Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Return of Andrew Bentley: Season 2 Episode 12

Originally aired 12/11/61
Starring John Newland, Antoinette Bower, Philip Bourneuf.
Written by Richard Matheson, based on the short story by August Derleth and Mark Schorer.
Directed by John Newland.

Amos Wilder (Terence de Marney) is prepared to leave all his worldly possessions (including his massive estate) to his nephew, Ellis (Newland), but only after the man agrees to several restrictions. The one about staying in the house 24 hours a day understandably riles Ellis' wife, Sheila (Bower), since she's finding it a bit more than creepy keeping up their end of the bargain. Maybe things would go smoother if Amos wasn't buried in the basement?

JS: So here we are—the great Richard Matheson's sole contribution to Thriller. If only we were treated to an episode of his own creation, as opposed to this Derleth adaptation. That is not to say this episode is without merit, but given his pedigree, one would have to assume that there was a 4-Karloff episode of Thriller left unwritten by the Grandmaster of Horror.

PE: I know this is one of the episodes that has a great rep (Matheson script, dripping with atmosphere, John "One Step Beyond" Newland, yadda yadda yadda) but it didn't do much for me. I think the script is serviceable "for this kind of thing" but Matheson has obviously been much better (two of his five classic Corman flicks had already been released). One could lay blame at the feet of the original story, I suppose. I haven't read the story but I've nodded off to enough Derleth to know it can be a chore. I can just imagine Matheson at his typewriter, trying to find a new angle on a Weird Tales cliche.

JS: But look at some of the things Matheson does with the material. There's one particularly long stretch with no dialogue whatsoever. Not a word is spoken from Uncle Amos' death at the organ all the way through his interment and nephew Ellis' preparation of the vault door according to exact specifications. One would imagine in the hands of lesser writers these sequences would have been filled with dialogue merely to give the actors more to do. And Newland does a great job with his direction—the episode looks fantastic. But I find him a better director than actor.

PE: John Newland, the actor, is a mixed bag: at times, he's very good at projecting Ellis' sincerity (one thing I have to credit Matheson with is not turning this into another "greedy relative will do anything for the money" Thriller), he's agreed to his uncle's wishes and, despite the fact that Amos is dead and ostensibly wouldn't know whether his demands were met, Ellis is determined to follow those demands to the letter. Other times, Newland is wide-eyed and vacant. He almost seems nervous (I caught him twiddling his fingers in some scenes, resembling a Variety show host standing off to the side of a stage before introducing an act), perhaps wearing too many caps at one time. John Newland, the director, certainly knows how to frame his leading man, John Newland, the actor. His face always seems to be well lit and highlighted.

JS: I think the standout performance for me was Uncle Amos (de Marney). His eccentric behavior and sudden outbursts really set the tone of the episode right from the start.

PE: I hate to admit you may be right but for a different reason. de Mornay's outbursts ("EXXXXACCCTTTLLLYYY AS AYE DEMAND!!") and idiosyncrasies (check out Uncle Amos leaning on the fireplace while talking to his nephew) provided me with comic relief from the dull goings-on.

JS: Watch how he eats the food he tried and failed to get the bird to eat! And the way Newland responds to him also establishes the nature of their relationship, as a less familiar relative would not respond to such behavior so calmly. On the other end of the scale, my biggest disappointment, based on such high expectations, was Reggie Nalder's Bentley.

PE: He is not used to the effect he was back in "The Terror in Teakwood."

JS: In that he's not for a moment scary—you're absolutely right. I felt that his scenes were heavy handed and ham-fisted, as if Newland felt that since Nalder already looks kinda creepy, why put any effort into shooting him in such a way as to frighten the audience. Every time he was onscreen, it was matter of fact. Standing around waving his arms did not come across as menacing. (Very 1920s "silent movie" -PE)

JS: As for his 'Familiar,' I'm of mixed emotions about that, too. When you've got a less than satisfying 'creature,' it's not in your best interests to let the audience get a good look at it. By the end of the episode, we're given so many chances to examine it I felt it lost whatever mystique it had in our first brief glimpse of it.

PE: I kinda liked that you got to see the actor's chin through the mouth hole. I thought perhaps a recent meal for the wraith?

JS: When it comes to being scary, this episode gets it right with the music, from our old pal Morton Stevens. Not only is the organ music very effective, they also went to great lengths to unsettle the audience by sustaining the piercing tones well past the expected point leading into the commercial breaks.

