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SABOTAGE (1939)

sabotage

SABOTAGE(Republic,1939) B&W.67 minutes – Blu Ray released by Olive Films. $29.95 http://olivefilms.com/product/sabotage/ (also available on DVD $19.95 )

 

 

SABOTAGE is one of those films that very few film fans may be aware of. Not to be confused with Hitchcock’s earlier SABOTAGE (aka A WOMAN ALONE, General Film Distributors,1936) or his later SABOTEUR (Universal,1942), it does have certain parallels with those two films, especially the latter film.

 

While not a classic, it is a solid example of film making that came out of the Hollywood Dream Factory regular to fill cinemas.

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Filmed under the title ‘HEADLINE NEWS’, it had been announced that Sidney Salkow was supposed to direct. When it went into production on August 12,1939 (wrapping by the end of the month), it was under the direction of Harold Young (who had directed the Leslie Howard THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (London Films,1934) and later several Universal horror films like THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942).

 

At the time, studios were being cautious of making product that might end up banned in Europe, and the U.S. was going through an isolationist mood.

 

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Republic made most of their films for rural America, keeping their budgets low to make profit easier. Not being as dependent on overseas income, they were freer to tackle issues of spies. They may also have been encouraged by the box office returns by the then daring CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY (Warner Brothers, released in May,1939), which did outstanding business despite being banned in certain countries.

 

War began September 1,1939 when Germany invaded Poland and in response England and France both declared war in response. Within a month and a half (October 13,1939) SABOTAGE was on movie screens.

 

While the Republic film does not name who is doing the espionage (as the United States would not officially enter the conflict for over two more years), audiences would infer that it was German interference going on in American factories.

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Tommy Grayson(Gordon Oliver ,a good looking character actor who later switched back and forth from acting and producing for television on shows like PETER GUNN(Spartan,1958-1961) ,a mechanic at the Midland Aircraft Corporation ,has convinced actress Gail(Arleen Whelan, who played Sarah Clay in YOUNG MR LINCOLN,Fox,1939) to leave showbiz and marry him .She was afraid of the small town reaction to actors (we see later how they look down on her, so she was not being paranoid) but is convinced to stay when Tommy’s family goes out of their way to embrace her and welcome her.

 

The day before their marriage, a new plane is being tested, and the whole town turns out to watch the test flight. However, the test ends in disaster, with the plane crashing and burning (superb as always model work by the uncredited Lydecker brothers).img_20170118_150639

 

There have been other failures due to engines from the plant, and tests point to Tommy, as all the failing pistons came from his bench.

 

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Major Matt Grayson (Charley Grapewin,most beloved as Uncle Henry in THE WIZARD OF OZ(MGM) from the same year) , and his Civil War Vet friends Mel(J.M. Kerrigan, THE INFORMER(RKO,1935)) ,Smitty (Frank Darien (Uncle John in THE GRAPES OF WRATH ,Fox,1940),and Eli (Lucien Littlefield(Dr Horace in SONS OF THE DESERT (Hal Roach,1933)) investigate to clear Tommy’s name .

 

The film surprisingly shows the dark side of Middle America (they readily turn on the Grayson family, blaming them for the factory closing). However, it also shows that when we work together we can defeat evil (subtly done by having vets from both side of the Civil War working together).

 

 

SABOTAGE is full of wonderful character actors, including Joe Sawyer as Gardner, who also works at the factory with Tommy. Sawyer is one of those actors who could go from good guy to bad guy with ease, and be acceptable as both.

 

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Towards the end of the film, there is a scene that harkens back to the underworld capture of M(Nero-Film,1931), though here it is the vets from the various wars who capture the spies and bring them to the factory. Extra tension is within the scene as there is a bomb planted by the terrorists that is set to go off shortly.

The old vets are played very slapstick to provide comic relief throughout the movie so that they solve and fix everything is a nice twist.

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One little continuity goof at the very end of the film has the happy hero & heroine flying off for the honeymoon. You see that a string of pots and pans afe attached to the tail as it taxis for takeoff, but when the plane is in flight the items are not there.

Olive Films has released a superlative clean and sharp print of SABOTAGE. The mono sound is pop and hiss free. The optional English subtitles ae clear and easy to read. There are no extras, though that such an overlooked film is released in such a magnificent print is reason enough to buy it.

I don’t recall seeing this film airing on Turner Classics Movie, so for many, this will be the discovery of a small gem of a film.

Recommended.

Kevin G Shinnick

(note -frame grabs are not mine and do not do justice to the sharpness of the actual print).

