of trouble completing the screenplay for The Blue Dahlia. Director George Marshall had already started shooting the film without the finished screenplay. Chandler, a known alcoholic, felt that in order to finish it he had to start drinking again. It was a "sacrifice" he had to make for the good of the picture-drinking, he said, made him a better writer.

Raymond Chandler had to change his original ending for The Blue Dahlia due to pressure from the U.S. Navy. The original killer was going to be a Navy man who suffered from post-traumatic blackouts from his service in the war. However, the Navy Department objected to one of its officers being represented as a murderer. As a result, Paramount insisted that Chandler change the identity of the killer.

The actor who plays Harwood's sidekick Leo broke his toe in real life, so his injury was incorporated into the screenplay.

Writer Raymond Chandler sometimes referred to Blue Dahlia actress Veronica Lake as "Moronica" Lake. In a letter to his friend, critic James Sandoe, Chandler wrote, "The only times she's good is when she keeps her mouth shut and looks mysterious. The moment she tries to behave as if she had a brain she falls flat on her face."

Paramount offered Raymond Chandler a $5,000 bonus incentive to finish the screenplay for The Blue Dahlia.

When Paramount consented to allow Raymond Chandler to work on The Blue Dahlia from home, Chandler issued a list of requirements to help him finish which included two Cadillac limousines with drivers available around the clock, six secretaries ready to work for him at any time and a direct phone line open to the studio switchboard at night.

Famous Quotes from THE BLUE DAHLIA

"Just don't get too complicated, Eddie. When a man gets too complicated, he's unhappy. And when he's unhappy, his luck runs out." - Leo (Don Costello)

"Am I under suspicion?"

"I don't know. How do you feel about it?"
-- Eddie Harwood (Howard Da Silva)/Captain Hendrickson (Tom Powers)

"I take all the drinks I like, any time, any place. I go where I want to with anybody I want. I just happen to be that kind of a girl." - Helen Morrison (Doris Dowling)

"You gotta have more sense than to take chances with strangers like this."
"It's funny, but practically all the people were strangers when I met them."
-- Johnny Morrison (Alan Ladd)/Joyce Harwood (Veronica Lake)

"Bourbon straight with a bourbon chaser." - Buzz Wanchek (William Bendix) to Bartender

"Seems I've lost my manners, or would anyone here know the difference?" - Johnny

"Clean sheets every day they tell me."
"How often do they change the fleas?"
-- Man recommended cheap motel (Frank Faylen)/Johnny"You still want that room?"
"You sure nobody's dead in it?"
"Right back this way. You live in San Francisco"
"Yeah, when I'm there."
Corelli, Motel Operator (Howard Freeman)/Johnny

"Drink?"
"Don't mind if I do, but easy on the water."
-- Eddie Harwood/"Dad" Newell (Will Wright)

"Well, don't you even say, 'Good night'?"
"It's goodbye, and it's tough to say goodbye."
"Why is it? You've never seen me before tonight."
"Every guy's seen you before somewhere. The trick is to find you."
-- Joyce/Johnny

"It takes a lot of lights to make a city, doesn't it?" -- Joyce

"Let me see. I seem to have misplaced your name for the moment."
"Where were you keeping it?"
-- "Dad" Newell/Buzz

"I know I've got lots of faults, but being in love with you isn't one of them, is it?"
- Eddie Harwood

"Half the cops in L.A. are looking for you."
"Only half?"
-- Eddie/Johnny

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser The Blue Dahlia (1946)

Shooting began on The Blue Dahlia in March of 1945 without a completed screenplay. As the production was rushed through to ensure that star Alan Ladd was finished before he had to be back in uniform, writer Raymond Chandler worked feverishly to get the script done.