PE: "The Return of Andrew Bentley" first appeared in the September, 1933 issue of Weird Tales. It was later reprinted in the Derleth/Schorer collection, Colonel Markesan and Less Pleasant People (Arkham House, 1966). Perhaps Derleth's greatest contribution to weird fiction was co-founding (with Donald Wandrei) Arkham House, a small press publisher that initially survived by reprinting H. P. Lovecraft. On the opposite end of the quality-meter, he created Solar Pons, a second (or perhaps third?) rate Sherlock Holmes, star of 70 interminably dull "adventures" (no, I have not read them all and, if I eat all my vegetables, will you please not make me?).

THE COMMENTARY:
JS: Our pals Gerani and Schow are back for more, and fill in plenty of interesting details (including the link between the 'Familiar' and The Creature from the Black Lagoon!). They also offer their opinions why this episode was not an ideal vehicle for either Matheson or Newland. As always, worth a listen.

OUR RATING:

32 comments:

  1. It's one of those horror THRILLERs you EXPECT to be good, you WANT it to be good -- but it won't cooperate. And a dragged-out, pooped-out ending on a (sub)par with "Waxworks."

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  2. I feel that I should recuse myself from commenting on this episode, for fear of being banned from the blog.

    LR

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  3. Banned from the blog? Never happen! In fact, we're running your interview later this afternoon, so I think you owe it to folks to share your opinion on Mr. Bentley.

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  4. You weren't banned when you sided with the "10 Karloffs or Death" scoundrels, so nothing will get you tossed.

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  5. PART 1-

    OK, guys, you talked me into it.

    1.) We all love "Thriller" and, even though it was produced 50 years ago, we're all rooting for each episode to be something fabulous.

    2.) I understand now how "Weird Tales" as a source for story material is no guarantee of quality.

    3.) "Bentley" has all the trappings of a great horror show, and the screenplay does indeed seem to have thrown in everything it possible could have (I liked the old kitchen set for the one scene; and yes, I believe that WAS a sink in the background).

    4.) Matheson is a great writer, a giant in the profession. Who knows how his original "Bentley" script read, and what sort of tone it had?

    5.) John Newland at least had the good sense to play most of his role (and a few of the others) in a calm, understated way, though often the action and pace seemed to CRAWL.....

    6.) I kept switching between this episode and the Giants/Phillies playoff game waiting for Uncle Amos to finish feeding that damned bird.

    7.) The coach driver in the opening scene turned around and fled the scene; hmmmmm....could we possibly be in for the most-cliche-ridden script of all time?

    8.) Antoinette Bower was a totally useless prop; wait a minute...she DID actually turn the page for Newland as he read the Latin "Rites of Protection" (with its title curiously in Enlish), and..yes---she DID trip and fall as they ran from the Familiar out in the woods; now who would have predicted?

    9.) I realize that I am picking here, and that every excellent Thriller has its flaws (yeah, Hans the dummy in "Tailor" could be seen moving, etc), but, in the end, "Andrew Bentley" becomes one huge, almost laughably bad cliche.

    I mean, when the neigborhood "horror club" of us young guys in the mid-'60's would meet on Saturdays and put on our own play, we'd do something very akin to "Bentley". When one of the guys managed to borrow his dad's 8-mil. home movie camera, we'd put on the old Dracula cape, throw it up around our face, and walk DIRECTLY INTO THE CAMERA; when I saw Reggie N. do the same thing, I almot fell outta my chair.

    Ken Renard might as well have been Mantan Moreland or Willie Best from the old 40's haunted house films; the only thing missing from his death scene was a cry of "Santa Maria!", or some such obvious thing. (Incidentally, watching Renard in a "straight" role illuminates just how far out Newland went with him "Pigeons", where the makeup, hair, voice, stance, exaggerated accent---ALL contribute to that most fascinating, nightmarish scene).

    I DID really like the outdoor night photography; LOVE that shot of the horse-drawn carriage racing down the hill, with the road highlighted in an eerie glow; also, the wooden foot-bridge scene was cool. But, then again, you've got this very "touchy" issue of the design and execution of the Familiar---yes, I understand they had to throw it together on a shoestring budget and extremely limited shooting schedule...but I think that a more imaginative director could have handled it much better, especially the final fade-out, which is about as lame an ending as one would have feared.

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  6. PART 2-

    Hey, Amos---check the mummy case once in a while, will ya?

    The discovery and burning of the skeleton was very well done; it really creeped me out when I caught the last 8 minutes of this episode as a rerun in the 60's.

    Morton Steven's score calls for a bassoon, a cello, piano, some percussion (tympani, vibraphone, etc), and organ. Speaking of which, that was a pretty impressive Phantom-of-the-Opera style organ to be hooked up in the basement. And Steven's ("weird") musical motif for the Familiar, created by pressing down a cluster of adjacent organ keys, could have just as easily been accomplished by Uncle Amos' big old head plopped on the keyboard.

