Sunday, September 29, 2013

Metallica: Through the Never

Heavy Metal is a genre that has resonated with me for a good chunk of my life, but this affinity would not be possible if not for my discovery of Metallica. I first became exposed to the band in high school, when I was also a more avid Guitar Hero player (I began with III: Legends of Rock) and read a preview for a game based entirely around the band’s music. It may seem crazy, but I picked it up anyway out of curiosity and the rest is history. Since then, I’ve been listening to a wide variety of Heavy Metal subgenres, including, but not limited to: Groove (Pantera; Lamb of God), Progressive (Dream Theater), Symphonic (Nightwish; Symphony X) and Melodic Death (Dethklok). While I’ve been dipping my toes into many of these subgenres, it’s sometimes good to go back to Metallica and remind myself of why I love this kind of music in the first place. As someone who is a fan of most of their work, I became curious when I had heard about an upcoming movie of theirs, called Through the Never, and read about its basic plot (what also helped was that I got a free promo shirt for it at SDCC 2013). Due to the timing of the release, I went to see it in IMAX 3D on its second day, which also happens to be my 21st birthday (yesterday as of this posting). Having now seen it, I am overall satisfied with how it turned out, though it does have some shortcomings.

As Metallica plays to a sold-out show, a roadie named Trip (Dane DeHaan) is sent on a last-minute errand to find a truck containing something that the band needs. On the way over, his van gets hit by a car, setting off a series of surreal, drug-fueled events involving a riot within the city and a mysterious horseman who deals death wherever he goes. While trying to avoid these chaotic elements, he still attempts to locate the van and survive while delivering Metallica its cargo.

Through the Never is essentially composed of two elements, a non-fiction element of concert footage of Metallica while on tour in August 2012 and a fictional one of the trip that Trip has on his trip to the truck. The first, the concert footage, is very well put together. Everything is shot with crystal clarity and the camera angles chosen create possibly the best concert video I ever seen. Thanks to these angles, there is a deeper sense of immersion, since at times you feel like you are actually onstage with the band. Even when the camera isn’t directly on the stage, there are plenty of other shots that show it off in its full glory, others still where each individual member can show off their skills to the fullest, including a few that show just how good Lars Ulrich is with his drumming and Kirk Hammett with his guitar playing.

Of course, the stage itself is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. The massive 200-foot construct is able to not only facilitate so many gimmicks at once, thanks to an impressive series of trapdoors and risers, along with a floor made almost entirely of screens, but is also actually happening in real time with nothing but practical effects. Seeing the band interact with the myriad of features, including James Hetfield placing his back against a white cross during Master of Puppets or the members being able to go from mike to mike when necessary, is also cool to watch and shows that they were able to familiarize themselves with such a complex arena. The fact that it all went off without a hitch, except of course when the story required it, shows that the greatest level of care went into making the show stand out to the very energetic crowd.

The stage is very elaborate.

If there’s one thing I really need to give the band credit for however, it would be their choice of setlist. Each of the 16 songs seems carefully chosen to not only appeal to Metallica fans both old and new, but also showcase some of their best, as well as classic, material, with selections from all the way back to Kill ‘Em All up to Death Magnetic. Throughout the film, I found myself tapping my heels and air guitaring in my seat to the songs, mouthing a good deal of the lyrics to myself from familiarity and in general just being able to absorb the sonic waves of Trash Metal into my being; It’s a good thing then that not very many people were at my screening, since I’m sure I would have disturbed a much larger audience were I the only one doing this. What helped the experience greatly was the mixing, which I thought to be very good at letting the audience hear not only Hetfield’s vocals, but also each individual instrument. The only time I think it ever faulted would be during the credits, where the band plays Orion in an empty arena. Since the song is built around the bass playing abilities of the late Cliff Burton, I think Robert Trujillo’s part should have been mixed a little louder for the solos; in any case, his bass playing is excellent and his animalistic style did not disappoint.

The fictional element however, that being Trip’s surreal journey, is actually the weak point. There is definitely a lot of interesting imagery, including one badass moment near the end that brings to mind the visuals of Scott Pilgrim, but in the context of a story hardly makes any sense. We never really learn why there is a riot, why a man on horseback is lynching people left and right or even why the death dealer has his own posse. There are plenty of other spoileriffic questions, but the fact remains that there is a lot of sometimes visceral imagery put in front of the viewer without any satisfying payoff in the end. Even the meat of the subplot, that being whatever the heck might be in the bag he was sent to retrieve, isn’t answered in a way that would have any real value (maybe the bag contains Dave Mustaine’s dignity?).

This never really gets explained.

That said, I did like how the songs that Metallica played were relevant to Trip’s situation at hand and tied into things neatly, even doing some cool transitions between the two sides. While the story is overall serious in tone, I found some particular moments, despite one possibly breaking the flow of the music, to lend a good amount of humor to the events. Trip is a silent protagonist, and has good body language to compensate, but I think they made the right decision in doing that, since any dialogue he might have said wouldn’t have added anything of value to the already nonsensical “plot” we are subject to. Then again, the addition of his story, while a very interesting concept, is not ultimately why someone watching the movie would stay invested.

As the culmination of what had to be years of planning, Metallica’s first attempt at a somewhat more plot-driven concert movie is a very worthwhile one. There are a few hiccups when it comes to having fiction in such a film, but the main reason for anyone to watch would be to see the best collection of concert footage ever assembled. Metallica fans will most certainly get their money’s worth, but it is understandable for outsiders to have some concerns about going due to a lack of familiarity with the band. If you do, but decide that you want to go anyway, try it; you may just become a fan yourself.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Stubs – The Iron Giant (1999)

The Iron Giant (1999) Starring the voices of: Eli Marienthal, Jennifer Aniston, Harry Connick, Jr., Vin Diesel, Christopher McDonald, John Mahoney. Directed by Brad Bird. Screenplay by Tim McCanlies. Story by Brad Bird. Based on the novel by The Iron Man by Ted Hughes.Executive Producer Pete Townshend, Produced by Alison Abbate and Des McAnuff. Music by Michael Kamen. Run Time: 86 minutes. U.S. Color, Animated, Science Fiction

Every year there are films that, for whatever reason, don’t catch on at the box office. Now I know money is not the only measure of the worth of a movie, but since filmmaking is a business, films are judged by how much money they make. This is especially true of the films from the major studios, since they have the best distribution and marketing groups in the industry. If Warner Brothers or Disney can’t make you aware of a movie, who can?