Production on The Blue Dahlia got off to a good start. Director George Marshall moved the shooting along at a brisk pace, and the film was coming in ahead of schedule. "It was not until the middle of our fourth week that a faint chill of alarm invaded the studio when the script girl pointed out that the camera was rapidly gaining on the script," recalled John Houseman in a 1965 article he wrote for Harper's magazine. "We had shot sixty-two pages in four weeks; Chandler, during that time, had turned in only twenty-two-with another thirty to go."

Chandler's main problem was that he did not have an ending to the story. Originally, he had intended the killer in the story to be Buzz (William Bendix), one of Alan Ladd's Navy buddies who returns home with him. Buzz, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, would have committed the murder of Ladd's wife during a blackout and been completely unaware that he himself was the killer. However, when the Navy got wind of this plot twist, they vehemently objected. The Navy did not want a service man to be portrayed as a murderer. As a result, Paramount told Chandler that he had to come up with a new ending.

The pressure of having to finish the screenplay to The Blue Dahlia combined with the curveball of having to write an entirely new ending was too much for Raymond Chandler. He quickly came down with a severe case of writer's block. "Still, I was not worried," said Houseman. "Ray had written such stories for years and I was quite confident that sooner or later (probably later since he seemed to enjoy the suspense) he would wind up the proceedings with an 'artistic' revelation (it was his word) and a caustic last line. But as the days went by and the camera went on chewing its way through the script and still no ending arrived, signs of tension began to appear."

The panicking studio called Chandler to a meeting that was kept secret from Houseman. The Paramount brass told Chandler that if he didn't deliver the rest of the script ASAP the entire future of the studio would be in jeopardy. As an incentive, the studio offered him a $5,000 bonus to hurry up and finish The Blue Dahlia.

The reaction that the studio had hoped to inspire in Chandler backfired. Chandler immediately went to John Houseman to tell him about the meeting and the bonus offer. "It was the front-office calculation, I suppose," said Houseman, "that by dangling this fresh carrot before Chandler's nose they were executing a brilliant and cunning maneuver. They did not know their man. They succeeded, instead, in disturbing him in three distinct and separate ways: One, his faith in himself was destroyed. By never letting Ray share my apprehensions, I had convinced him of my confidence in his ability to finish the script on time. This sense of security was now hopelessly shattered. Two, he had been insulted. To Ray, the bonus was nothing but a bribe. To be offered a large additional sum of money for the completion of an assignment for which he had already contracted and which he had every intention of fulfilling was by his standards a degradation and a dishonor. Three, by going to him behind my back they had invited him to betray a friend and fellow Public School man. The way the interview had been conducted ('sneakily') filled Ray with humiliation and rage." Chandler was so shaken up by this move that he considered walking off the film, but Houseman convinced him to sleep on it before he made any decisions. There wasn't any time to lose-there were only 10 days left before Alan Ladd was due to go back into the army.

The next day Chandler returned to John Houseman's office. He was willing to finish the screenplay, he said, but he wasn't sure that he would be able. Chandler, who was a well-known alcoholic, told Houseman that he had put down the bottle a long time ago. However, drinking, he said, is what made him a better writer. "This brought us to the crux of the matter;" said Houseman, "having repeated that he was unable and unwilling to continue working on The Blue Dahlia at the Studio, sober, Ray assured me of his complete confidence in his ability to finish it at home -- drunk."

Working from home was a privilege rarely granted to writers employed by the studio, but Chandler insisted that it was the only way he would be able to finish the screenplay. He also presented a list of requirements that he would need in order to fulfill his obligation. They included "two Cadillac limousines, to stand day and night outside the house with drivers available," "six secretaries," and "a direct line open at all times to my office by day, to the studio switchboard at night and to my home at all times." After thinking Chandler's proposal over, Houseman agreed. "Ray now became extremely cheerful," said Houseman in a 1962 interview. "It was almost noon, and he suggested, as proof of my faith in him, that we drive to the most expensive restaurant in Los Angeles and tie one on together. We left the studio and drove to Perino's, where I watched him down three double martinis before eating a large and carefully selected lunch, followed by three double stingers. We then drove back to his house, where the two Cadillacs were already in position and the first relay of secretaries at their posts..."