    You guys are going to kill me for saying this, but---can you imagine this episode with a laugh track?

    Four out of Ten canteloupe-shaped, grizzled, toothless Uncle Amos heads.

    LR

    PS-- Once per Thriller season, Ken Renard is directed by John Newland playing a character named Jacob.

    THE END

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  7. Ultimate Tactical WarriorOctober 24, 2010 at 2:15 PM

    Gee, I don't know what more you guys could ask for? When this series is referred to as a bunch of mini-movies, this episode in particular reminds me of that. It's like an old vampire movie. Okay, Bentley might not exactly be a vampire, but the episode nails the mood, music, etc. like an old Universal Monster movie. And if old Andy wasn't frightening enough, the show also gave him a running buddy, a hulking monstrous demon for extra terror.

    You guys really might not want to be so stingy with the Karloffs. As you guys keep going further and further into the series I'm starting to have my doubts about any episode receiving a coveted "4" Karloffs.

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  8. >>As you guys keep going further and further into the series I'm starting to have my doubts about any episode receiving a coveted "4" Karloffs.

    You and me both! For the record though, The Grim Reaper got the Golden Karloff (4 heads) last season.

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  9. << Clean out yer locker, Rapchak. <<

    And take all your little hurdy-gurdies with ya!! ;)

    THRILLER had more atmospheric sets and cobwebs and shadows (blah blah blah) than the Chinese had tea, but when the stories are way below par (as they often are), they're hardly any distraction from the dullness at all. Not for me, anyway. How many hours on end can we be expected to take pleasure in torchlit corridors and cobwebs and not-much-else?

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  10. Ultimate Tactical WarriorOctober 24, 2010 at 3:24 PM

    Ah, yes, I stand corrected. I forgot about "The Grim Reaper."

    On a serious note, whom do you guys think would win a tag team match inside of a steel cage:

    Moloch and Styx vs. Andrew Bentley and The Demon?

    All combatants would probably hail from parts unknown except the Demon, whom I'm pretty sure resides in Stone Park, Ill. I remember seeing him bounce at a bar called "The Cherry Club."

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  11. Is this really what we've devolved to? If so, allow me to go first... :)

    Clearly Moloch and Styx are the predestined match winners. I mean c'mon, Bentley and his sack-headed Familiar are all show and no action. Waving their arms around as if to say, "are you scaaaared!"

    Meanwhile, Styx (while Moloch sits quietly on the sidelines fixing his hair) can take out the pair with a single swipe of one of his tree-limb arms.

    'Nuff said.

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  12. Devolving? I think this is more interesting than Andrew Bentley.
    The answer though is that Constance Ford and Christine White (The West Side Story Sisters from "Worse Than Murder") would take all four of them.

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  13. Wow, you fellows are strict! Relatively hardcore demonology thrillers were rare in TV shows of this era, which were generally content to recycle suave trickster Mr. Devil-types in variations of the Faust parable (paging Burgess Meredith, Thomas Gomez, John Emery, etc.). "Bentley" may suffer from some monotonous stretches, but it still gives us Terence de Marney's bizarre occult ramblings, grotesque Lugosi-caped Reggie Nalder striding into CU, and best of all, that original-to-this-day Familiar -- an offbeat, whale-headed demon "creature" that broke new ground for this kind of supernatural entity. Given these plusses and innovations, I'd rate it three out of four K's, even with the "boring" factor figured in.

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  14. A brief shout-out to Tom Weaver---

    Enjoyed immensely your McFarland "Return of the B Sci-Fi & Horror Heroes" (combined edition). About 8 years ago, my wife was having shoulder surgery and, as I sat with her in the surgery prep area, I was reading out loud to her from your book, in order to keep her calm and distracted from things.

    I read her some of your interview with Ed Bernds (with whom she and I had lunch in the late '80's), as well as the Paul Marco chapter (she loves Plan-9). She was amused by the latter, which brought the only laughs into an otherwise crappy day.

    LR

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  15. Yes, Paul Marco always "delivers"!

    Pay my books the ultimate compliment and keep them in the bathroom. ;)

    See you here tomorrow. Thanks!!