Remember Quest for Camelot? You’re not alone. The film opened in 1998 on the same weekend as The Horse Whisperer, with Deep Impact already in the theaters. The following week, this behemoth called Godzilla would open. The net result was that Quest for Camelot lost Warner Bros about $40 million. That sort of return disillusioned the studio on animated films. Problem: there was already one in the pipeline. Gun shy from their last failure, Warner Bros. decided against putting the effort into The Iron Giant’s release. And guess what? It didn’t do well. While I can’t comment on Quest for Camelot, since I, along with the vast unwashed, didn’t see it, I did see The Iron Giant and I can honestly say Warner Bros. blew it on this one.

Remember Quest for Camelot? No? You're not alone.

This movie should have put its director Brad Bird on the map as a director of animated films. Lucky for all of us that would happen, but five years later with the release of Pixar’s The Incredibles (2004). While Iron Giant was a critical success and won several animation awards, those were after the fact. Warner Bros., according to filmmakers Bird and writer Tim McCanlies, didn’t realize what they had on their hands.

1957 was a time of great paranoia in America. This was the height of the Cold War between the U.S. and the then U.S.S.R.  The Soviets had launched Sputnik that year, sending the U.S. into a panic. We were suddenly in the midst of a crisis and everyone felt vulnerable. All eyes were looking skyward, wondering what they might see and fearful of what might come their way.

Into this atmosphere, a large alien crashes off the coast of Rockwell, Maine. The only one to see this happen is Earl Stutz (M. Emmet Walsh), a local fisherman. He even crashes his boat into the robot before getting washed up on shore.

The next morning, Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) rides his bike to the diner where his mother, Annie (Jennifer Aniston), works. He has found a squirrel that he hopes he can talk his mom into letting him keep. While looking for it, he overhears Earl telling everyone about his close encounter and his call to the government. But everyone believes Earl is off his chum (in keeping with the fishing metaphor). Dean, a local beatnik artist, sticks up for Earl, but that only makes Earl less believable.

Dean has a squirrel in his pocket.

That night, Hogarth is left alone at home; he indulges in Twinkies and popcorn while watching bad 50’s sci-fi on the television. When the TV picture goes bad, Hogarth goes outside to check on the antenna and finds it’s missing. Seeing a bath of destruction into the woods, Hogarth, with his trusty BB gun and flashlight attached, goes looking for what he suspects and hopes are martians.

Powered by junk food and an overly active imagination and
armed with a BB gun, Hogarth gets ready to hunt for Martians

Running towards flashes of light, Hogarth comes across an electric substation just before the Iron Giant sees it. Thinking it’s food, it starts to eat the metal structures, but gets a shock when he gets entangled in the power lines. Hogarth starts to run, but hearing the Giant’s screams of agony, he goes back and turns off the power. The Giant falls down unconscious. Hogarth climbs up to get a closer look when the Giant wakes up. Hogarth runs away into his mother’s arms. While she loves him, she doesn’t believe the wild story he’s spewing. But when they drive away, Hogarth looks back and sees the Giant’s eyes watching after him.

The power station is just what a hungry Iron Giant craves.

The next day at school, Hogarth and his class watch a duck and cover film about nuclear blasts. Meanwhile, a farmer is trying to sell Dean his half eaten tractor. The next morning, government agent Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald) arrives to investigate the power plant damage. While he’s on the scene, he’s shown the BB gun that Hogarth had dropped and the Giant had crushed. But before he can leave, half of his car is eaten and when he tries to show the damage to Marv Loach (James Gammon), the foreman at the station, the rest of it has been eaten as well.

U.S. government agent Kent Mansley is sent to assess the damage down
to the power station. Here he talks with station foreman, Marv Loach.

That afternoon, Hogarth goes looking for the Giant. He has with him a camera on which he hopes to record the Giant, but he grows bored waiting for him and falls asleep. The Giant’s arrival awakens him and once again, Hogarth runs away. But the Iron Giant remembers what Hogarth had done for him. Hogarth asks him questions, but the Giant doesn’t seem to know where he came from or who he is. Hogarth notices the dent in his head, which he thinks might explain his not knowing.

The Iron Giant finds Hogarth.

Hogarth teaches the robot the difference between a rock and a tree. He’s beside himself with glee, but knows he can’t tell anyone since they might start shooting.

The Iron Giant learns from imitating Hogarth.

Meanwhile, Mansley tells the city council his theory about the sightings and the odd occurrences.
It’s getting dark and Hogarth knows he needs to get home, but the Iron Giant doesn’t seem to understand Hogarth’s command to stay. Like an orphaned dog, the robot follows him home. The Giant is hungry (he’s always hungry) and the railroad tracks they pass over on the way to Hogarth’s house are too tempting to pass up.

But Hogarth is alarmed at the sound of the incoming train and tells the giant to fix the tracks. It isn’t perfect, but the Giant is fascinated about making the rails line up and takes too long, causing the train to collide with his head. The train doesn’t derail, but the Giant has busted up into bits. When the engineers stop the train and call, Hogarth takes the Giant and hides him in the barn behind his house. The Giant, to Hogarth’s amazement, seems to be self-repairing as the various parts follow a radio signal back to the Giant and put themselves in place. All, that is, except the Giant’s left hand.

The Giant takes too long to piece the railroad track back together.

Mansley is at the Mayor’s office when the call about the train wreck comes in. Borrowing the mayor’s car, he drives out to investigate. The engineers tell Mansley that they collided with a giant metal man. Mansley needs to use a phone and is pointed to Hogarth’s house. Meanwhile, inside, Hogarth is saying grace when the Giant’s hand suddenly appears inside the house. Hogarth tries to sneak the hand out, but Mansley shows up at the door to use the phone.

He calls General Rogard (John Mahoney) and reports about the power station and the train wreck, but he gets laughed at. But Rogard tells him to get evidence before he can commit troops. When he’s driving away, Mansley realizes that Hogarth Hughes is the name on the BB gun he recovered and goes back. But the hand has gotten into the bathroom and flushes the toilet and Hogarth runs away to investigate.  He manages to sneak the hand out before anyone sees.