Even though he was "horrified" by it, John Houseman considered Chandler's willingness to start drinking again in order to finish The Blue Dahlia to be a noble sacrifice for the good of the studio. "[Chandler] did not minimize the hazards [of drinking];" said Houseman in 1964, "he pointed out that his plan...would call for deep faith on my part and supreme courage on his, since he would in effect be completing the script at the risk of his life. (It wasn't the drinking that was dangerous, he explained, since he had a doctor who gave him such massive injections of glucose that he could last for weeks with no solid food at all. It was the sobering up that was parlous; the terrible strain of his return to normal living)."

While Houseman took Chandler's behavior as a sacrifice, others considered it to be nothing more than the self-serving manipulations of a functioning alcoholic. In a 1978 article for Action magazine called "Through a Shot Glass, Darkly: How Raymond Chandler Screwed Hollywood," Billy Wilder's biographer Maurice Zolotow called Chandler's plan a scam "of such daring and brilliance that rich old screenwriters still tell the story with awe as they sip their martinis in the late afternoon on Brentwood patios." Zolotow went on to say that Chandler had never stopped drinking, and once he had obligated himself to writing the screenplay for The Blue Dahlia his drinking made it difficult for him to keep up with the writing pace expected of him. When he came to John Houseman with his elaborate plan to finish the screenplay, according to Zolotow, Chandler was simply looking for an excuse to be able to work from home and drink at the same time.

According to the 1997 book Raymond Chandler: A Biography by Tom Hiney, Chandler's offer wasn't quite so calculated. "Wilder's biographer presumes deviousness," wrote Hiney, "when more often Chandler's lies were a form of self-delusion. The fact was that Chandler frequently resorted to fantasy when making excuses for his alcoholism, or for other truths he wanted to forget."

Whether it was a self-sacrifice on Raymond Chandler's part or the scam of an alcoholic looking for a reason to drink, the new plan to finish The Blue Dahlia worked. Chandler, working and drinking from home, was happy and productive during the last weeks of writing. "I went over there from time to time," said John Houseman in 1962, "and he would extend a white and trembling hand and acknowledge my expressions of gratitude with the modest smile of a gravely wounded war hero who has shown courage well beyond the call of duty." Soon, true to his word, Chandler was able to deliver the completed screenplay as promised. "During those last eight days of shooting," said Houseman, "Chandler did not draw one sober breath, nor did one speck of solid food pass his lips."

With Chandler's finished screenplay and a new ending, The Blue Dahlia managed to finish shooting on schedule, much to the disappointment of director George Marshall, according to John Houseman. "I think George had looked forward to saving the day by improvising the last week's work on the set and that he was disappointed and perhaps a little hurt that we preferred the work of a man in an advanced stage of alcoholism to his own," said Houseman. "But he behaved admirably...The film was finished with six days to spare and Alan Ladd went off to the Army and Paramount made a heap of money."

While the studio executives may have been happy with how The Blue Dahlia turned out, there were several things about the film that Raymond Chandler didn't like. First, there was the ending that the Navy Department had forced him to change. In a letter to friend and crime literature critic James Sandoe in June 1946 Chandler wrote: "What the Navy Department did to the story was a little thing like making me change the murderer and hence make a routine whodunit out of a fairly original idea. What I wrote was a story of a man who killed (executed would be a better word) his pal's wife under the stress of a great and legitimate anger, then blanked out and forgot all about it; then with perfect honesty did his best to help the pal get out of a jam, then found himself in a set of circumstances which brought about partial recall. The poor guy remembered enough to make it clear who the murderer was to others, but never realized it himself. He just did and said things he couldn't have done or said unless he was the killer; but he never knew he did them or said them and never interpreted them."