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  16. This was a real rollercoaster ride -- that hair-raising opener, with wacky uncle amos and his wobbly volume control, to the dark castle with all its cobwebs and creepy tense moments.
    Then the big reveal -- what i was counting on, anyways -- looked like Reggie Nalder's rehearsal for a Monkees' episode! Hey uncle Amos, he's hiding about 3 feet away from your organ!
    Newland had evoked more terror while plunging through all those pages and managed to create enough suspense despite a lot of possibly dull exposition. The few instances where Newland had both himself and Nalder veer straight into the camera, I felt like this was an outtake from the Blair Witch project. And while some of the outdoor photography seemed well done, at times it felt Plan 9-ish. And the Familiar? It was what it was for 1961, but certainly less would have been more.
    As usual, the music was one of the highlights. That and the typical over-the-top Oscar Beregi as a religious man (and not a mad scientist?! What a missed opportunity!) seemed to make this a middling six of 10 Karloffs.

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  17. Gee, seems to me I remember you guys lamenting that there weren't more monsters on THRILLER; at least this has one, flawed though it may be. Matheson was disappointed that he was not able to contribute to ONE STEP BEYOND (which he discussed with director/host Newland several times), and also at the changes made to his "Bentley" script before it was filmed. He told me he had gone for a dynamic between the Corbetts similar to that of newlyweds William Shatner and Patricia Breslin in his TWILIGHT ZONE episode "Nick of Time," which is presumably why he invented the character of Sheila, who has no analog in the story. He had them bantering at first and then more serious as they realized that something truly (well, okay, allegedly) scary was going on. He also upped the ante from the Derleth/Schorer original in several ways, e.g., that Ellis had to spend 24/7 in the house rather than "most of your time," and whereas Jacob merely heads for the hills in the story in response to Bentley's third appearance, in the television version he literally drops dead of fright! But Matheson was the first to admit that Lovecraftian writing was not his bag, so as talented as he is, perhaps it's true that he and THRILLER weren't the best fit, even though he did have two stories published in WEIRD TALES himself in 1953: "Wet Straw" (January) and "Slaughter House" (July). Beregi later showed up in his fourth-season hour-long TWILIGHT ZONE episode "Mute." Matheson was very pleased with the work of Stevens, who later scored his disappointing TV-movie THE STRANGE POSSESSION OF MRS. OLIVER.

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  18. Hmmm. A middling episode, like a poor man's MARKESAN. I liked the familiar and the burning of the skeleton, but found the piercing "noise" just annoying (particularly with the DVD set's problems with sound levels that mean the music is often much too loud against the dialogue). Two and a half out of four Karloffs from me.

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  19. The Return of Andrew Bentley is a bit of a Thriller curio. I'm glad that after a long dry spell, we got another "monster" episode, but instead of a classic such as The Mummy, Bentley owed more to The Mummy's Ghost.

    The good folks of Thriller gave us another wacky old rich coot dabblin' in black magic. Amos is a bit over the top, especially in contrast to his milquetoast nephew and his wife, but I enjoyed his brief bit on the screen. I don't understand how anyone could have taken his offer to protect his tomb 24/7/365 seriously. Uh, the Amos crib was nice for that time period, but after a couple of days I'd be going stir crazy.

    We get a brief viewing of A Day in the Life of Amos, which includes Amos kickin' it back Phantom of the Opera style. I too loved how director Newland allowed that chord drone to last far beyond the point of conventional acceptance. Unfortunately, Amos then offs himself, followed by a brief bit of dull middling around until Andrew Bentley arrives. I'm not sure how the original TV land audience received Mr. Bentley, but watching Andrew 50 years later, one cannot help but chuckle, giggle and laugh. After Andrew, and later his demon sidekick, appear, things turn camp. It's still fun camp, like watching House of Frankenstein, but I just couldn't take the plot seriously anymore. What was up with Amos' elaborate and hidden basement rooms? I want the name of the contractor who built it. I was also impressed at he fully functioning basement lab, with what appeared to be no ventilation/exhaust systems to take care of all the bubbling and brewing.

    Oh well. I was entertained and at least there was a true supernatural element. Andrew Bentley conjure up two and a half Karloffs.

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  20. I agree with Mr. Weaver on this one, I only have it in the low 30s out of 67. True- it does have all the elements of a classic horror story but they're not well done- I thought the
    effects for the familiar were pretty bad, they may not have been in 1961, but in the best Thrillers the effects don't come into play, or they're impress even by today's standards (see Merkeson, The Hollow Watcher etc), I didn't really care
    for Bower in this or in Waxworks, another really overrated episode, didn't care for Newland's acting either, couldn't get past the plot point, as the commentators poionted out, why couldn't Nader just occupy the dead servant's body?
    2 1/2.

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  21. Why didn't the Uncle simply arrange to be cremated after death to prevent being possessed?!.