Mansley calls General Rogard about what he's found out.

Annie tells Mansley about the story Hogarth has been telling her. Later that night, Hogarth takes a bunch of comic books with him back to the barn and reads to the Giant. The Iron Giant is most impressed with Superman, but distressed when he finds a comic book about Atomo, an evil robot. But Hogarth tells him that he gets to choose what kind of robot he wants to be.

Hearing the Giant’s stomach growl, Hogarth takes him to look for metal. When they pass Rockwell, the Robot wants to go to town, but Hogarth has to convince him the town isn’t ready. They find an abandoned car for the Giant, but before he can eat it, Dean McCoppin Scrap tows it away. But taking the Giant to the scrap yard, he starts to pig out. He makes such a commotion that Dean comes out to investigate. Hogarth learns that Dean is into scrap so he can make it into art.

Dean makes him coffee, which makes Hogarth hyper. Dean gives Hogarth the same advice about choosing who he wants to be that Hogarth gave the Giant. When the Giant makes more noise, Dean goes out to confront him. Dean balks at putting the Giant up but relents to let him stay the night. Hogarth makes it home just in time to get ready for school. Annie surprises him with news that Mansley has rented the room.

An unhappy surprise. Mansley moves in with the Hughes'.

The next morning, Dean calls Hogarth to come get the Giant, but Hogarth can’t shake Mansley, who keeps peppering him with questions. Meanwhile, Dean tells the Giant to stop eating the art and only eat the scrap metal.

Dean tells the Giant not to eat the art.

To get rid of Mansley, Hogarth feeds him a chocolate laxative, which allows Hogarth to escape. When he finally makes it to the scrap yard he finds Dean has gotten the Giant to help him with his art. But Hogarth would rather play than do arts and crafts. But Dean gets worried that they’re too out in the open. When Hogarth suggests the lake, Dean goes.
Hogarth breaks up a chocolate laxative into Mansley's shake.

Meanwhile, between trips to the restroom, Mansley interviews locals about their encounters with the robot. While out in the woods, Mansley finds Hogarth’s camera.

Mansley uncovers the truth in between trips to the bathroom.

At the lake, Hogarth does a dive and makes a big splash. Ever impersonating his host, the Giant does the same dive, but the splash is so big that it empties the water from the lake and deposits Dean miles away in the middle of the road.

The Iron Giant makes a really big splash.

Mansley develops the photos from the camera and discovers a photo of Hogarth with the Robot behind him.

Meanwhile, out in the woods, Hogarth and the Giant witness a deer being shot and killed by hunters. When they go investigate they chase the hunters away. Hogarth doesn’t notice the Robot’s reaction to the rifle, the sight of which causes changes in him, which Hogarth interrupts. Hogarth has to explain death to the Robot.

When Hogarth makes it home, Mansley is waiting for him. Annie is working late, so Mansley interrogates Hogarth as if being a government agent gives him carte blanche. He threatens to take Hogarth away from his mom. Scared, Hogarth tells him where the Giant is hidden. Mansley chloroforms Hogarth and then calls the General. The army will arrive the next morning and Hogarth knows he has to warn Dean. But Mansley has other ideas and doesn’t let the boy out of his sight. The question is who will fall asleep first.

The next morning, Hogarth’s already up before Mansley wakes up. So by the time the Army arrives at the scrap yard, Dean is ready. He explains to the General that the giant metal man is really a sculpture he’s created and has sold to a wealthy industrialist for the lobby of his company.

The Iron Giant, posing as a piece of sculpture, fools the Army.

The General rips Mansley a new one while Annie flirts with Dean. She seems to take an interest in Dean’s art. After the army departs, the boy and robot play. Hogarth wants play to Atomo, but the Giant wants to be Superman. When Hogarth pretends to attack the robot with a toy gun, he inadvertently causes the robot to activate a weapons system in retaliation and shoots a destructive ray at him. Dean saves Hogarth and angrily commands the robot to leave, but Hogarth, believing the robot never meant to harm him, gives chase. Dean sees the toy gun and realizes that the robot cannot control its self-defense reaction. He catches up with Hogarth on his motorbike and they chase after the robot before it can reach the town.

The Iron Giant wants to be Superman.

After the Giant has run away, Dean realizes the Giant was reacting to the gun and helps Hogarth go after him. In Rockwell, the robot saves two boys who break through a balcony while watching him. The Army convoy sees the Giant in Rockwell and goes back. But before they get there, Hogarth shows up. The Army starts shooting and Hogarth tells the Giant to run away.

Dean tells Mansley the Giant has Hogarth with him, but Mansley lies and tells the General that the Giant has killed the kid. The Army goes to code red and F-86 jets are scrambled. The Giant, with Hogarth in hand, is chased over a cliff and, while falling, discovers he can fly. But when one of the jets shoots him out of the sky, the Army moves into investigate just as the Giant is looking after Hogarth’s unconscious body. He thinks the boy is dead and enraged activates its weapons and attacks the Army, who are no match for the advanced firepower.

The Army is no match for The Iron Giant's firepower.

But Hogarth recovers and succeeds in pacifying the Giant, reminding him that it is bad to kill and that he can choose not to be a gun. The Giant seems to be scared of what he’s become. Even though the General has readied a nuclear ballistic missile from the USS Nautilus, he is about to tell them to stand down when Mansley grabs the walkie talkie and orders the strike. Realizing the deadly mistake, Rogard lambasts Mansley and informs him that not only the robot, but everyone in Rockwell, will be destroyed when the missile hits. Mansley tries to escape Rockwell to save himself, but the robot stops him and he is arrested by the Army.

Hogarth convinces The Iron Giant that he is not a weapon.

With the missile launched, Hogarth explains to the Robot that once it falls, everyone in Rockwell will die. The Giant decides on its own to intercept the missile. Thinking of itself as Superman and with a smile of satisfaction, he intercepts the missile, causing a massive explosion in the atmosphere. He saves the town, but is destroyed in the process. Or is he?

The Iron Giant flies to intercept a polaris missile aimed at Rockwell.

Months have passed. The people of Rockwell recognize the giant as a hero, but everyone, especially Hogarth, is deeply saddened by the robot's sacrifice.