Chandler was also unhappy with Veronica Lake's performance as Joyce Harwood. He referred to the actress as "Miss Moronica Lake" and complained to Sandoe in a letter: "The only times she's good is when she keeps her mouth shut and looks mysterious. The moment she tries to behave as if she had a brain she falls flat on her face. The scenes we had to cut out because she loused them up! And there are three godawful close shots of her looking perturbed that make me want to throw my lunch over the fence."

Also, despite director George Marshall's promise to not improvise his own dialogue into the script, Chandler claimed in a letter to Sandoe that he almost walked off the film because of it: "...it is ludicrous to suggest that any writer in Hollywood, however obstreperous, has a 'free hand' with a script;" said Chandler, "he may have a free hand with the first draft, but after that they start moving in on him. Also what happens on the set is beyond the writer's control. In this case I threatened to walk off the picture, not yet finished, unless they stopped the director putting in fresh dialogue out of his own head."

In his defense, George Marshall denied any significant tampering with the script. In a letter he wrote in 1974 Marshall said, "When the treatment was handed to me exactly as written on yellow foolscap paper, I was so impressed by the material and the quality of writing I remarked to an associate...that in all the years I had been making films, I had finally found a story which was so beautifully written I could shoot it right from the treatment...Why would I want to re-write something which I had thought so perfect at the beginning? Surely because the material had been put into script form would be no reason for destroying its inherent value." The only thing that Marshall admitted to changing was a scene in which Leo (Don Costello) and a fellow thug kidnap Johnny Morrison. While the scene was being shot, actor Costello had an on-set accident and broke his toe. Because of the injury, Costello's broken toe was incorporated into the story. Since Raymond Chandler was busy working from home at the time, Marshall did not consult him on the changes.

Regardless of Chandler's complaints, audiences flocked to see The Blue Dahlia when it opened in April 1946. Critics responded with positive notices, and Chandler received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

by Andrea Passafiume

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teaser The Blue Dahlia (1946)

Alan Ladd stars in The Blue Dahlia (1946) as Johnny Morrison, one of a threesome of World War II veterans who return to the home front disillusioned and broken by what they find there. The world has turned rotten while the buddies were away fighting the good fight in this scathing film noir, part crime story and part social commentary. While the mentally unstable Buzz (William Bendix) - whose war injury has left him disoriented and hostile - and his unofficial caretaker George Copeland (Leave It to Beaver's Hugh Beaumont) find bachelor lodgings together, Johnny returns to his wife, Helen Morrison (Doris Dowling), and young son for a long-anticipated reunion. Rather than welcoming her husband home with open arms, however, Helen treats his return as an imposition and is clearly romantically entangled with Eddie Harwood (Howard da Silva), the owner of the Blue Dahlia, a posh local bar.

Helen then delivers the ultimate bad news: driving home drunk one night from a party she also killed their only son in an accident. A distraught, heartbroken Johnny stumbles out of her bungalow and is later picked up by a luminous, kindhearted blonde - Joyce Harwood (Veronica Lake) - who also happens to be the estranged wife of Eddie Harwood. When Helen turns up dead, Joyce sticks by Johnny, trying to help him shake the murder rap. As the film unfolds, the net of suspicion is cast on a variety of people who knew the dead woman while screenwriter Raymond Chandler's pessimistic script implicates an entire society for its unsavory tendencies. The morally tainted worldview is well illustrated in one piece of dialogue. When suspected of murder, Eddie responds, "I don't happen to be that kind of a rat," to which Johnny matter-of-factly replies, "What kind of a rat are you?"

The Blue Dahlia was the first original screenplay for famed hard-boiled novelist Raymond Chandler, although several of his books, including The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely, had already been brought to the screen. He had also contributed to a number of Hollywood scripts such as Double Indemnity (1944). Originally, Chandler's story fingered Buzz - disoriented by his war injury -- as Helen's killer. But under pressure from the Navy, the studio forced Chandler to change the murderer from a war veteran to a civilian.