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  22. I like Bentley's "familiar"- a meon-headed wraith with no features except a wide slash of a mouth. It could have been portrayed as jsut another horned demon, but this thing really looks other-wordly.

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  23. "The Return of Andrew Bentley" was just republished, 18 September 2012, in Penzler's "The Big Book of Ghost Stories." I wondered, watching the Thriller episode, why Ellis agreed to keep to the house daily when it would not only be a drag on him (what, no vacations?), but to his wife as well. It seemed a bit callous to me. Now I see that it was another modern "Let's create a role for a woman" revision. In the original, Ellis is a bachelor and a workaholic writer, more than happy spending his days writing: "I found the future holding many hours of leisure in which to pursue letters."

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  24. One of my few problems with it is at the very end, when Oscar Beregi's mild-mannered preacher goes into a sort of fire and brimstone preacher mode. When someone mentions Bentley "resting in peace," he feels the need to contradict it. Sure, Bentley was evidently awful, but that seems like a bit much. Or maybe it's partly because I've seen the ending of HELL HOUSE, where Roddy McDowall's "Rest in peace" wish even includes the ghost who caused all the tragedy.

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    Replies
    1. Yup. Once again I saw this episode on ME TV last night at 2:00 am Central Time I first viewed it as a 12 year old when it was first aired.. The "familiar" was OK by the early 1960's special effects protocol.. Morton Steven's score, very good.

      ME TV really teases you because the Hitchcock episode preceding the Thriller episode was first rate with Anne Francis, AKA Honey West in a great plot. AND preceding that show we had Serling's Night Gallery offering a very sexy Joanna Petit as the great devil/seductress.

      Night owls over 60 unite!

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  25. PE: "The Return of Andrew Bentley" first appeared in the September, ... bentleykey.blogspot.com

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  26. This episode was the scariest thing I ever saw on TV as a kid -- of course, I was only 6 and I wasn't supposed to be watching it, but we were visiting some of my relatives and the adults were all in the dining room playing Canasta and paying no attention to the tyke and the TV.
    When I saw the first photos of Giger's ALIEN in 1979 -- a close-up of the eyeless face and double-mouthed maw -- the first thing I thought of was The Familiar.

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  27. I loved Terrence De Marney's nervous, twitchy performance early on, and his periodic Tourette's like outbursts created a surreal mood that was, alas, gone when De Marney was gone.

    Some great sets and props, some very familiar looking, looking at times like a catalog of stuff we've seen in other episodes of the series. Thriller was in this respect a cozy show: same old or similar rotting Southern mansions; more than a few trips to the bayou or swamp; that rustic town (Laramie St.?) that they used frequently in many shows filmed on the Uni back lot during that period; a few scenes in a morgue.

    The Return Of Andrew Bentley played well, and I liked John Newland's idiosyncratic performance. He sometimes delivered his lines a bit facetiously even as he retained his deadpan expression; and he showed a passive aggressive streak that at times struck me as funny.

    Problem: the script. There was an embarrassment of riches in the talents involved with the show but they didn't seem to be working together, in concert. Someone compared Andrew Bentley to Waxworks, but I don't that's fair to Waxworks, which is far creepier, has a death's head empty street and underpopulated police station and hotel mood that really helps sell the story.

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  28. One thing I'm surprised isn't addressed here is the ridiculously bad camera work in the episode.During closeups you keep seeing the background twist and tilt. I tried to figure out if it had some kind of expressionistic meaning, but as far as I can tell it's just random and distracting.

    Once you get past that the episode does have its merits. I loved the scene where Uncle Amos dies at his organ and the upper half of him presses down on the keyboard, making an awful noise. The Corbetts are faced with the need to move the body right away or they'll never get any sleep.

    The acting is mostly quite good, including the previously mentioned de Marney as Amos. A couple of performances let it down. Reggie Nalder doesn't have the presence to make his totally silent performance truly frightening. He'd do better at this when he played Barlow in Salem's Lot. Also Philip Bourneuf falls flat as the doctor. It seems like he just couldn't engage with the material.

    I actually liked the familiar. Yes, it's obviously just a guy in a big head costume, but the blurry double vision way he's shown makes him unsettling.

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  29. The familiar is so laughably costumed as to ruin this episode, especially when he is chasing the principals across the bridge, with his hands up and outstretched like a child in a Halloween costume. Reggie Nadler's makeup resembles Max Schrek in Nosferatu, and it was far more effective repeated in Salem's Lot. John Newland, calm, composed and urbane, is always interesting to watch and listen to, but a far better narrator and director in OSB than actor.

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