Annie and Dean are now a couple. Dean has erected a statue in honor of the Giant. Hogarth receives a package from General Rogard, a screw from the giant, the only part they recovered. But that night, reacting to the Giant’s radio message, the giant screw starts off in search of the robot. Hogarth realizes the Giant is still alive and lets the screw out of the house. The part starts out on a trek that will take it and other parts of the robot to the Icelandic Langjökull Glacier, where the Robot still lives.

The Iron Giant waits for his parts to find him so he can reassemble.

Having gotten the origin story out of the way, the film seems to be setting up for a potential sequel, say the return of the Giant to Rockwell and reuniting with Hogarth. But alas that’s one that got away. The film, unlike the ballistic missile launched in the movie, was a dud. The film with a budget at between $50 and 70 million earned a very disappointing $32 million worldwide.

Which is a terrible shame as the film may be, as the International Gaming Networks (IGN) once called it, the best non-Disney animated film. Unlike, say the films from Pixar and Dreamworks Animation, the film is a mix of traditional animation and computer generated imagery, which was employed for rendering the Giant.

The movie is very different from the original book, The Iron Man, written by Ted Hughes, a British  Poet Laureate and published in 1968. Not to be confused with Iron Man, the Marvel comic book character (which is why the movie is called The Iron Giant). The book takes place in England and tells the story of a giant metal man. Like our Giant, the metal man devours farm equipment and befriends a local boy. But in the book, the metal man protects Earth from a monster from outer space. In the film, the Giant saves us from our own overworked paranoia.

The book, The Iron Man by Ted Hughes, on which the movie is based.

All the voice acting is good, including Eli Marienthal, a 12-year-old who voiced for Hogarth. But the voice of the Giant is very important. Originally the role was offered to Peter Cullen, best known as the voice of G1 Transformers Optimus Prime, but Cullen was unavailable. This is why they went with a then virtual unknown named Vin Diesel (back when it was okay to like Diesel), who has gone on to star in a series of Fast and Furious films. Diesel’s deep voice works well for the Giant Robot.

The score for the film is good, but it is the soundtrack which really helps to set the mood for the film and help it seem true to the time period. The songs have an easy jazz feel, the sort of music I imagine Dean himself would probably listen to as he drank his espresso.

The film has almost everything you would want in a movie. The characters have depth to them, which is more than you often get with many films. The story has a universal quality to it, telling everyone that you are who you choose to be, a lesson we can all apply to our everyday lives. While there is a real sense of peril at the climax, the film does end on a happy and even hopeful note. Overall, this film has heart and humor.

I cannot recommend a movie more than I would recommend The Iron Giant to anyone who hasn’t seen it. This is an animated film that children should like, but that has enough meat on its bones to appeal to adults as well. It’s only too bad that the film could not take its own advice and decide to be a big hit the first time it was released.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Stubs – The Big Sleep (1945 and 1946)

The Big Sleep (1946): Theatrical Version: Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, Peggy Knudsen Directed by Howard Hawks. Produced by Howard Hawks.  Screenplay by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman. Based on the novel The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Run Time: 115. Black and White, U.S. Crime, Mystery, Film Noir

The Big Sleep has all the elements to make it one of my favorite films. Humphrey Bogart is one of my favorite actors and Howard Hawks one of my favorite directors. The screenplay is sharp and witty and partially written by William Faulkner (yes, that William Faulkner) and based on the work of Raymond Chandler. My biggest problem with the film is the convoluted plot that loses me somewhere along the way.

Apparently, not all the answers are found in the original book.
Now, I’m well aware of the film’s reputation and have a pretty good idea why the film plays like it does. Shot from October 10, 1944 through January 12, 1945, the film was not released right away and was shelved by Warner Bros. as WWII was coming to an end. Now Warner Bros. wasn’t doing this out of some patriotic intention, but because they had several war films in the pipeline and thought that the public might tire of war films when the war was finally won.

After The Big Sleep went into production, Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s first pairing To Have and to Have Not (1944) had its theatrical run, making the very young Bacall a major star overnight. Not long after production on The Big Sleep wrapped, Bogart and Bacall got married.

But between the release of To Have and to Have Not, Bacall starred in another film, Confidential Agent (1945), opposite Charles Boyer. As good as her reviews had been for To Have and to Have Not, they were just as bad or worse for Confidential Agent. Seeing the potential of his client’s career to tank, Bacall’s agent, Charles K. Feldman, wrote a letter to Jack Warner asking that changes be made to The Big Sleep that would show Bacall off in a better light. He suggested some changes be made to her character, as an example making her more insolent, which had been an endearing quality of hers in To Have and to Have Not. He also suggested making some other changes that would better show her off, as in excising what he referred to as the Veil scene, most likely because her best feature, her beauty, is partially obscured.

The scathing reviews Lauren Bacall received in Confidential Agent (1945)
 opposite Charles Boyer prompted Bacall's agent Charles K. Feldman
to ask Jack Warner to make changes to The Big Sleep to help save her career.
Warner, who was well aware that there was public interest in the couple, was receptive. Who wouldn’t want to see more interplay between the two on screen? Bacall and Bogart agreed to the reshoots as long as Howard Hawks directed them and nearly a year after production closed, reshoots began on January 2, 1946.

In those days, when something was added to a film, something else had to get cut. In the case of The Big Sleep, what was cut out to make room for more Bogart and Bacall was something the filmmakers hoped no one would miss: plot.

I decided to watch the two versions of the film with the goal of finding out for myself, if there really is a cohesive plot somewhere in the film’s/story’s DNA or is there perhaps nothing there and the flaw lies with the story as much as the theatrical version of the film. I already know I might be looking for a needle in a haystack because legend has it that even Raymond Chandler couldn’t answer questions about the plot when asked by Hawks.

One other note: I know that this has been done by other bloggers on other websites and by reviewers in print, but since Trophy Unlocked is about the personal adventure through pop culture, past and present, I decided I should make the journey myself.