Ultimately, the identity of the killer is almost irrelevant for, as Chandler wrote in 1950, "the ideal mystery was the one you would read if the end was missing."

"When I first went to work in Hollywood a very intelligent producer told me that you couldn't make a successful motion picture from a mystery story because the whole point was a disclosure that took a few seconds of screen time while the audience was reaching for its hat. He was wrong, but only because he was thinking of the wrong kind of mystery."The Blue Dahlia nevertheless retains a grim pessimism about how drastically the world had changed since the three soldiers set off for war. While men and women engage in festive revelry on the homefront, oblivious to the suffering of the men overseas, there is a deep camaraderie between not only the three soldiers, but another anonymous serviceman they meet in a bar who backs down from a fight when he sees that Buzz has been injured in the war. There is also an implicit critique of men like Eddie who have made their fortune selling booze and engaging in dirtier dealings while avoiding military service. Chandler was himself a veteran (of WWI) and his bleak mysteries are colored by the grim experiences he endured in battle and upon his return. While The Blue Dahlia stands as a first-rate crime thriller, it earns extra points for its depth and insight in depicting a corrupt, cynical world that, to the three vets, probably doesn't look like one worth fighting for.

Producer: John Houseman
Director: George Marshall
Screenwriter: Raymond Chandler
Director of Photography: Lionel Lindon
Production Design: Hans Dreier, Walter Tyler
Music: Victor Young
Cast: Alan Ladd (Johnny Morrison), Veronica Lake (Joyce Harwood), William Bendix (Buzz Wanchek), Howard da Silva (Eddie Harwood), Doris Dowling (Helen Morrison), Tom Powers (Capt. Hendrickson), Hugh Beaumont (George Copeland).
BW-96m. Closed captioning.

by Felicia Feaster

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teaser The Blue Dahlia (1946)

"Playing a discharged naval flier returning home from the Pacific first to find his wife unfaithful, then to find her murdered and himself in hiding as the suspect, Alan Ladd does a bangup job. Performance has a warm appeal, while in his relentless track down of the real criminal, Ladd has a cold, steel-like quality that is potent. Fight scenes are stark and brutal, and tremendously effective...Scenes between Ladd and Lake are surprisingly sensitive, with an economy of dialog and emotion doubly appealing." Variety

"To the present expanding cycle of hard-boiled and cynical films, Paramount has contributed a honey of a rough-'em-up romance which goes by the name of The Blue Dahlia...in this floral fracas it has starred its leading tough guy, Alan Ladd, and its equally dangerous and dynamic lady V-bomb, Veronica Lake. What with that combination in this Raymond Chandler tale, it won't be simply blasting that you will hear in Times Square for weeks to come...For bones are being crushed with cold abandon, teeth are being callously kicked in and shocks are being blandly detonated at close and regular intervals on the Paramount screen. Also an air of deepening mystery overhangs this tempestuous tale which shall render it none the less intriguing to those lovers of the brutal and bizarre." The New York Times

"...a welcome throwback to a better, rougher day in movies...The Blue Dahlia serves this old wine in up-to-date glassware...The cynical crispness of atmosphere, character, and knowledge of the cold half-world, roughly approximated in films like Double Indemnity and Murder, My Sweet, has seldom been excelled since the early 1930s. Best aspects: the tortuous, anarchic understanding of a bad world's infinite mezzotints of menace and blackmail; the constant twitching of city lights; the icily skillful use of the personalities of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake; the finely stylized, underplayed scenes involving Howard da Silva as a cabaret owner. Will Wright as a house dick, Walter Sande as a gunman." -- Time Magazine

"Exciting Raymond Chandler-scripted melodrama has Ladd returning from military service to find wife unfaithful. She's murdered, he's suspected in well-turned film." Leonard Maltin, Movie and Video Guide

AWARDS AND HONORS

Raymond Chandler's script for The Blue Dahlia received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Compiled by Andrea Passafiume

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