The theatrical version goes as follows:
Private detective Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) is called to the house of General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) at his Los Angeles mansion. The first Sternwood Marlowe runs into though is Carmen (Martha Vickers), a sexy troublemaker, who flirts with Marlowe before the butler, Norris (Charles D. Brown), takes him to see the General. The wealthy retired and now seemingly feeble General lives in a virtual hothouse, like an orchid and can no longer drink or smoke, two things, no doubt, responsible for his being an invalid now.
Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers)
Sternwood tells Marlowe that he is being blackmailed for a second time. Marlowe, who once worked in the DA’s office, before getting fired for insubordination, asks what he was blackmailed about then and why it hadn’t gone through the DA’s office. Sternwood tells him that he had a man, Sean Regan, handle it. Regan is someone Marlowe is familiar with from prohibition, having fought on different sides of the law while remaining cordial. Regan handled a payment to Joe Brody of $5000 to leave Carmen alone. Now Sternwood is being threatened by a man named Arthur Gwynn Geiger (Theodore von Eltz) for gambling debts Carmen supposedly owes. Per his business card, Geiger is a dealer in rare books. Regan’s not handling this one because about a month ago he’d gone missing, which deeply hurt the General. Marlowe suggests Sternwood pay Geiger off, but neither thinks they’re really gambling debts. Marlowe agrees to get Geiger off Sternwood’s back.
Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) meets with General Sternwood
(Charles Waldron) about being blackmailed about Carmen.
On his way out, Norris tells Marlowe that Sternwood's older daughter, Mrs. Vivian Rutledge (Lauren Bacall), wants to see him. She tries to get Marlowe to tell her what the case is about by pretending to already know. She suspects her father's true motive for calling in a detective is to find Sean Regan. But Marlowe won’t tell her and leaves.
Before going to Geiger’s bookshop, Marlowe stops at the Hollywood Public Library to research rare first editions. Then with a disguise of sunglasses and a turned up brim hat, Marlowe enters the bookstore.  Agnes Lowzier (Sonia Darrin), Geiger's assistant, minds the shop but has never heard of any of the ones he’s looked up or the fake rare books he’s made up. Marlowe asks to see Mr. Geiger when an older man enters the shop. Agnes obviously recognizes him, gives him the high sign and buzzes him into the backroom.
Marlowe quizzes Agnes Lowzier (Sonia Darrin) about her knowledge of rare books.
Marlowe heads across the street to another bookstore, Acme, and while the proprietress (Dorothy Malone) doesn’t sell the rare books he’s asking about she at least knows which ones are real or not. She helps Marlowe by describing Geiger to him. It’s starting to rain outside and Marlowe decides to wait it out in the shop and shares a bottle of rye (whiskey) he has on him. She closes the store for the day and well…

Marlowe manages to kill an afternoon in the company
of Acme Book Store proprietress (Dorothy Malone).
Marlowe stays until Geiger’s car arrives. Carol Lundgren (Thomas Rafferty) is driving and ushers Geiger to the car, but Geiger drives himself away. Marlowe follows Geiger to a house at 460 Laverne Terrace where Geiger goes inside. Marlowe waits outside in his coupe. Carmen Sternwood arrives and goes inside. Marlowe continues to wait and we get the definite idea that there has been a passage of time in hours. 
Marlowe waits outside Geiger's house.
Through the living room window, he sees a flash and hears a woman scream and as he runs towards the house he hears gunshots. While he’s trying to get inside, two cars drive from around the back of the house, but Marlowe can’t get a good view of either. Breaking into the house through a window, he finds a drugged Carmen sitting there subdued. At her feet is Geiger’s dead body and across from her on a table, he finds the flash used as well as a hidden camera without film.
Marlowe finds Carmen drugged, dazed and confused with Geiger's dead body at her feet.
Carmen is of no help, too drugged out to remember what had just happened. Marlowe goes through Geiger’s desk and finds a book with names and codes, including the Sternwood’s. He takes the book and then takes Carmen home. He tells Vivian and Norris that if the police come, Carmen never left the house. He and Vivian put her to bed and he leaves.
Marlowe hikes back to the house on Laverne Terrace, despite the rain. He starts to get into his car but decides to go back into the house and discovers the body is no longer there. But there is still blood on the rug that had been under the body.
He goes back to his apartment and tries to decode Geiger’s accounts. At two in the morning, Chief Inspector Bernie Ohls (Regis Toomey) comes by to tell him that the Sternwood’s Packard had been found off Lido Pier with a body inside. Marlowe asks if it’s Regan, but when they get down there, it turns out to be someone else, Owen Taylor, the Sternwood’s chauffeur, but it doesn’t look like an accident.
The Sternwood's Packard being pulled out of the ocean off Lido Pier.
The next day at his office, Vivian is waiting for him, not about the chauffeur, but about the business with her father. But she has with her photos that were messengered over to their house that morning. An anonymous woman had called and wants $5000 for the print and the negative of Carmen taken last night. Instead of going to the police she’s come to Marlowe’s, but on a dare, she calls them. Marlowe stops her and he and Vivian play a gag on the officer, Sgt. Riley who answered the call.
Marlowe and Vivian Sternwood (Lauren Bacall) make a gag call to the police.
Marlowe mixes business with pleasure as he flirts with Vivian while discussing business. He asks if she has the $5000 in cash, and while she doesn’t she says she can get it from Eddie Mars (John Ridgely), the gambler. There is a special bond between Mars and the Sternwoods, she tells him. Regan supposedly ran away with Mars’ wife when he disappeared. He instructs Vivian to call him when the woman calls back with instructions.
Marlowe returns to Geiger's bookstore, where they are packing up the store. Carol is there as well as another man, Joe Brody (Louis Jean Heydt). Marlowe hires a cab to follows a box laden station wagon from the store to Brody’s apartment in the Randall Arms.
Joy Barlowe plays the cab driver who helps Marlowe follow Brody.
Marlowe then returns to Geiger's house and finds Carmen stalking around there. She initially claims ignorance about the murder but then insists Brody killed Geiger. They are interrupted by the owner of the home, small-time gangster Eddie Mars, who claims to be looking for Geiger. Mars lets Carmen go but detains Marlowe. Mars finds the blood and threatens to call the police. After some very witty exchange, Mars tells Marlowe that he owns the house.
Marlowe lets Carmen into Geiger's house.
The dialogue is great. And the exchange between Mars and Marlowe is one of my favorites:
Eddie Mars: Convenient, the door being open when you didn't have a key, eh?
Philip Marlowe: Yeah, wasn't it. By the way, how'd you happen to have one?
Eddie Mars: Is that any of your business?
Philip Marlowe: I could make it my business.
Eddie Mars: I could make your business mine.
Philip Marlowe: Oh, you wouldn't like it. The pay's too small.
Some of the best dialogue comes in the scene with Eddie Mars
 (John Ridgely) and Marlowe at the house on Laverne Avenue.
Marlowe is eventually allowed to leave. Back at his office, Marlowe finally receives a call from Vivian, who claims the anonymous woman never called.
But Marlowe decides to go to Brody’s apartment, where sure enough after a while Vivian arrives and goes inside. Marlowe waits before going in himself. He talks his way into the apartment but Brody is armed. Agnes and Vivian are both initially hiding but not doing a very good job of it. Vivian is not happy to see Marlowe. Brody says he didn’t kill Geiger. Marlowe convinces Brody to give him the photo when they are interrupted by Carmen, who is armed and wants her photo. Marlowe keeps the pictures and sends Vivian and Carmen home. Brody admits he was blackmailing both General Sternwood and Vivian.
Joe Brody (Louis Jean Heydt) reluctantly lets Marlowe into his apartment.
While they’re talking, Marlowe figures out that Brody got the photo from Owen Taylor and it was Owen, sweet on Carmen, who killed Geiger, took the photo and ran. Brody followed and caught Owen and sapped him down. Marlowe is convinced that Brody killed Owen, but he can’t prove it and doesn’t really seem to want to, either. The two men are about to come to some arrangement when there is another knock on his door. Brody is suddenly shot and killed and the assailant flees. Marlowe chases and apprehends Carol Lundgren, Geiger's former driver, who has killed Brody in revenge for Geiger's death.
Marlowe apprehends Carol Lundgren (Thomas Rafferty) after he's killed, Brody.
Marlowe has Lundgren drive them to Geiger’s house. Once there Lundgren tries to escape, but Marlowe knocks him out, with a less than manly kick to the head. After tying Lundgren up, Marlowe discovers Geiger’s body in one of the bedrooms. He calls Bernie to have him come out to Geiger’s, where Lundgren is arrested.
Next, Vivian meets Marlowe at a restaurant and they discuss the case. She’s happy that the case has turned out so well and pays him off. She openly flirts with him. They use racing jargon to discuss each other. He suspects that someone put Vivian up to “sugaring him off the case.” He knows it wasn’t her father and he intends to keep investigating. He speculates that it’s Eddie Mars, and that rattles her. He lets her leave before he calls Eddie Mars to set up a meeting.
Marlowe meets with Vivian in a bar where she tells him the case is closed.
Marlowe drives out to Mars' casino. Vivian is already there, singing with the gang around the piano, you know, the same thing you see in Vegas casinos all the time. (Right) This is an obvious way to let Bacall sing in the film, as she did to good reception in To Have and to Have Not.
Vivian sings Tears Flowed Like Wine in The Big Sleep.
When Marlowe meets with Mars, they are both cordial. Marlowe asks Mars about Regan, but Mars is evasive. He seems to convince Marlowe that he wasn’t involved in the blackmail scheme with the Sternwoods. Mars tells Marlowe that Vivian is running up gambling debts. Marlowe is about to leave, but he questions Mars’ lack of concern for finding his wife. Vivian asks pages to let Marlowe know that she wants to see him. She is winning big at roulette and then wants Marlowe to take her home. A stooge of Mars' attempts to rob Vivian, but Marlowe intervenes and knocks him out.
While driving home through the desert, Marlowe unsuccessfully presses Vivian on her connection with Mars, saying he knew the money she won and subsequent robbery was a setup by Mars and her, but Vivian admits to nothing. Marlowe kisses her and he keeps pressing for answers. When she won’t show him the money she supposedly won, Marlowe tells her that she’s on her own as far as he’s concerned.
Marlowe pulls over on the highway for talking and making out with Vivian.
Marlowe returns home to find a flirtatious Carmen waiting for him. She admits she didn't like Regan because he didn’t treat her like a woman. She also mentions that Mars calls Vivian frequently. She attempts to seduce Marlowe, who instead throws her out of his apartment.
Carmen shows up uninvited at Marlowe's apartment.
Marlowe is awakened the next afternoon by a call from Bernie who wants to see him right away. Bernie tells him that per the DA he’s supposed to lay off the Sternwood case. Vivian is behind it, but Marlowe intends to keep on investigating, even if he doesn’t have a client. He tells Bernie that he thinks Mars has something on Vivian and thinks it has something to do with Sean Regan.
After eating breakfast in the afternoon, Marlowe calls to come out and see General Sternwood. Norris tells him that it’s not possible, but that Vivian wants to talk to him. She tells him that Regan has been found in Mexico, but injured and that she is leaving to see him.
Marlowe calls General Sternwood from a pay phone.
On his way back to his office, Marlowe notices a car that he suspects has been following him. Checking the registration, the car is owned by Harry Jones (Elisha Cook Jr.), an associate of Brody's, who apparently is now Agnes' lover or at least he thinks he is. Before Marlowe gets much further, a couple of thugs work him over in the alley. One of them tells him to lay off.
Harry introduces himself to Marlowe afterward and helps him up to his office. He tells Marlowe that he has something to sell cheap, for a couple of C’s, that it would help him find Regan. Harry tells him that Agnes has the information and will tell him when she has the money. They arrange to meet in another office in an hour and Harry will take him to Agnes.
Harry Jones (Elisha Cook Jr.) makes a deal with Marlowe.
However, when Marlowe arrives, Jones is already being interrogated by a hired killer who works for Eddie Mars named Canino (Bob Steele). He wants to know why Harry’s been following Marlowe. When he tells him he’s doing it for Agnes, Canino wants to know where Agnes is. Jones gives him an address, which turns out to be false, and then Canino poisons him. Marlowe admires what Harry did but bemoans that he’s been left high and dry, that is until Agnes calls. Marlowe tells her that Harry died to keep her out of trouble, but she’s more concerned about the money.
Marlowe listens in, but doesn't intercede while Canino
(Bob Steele) interrogates and then poisons Harry.
They meet and Agnes tells him how one day when she and Joe were out driving around they saw Mona Mars in a car with Canino and decided to follow them. Mona’s staying 10 miles east of a town called Realito behind an auto repair shop run by a guy named Art Huck (Trevor Bardette).
In exchange for $200 Agnes tells Marlowe where Mona Mars is staying.
Marlowe drives out there and fakes a roadside emergency, flattening his own car tire by letting the air out. He then goes to Art’s to ask for help. Art is reluctant, but Canino, who is already there, acts like Art should help him. The two of them then attack Marlowe, tie him up and take him into the house.
Canino is supposedly waiting for a spray job at Huck's Auto shop.
When he wakes up he is being watched over by Mona Mars (Peggy Knudsen) and Vivian. Mona tells Marlowe she’d like to know  what happened to Sean. Vivian is angry that Marlowe didn’t let the case drop. She tells him that since there’s no phone in the house, Art and Canino have gone into Realito to use the phone to call Mars for instructions.
Vivian and Mona Mars (Peggy Knudsen) watch Marlowe
after Huck and Canino drive into Realito to use the phone.
Mona tries to defend her husband, but Marlowe tells her that Mars is a gangster, blackmailer, a killer and so on until Mona angrily leaves them alone. Marlowe plays on Vivian’s fears for his life and she frees him, cutting the ropes that bind him, but not the handcuffs. Canino has the key. When the men return, Vivian creates a distraction, allowing Marlowe to get to his car and his gun.
Marlowe has hidden guns in his car.
Canino sends Art out of the house first, but Marlow fires a gun causing Huck to run for his life. Canino brings Vivian outside at gunpoint using her as a shield. She yells that Marlowe is in the car behind the wheel and Canino empties his gun into the car. Just then Marlowe pops up and shoots Canino dead.
During the drive back to Geiger's bungalow, Vivian admits that she’s in love with Marlowe, but doesn’t want to go to the police, as she unconvincingly tries to claim she killed Sean Regan. Marlowe can’t do the right thing for what he fears it will do to the Sternwoods.
When they arrive, Marlowe calls Mars and lies that he is still in Realito at the same pay phone Canino used. They arrange to meet at Geiger's house, giving Marlowe ten minutes to prepare. Mars arrives with four men, who set up ambush points outside. Marlowe has Vivian watch the back of the house.
Marlowe calls Mars from Geiger's house but pretends he's still in Realito.
Mars enters and is surprised by Marlowe, who holds him at gunpoint. Marlowe reveals he has discerned the truth: Mars has been blackmailing Vivian, claiming that her sister Carmen had killed Regan. But while the story makes sense, Marlowe believes Carmen is capable of murder, he wants Mars to convince him. Marlowe calls Mars on the fact that he didn’t seem to know Carmen that day they’d all been at Geiger’s. But that question never really gets resolved. Eddie tells him that his boys have orders to shoot whoever comes out of the house first. Marlowe retaliates by an errant firing shot. The next one nicks Mars in the wrist. Mars runs outside and even though he yells for his boys not to shoot, they do. His lifeless body falls back into the house.
Marlowe then calls Bernie to come get him. He tells him that Mars is the one who killed Regan. While the two of them wait for the police to arrive, Marlowe tells Vivian that what he is going to tell the police will be close to the truth and he tells Vivian that they’ll have to send Carmen away to get help. Vivian tells Marlowe that he’s forgotten one thing, her. When he asks what’s wrong with her, she tells him nothing that he can’t fix. The sirens wail as the police close in.
"What about me?" Vivian asks Marlowe at the end of The Big Sleep.
Is it just me, but I’m really not sure who killed Sean Regan and why I should care. Marlowe hints pretty strongly that it’s Carmen, but he never makes it clear or lets anyone else sound definitive about it. He even shoots holes through Mars’ version of the story, as if Mars couldn’t have known it was Carmen.  We’re told Carmen’s motivation was that Regan rejected her, but why did Mars hide the body or start the rumor that Mona had run off with him? For a mystery, it leaves a lot of things unresolved by the end of the movie.
I don’t blame Marlowe for wanting to protect Vivian, he’s in love with her after all, but I don’t like the fact that after nearly two hours I don’t have a conclusion to the story and that Marlowe, through his actions, is the one who has kept me from the truth.

That complaint aside, this is really a movie I want to love. There are so many things going for it. The stars are truly stars and good actors to boot. Bogart is one of my favorite Hollywood actors and I don’t think I’ve kept that a secret. He is riveting to watch on the screen and I get a real sense that he understands the Marlowe character.

Lauren Bacall is also very good and she and Bogart are really good together. The old adage about chemistry really comes through on the screen, even when their characters are trying to act like there isn’t any is proven true here.

The supporting cast is also really good as well. Elisha Cook is always good, especially in little roles, like Harry Jones. Martha Vickers as Carmen comes close to stealing the movie away from Bacall.  Raymond Chandler even noticed this and the producers cut down on her part in the theatrical version. Bob Steele makes a very menacing Canino and John Ridgely is also very good as Eddie Mars.

Tom Fadden (Sidney) (l) and Ben Weldon (Pete) play a
couple of Mars' henchmen and also provide some comedic relief.
The theatrical version is a little like Christmas when you’re a kid and get a lot of presents of things you’re supposed to want, but you don’t get the big item you really do. You like what you get, but you don’t love it. In the case of the theatrical version of The Big Sleep, I love it, but it confuses me. My hope is that the key to my confusion is in the Lauren Bacall additions and plot subtractions that take place in between the original and the theatrical versions.

So, it’s on to the original version of the film to look for answers.

The Big Sleep (1945, Not Theatrically Released): Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, Pat Clark. Directed by Howard Hawks. Produced by Howard Hawks. Screenplay by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman. Based on the novel The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Run Time: 115. Black and White, U.S. Crime, Mystery, Film Noir

The movie starts out much the same as the theatrical version, with the first change when Marlowe breaks into the house on Laverne Terrace following the light, the scream, and the gunshots. Marlowe takes the bottle of what Carmen had been drinking and the two glasses next to her into the kitchen and runs water over them (I’m guessing thus destroy fingerprints that might link her to the crime scene.) He notices the window over the sink has been broken into. He then makes a search of the house, going through Geiger’s things and finding a set of keys.

Marlowe searches Geiger's bedroom in the original version of The Big Sleep.
Back in the living room, he uses the keys to unlock the desk, which he searches, finds the strong box and the coded book which he takes. When Marlowe takes Carmen back to the Sternwood house, he doesn’t go inside, as he does in the theatrical version, and Vivian is not home either. Marlowe tells everything to Norris and then hikes back to the house on Laverne.

The film pretty much picks up where it had, when Vivian comes to Marlowe’s office, there is a little bit different dialogue in the original than in the theatrical version. Overdubs were made for the theatrical since Vivian was home in that version and the dialogue has to reflect that.

Again things proceed pretty much the same until after Brody is murdered. Marlowe captures the shooter, Carol Lundgren, and takes him back to the house on Laverne and finds Geiger’s body has been returned. But after calling Bernie, instead of meeting Vivian for drinks and sex talk, Marlowe has an appointment with Mr. Wilde (Thomas Jackson), the DA and Captain Cronajer (James Flavin) from the Hollywood division. On the drive over, Bernie tells Marlowe that it might get tough in there. Neither Wilde (whom I take it was once Marlowe’s employer) and Capt. Cronajer (whom Marlowe has had run-ins with in the past) like him. Bernie thinks he can needle Cronajer enough to take the heat off Marlowe.

In scene excised from the theatrical version, Marlowe accompanies Bernie downtown.
And Bernie does needle Cronajer about the Brody killing, making him admit that he doesn’t have much, after all, it had only happened an hour ago. Bernie then announces that Marlowe brought in the killer. While Bernie continues to tell everyone how inept Cronajer’s men have been on the case and in general, Marlowe seems to enjoy it, which only makes Cronajer madder. Bernie speaks frankly in front of the DA to the point that he practically accuses him of taking a bribe to look the other way at Geiger’s porno business, which he ran out of the back of his rare books shop. Marlowe tells his side of the story, all along having it written down by a court clerk, Eddie (those squiggly looking lines are what they used to call shorthand). We get an abbreviated, cut off version of the story up to now, with Marlowe admitting he left out certain personal details to protect his client. Cronajer has to be convinced it’s not worth pursuing Marlowe’s license. But Cronajer’s division has two murders solved and has the two killers.

District Attorney Wilde (Thomas Jackson) and Captain Cronajer (James Flavin)
 only appear in the unreleased version of The Big Sleep. The part of Bernie Ohls
(Regis Toomey) was also cut back severely in the theatrical release.
Okay, here I think I’m starting to get confused a little. Aren’t there three murders? (1) Owen, the chauffeur killed Geiger, (2) Brody killed Owen (at least Marlowe thinks he does) and (3) Carol killed Brody. That’s three, isn’t it?

Anyway back to the DA’s office, Bernie leaves with Cronajer to hand over Carol to his custody and Wilde dismisses Eddie but has him leave his notebook. Alone, Wilde tells Marlowe that he’ll have to make a new statement for their files as he rips up the notes Eddie had taken. He wants Marlowe to keep the two murders separate and keep the General’s name out of it. Wilde further suggests that what Sternwood was really after was for Marlowe to prove that Regan was not a part of the blackmail scheme and tells him that the best way to do that is to find Regan.

The next scene in the film, referred to as the Veil scene, has Vivian coming to Marlowe’s office a second time, this time, to pay Marlowe off ($500) and telling him her father considers the case closed. This was excised, but replaced by the scene where Vivian meets Marlowe in a bar to give him the final payment. In a letter from Kaufman he suggested this scene be cut in lieu of more interplay between Vivian and Marlowe, hence in the theatrical version, we have that horse-race talk in lieu of a sex scene in the bar.

The Veil scene that was cut from the movie at the suggestion of Bacall's agent.
Afterward, Marlowe calls Mars and goes to visit his gambling house. The film continues as the theatrical version does, but without the scene of Carmen visiting Marlowe in his apartment. While originally shot for the film, this scene was cut and then reinstated for the theatrical version. The only significant change comes later in the film after Marlowe has been beaten up by Canino and Huck and left tied up in the house in the back while they go off looking for a phone to call Mars. While the original scene plays pretty much the same, there are a couple of changes. More attention is paid to Vivian, that’s a given. But the part of Mona Mars is played by a different actress, Pat Clark, who apparently wasn’t available for the reshoots. Though this is a very small part, Peggy Knudsen is a definite improvement and the overall scene works better the second time around.

Pat Clark was the original Mona Mars but was not available when the scene was re-shot.
From that point on, the film plays out pretty much the same to conclusion and sadly to the same confusion. Having watched both versions again, I think besides the number of murders being off, it’s the involvement of Sean Regan, a character we never see on screen and are never really shown how he fits into the plot. Mars supposedly kills him but manages to convince Vivian that Carmen did it during a blackout.

The whole subplot with Regan and Mona Mars, which is never played out (and probably couldn’t have been at the time this film was made thanks to the Production Code), seems very superfluous. Mona has to be really dumb not to have figured out anything at all. Her husband stashes her out in the boonies with Huck, Regan disappears and she never puts two and two together?

And what is Vivian doing out there when Marlowe is captured? I know it’s a guise to hide the fact she wasn’t going to Mexico to bring back the already dead Regan, but her sole purpose for being there seems contrived. If Vivian hadn’t been with Mona, Marlowe would be dead.

Maybe it’s not confusion so much as the writing, which is for the most part so good, seems to dissolve before your eyes into a convoluted mess near the end. Maybe it’s not confusion so much as disappointment. Back to my Christmas metaphor, it’s like receiving an Xbox One when you really wanted a PS4. Both are gaming consoles, but One is not as good as it should have been.
All I want for Christmas is a PS4.
I really think there is a good film in here that could have been great. Perhaps some splicing of the two would make it whole. (Just a suggestion.) Contrary to other criticisms I’ve read and watched (there is a special feature on the two-sided DVD released by Warner Bros. in 1997), I don’t think the changes made for the theatrical release make a good film great. They just make it different and a little more confusing. Some of the changes are better for the story and definitely better for Bacall, whose own career did not go over the cliff as everyone worried. I like the racy scene in the bar over the Veil scene and I prefer Knudsen to Clark as a Mona Mars, but why can’t I have those and the scene with Wilde and Cronajer, too? It doesn’t resolve all of the confusion, but it does explain many things left unsaid in the theatrical release.

Ultimately, would I recommend The Big Sleep? Yes, but with the caveat, don’t let this be your first and only Bogart and Bacall film. See To Have and to Have Not, Dark Passage and Key Largo as well. And while The Big Sleep is wonderful to watch, turn off that part of your brain that wants completion, because neither version will give it to you.

The Big Sleep is available at the WB Shop:

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