 

PS- for those surprised that there were still Civil War Vets in 1939, here is a photo from that same year of an actual Civil War Survivor .http-%2f%2fa-amz-mshcdn-com%2fwp-content%2fuploads%2f2015%2f04%2fcivil-final-15

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Two Stocking Stuffers- RAY HARRYHAUSEN FAIRY TALES/STRANGE & UNUSUAL CHRISTMAS FILMS

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RAY HARRYHAUSEN’S FAIRY TALES
– COLOR http://www.oldies.com/product-view/7875D.html

STRANGE AND UNUSUAL CHRISTMAS FILMS-Color/b&w -http://www.oldies.com/product-view/7871D.html

$7.98 each. Oldies.com

Just in time for the Christmas Season come two fun stocking stuffers from OLDIES.COM.

The first is probably the one that people will feel is the must have . Ray Harryhausen is a god to anyone who grew up watching fantasy films made between 1953 (BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (WB)) through 1981 (CLASH OF THE TITANS,MGM). You were at some time enthralled and in awe of the stop motion wizardry that this one man special effect auteur brought to the cinema screen. While ILM and others can do the same thing now via computer, recall that Harryhausen for most of his work was creator, camera person, and director ,single handedly doing what now takes teams of CGI experts to try and emulate.

However, unlike Athena born fully grown from the skull of Zeus, Ray Harryhausen’s artistry came from experimenting . Some of these experiments are to be found on RAY HARYHAUSEN’S FAIRY TALES.

After working as an animator on a George Pal Puppetoon (TULIPS WILL GROW,Paramount,1942),Ray continued to refine his talents as both cinematographer and animator on shorts produced for and by the U.S. Army.red-stare

After his service, he returned to his family home, where he got a 16mm camera and some Kodachrome color film to produce a series of shorts. It was a family affair, with his parents helping with costuming and set building. He completed five of his Fairy Tales between 1946 and 1953 ( a final film not on this collection ,TORTOISE & THE HARE, was started in 1952, but never completed when Harryhausen began making features. That is , it remained unfinished until 2002, when Ray and two fans who worked on tv’s ROBOT CHICKEN (Cartoon Network,2005-2015)decided to complete it.).

The films were released to schools as well as television filler but while they probably did not make Ray much money, he was able to learn his trade and improve his technique on each film .

The first film, THE MOTHER GOOSE STORY (1946) consists of very short vignettes, silent save for some public domain classical music. The influence of George Pal’s animated shorts is quite obvious in the style of puppetry design. The faces use a variation of Pal’s system of substitution faces rather than animating the features. A quick dissolve is used to smooth the transition of facial reactions.

The next film ,THE STORY OF LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD (1949) ,showed more confidence ,experimenting with camera movements ,and lighting. It also boasted a voice over narration by actor Hugh Douglas.

hanselTHE STORY OF HANSEL & GRETEL (1951)was once again narrated by Hugh Douglas ,has more reassured camera moves, and even uses some rear projection for a giant oven fire mixed with the stop motion animation figures .

THE STORY OF RAPUNZEL (1951), this time narrated by Del Moore ,seems a bit more stilted than the previous effort ,and the witch figure seems to be just a repainting of the witch from the previous film.

THE STORY OF KING MIDAS (1953),the final of Harryhausen’s short stories on this disc, is the most assured. Once again narrated by Del Moore, the character work on the faces is much more assured, and the villain of the piece is a marvelous piece of villainous design.midas

As a bonus, we get a variation of Little Red Riding Hood, this time via a short 1949 color film of the Wahmann Hand Puppets. The film was released by Encyclopedia Britannica Films, and was produced by Helen Wahmann Lanthop and Lee Wahmann Keel, co-founders of the Children’s Artist Series and the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, North Carolina (still in existence today). It is a straightforward recording of a well rendered puppet show telling of the familiar tale.

Back in 2005, RAY HARRYHAUSEN: EARLY YEARS (Sparkhill /Global Entertainment) was a two disc Special Edition that included the Harryhausen shorts on this disc, as well as a completed TORTOISE & THE HARE and many other extras. That collection is out of print and selling for over $100 . The Alpha/OLDIES.COM Collection is an affordable alternative to that release, and their prints are quite clean and acceptable.rh-the-early-years-collection-dvd-pal
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Next up is the well named STRANGE & UNUSUAL CHRISTMAS FILMS. The films are an odd mash up of color and black & white shorts made between 1945 through 1961. Many of them have been used and featured in recent Rifftrax Comedy Christmas specials, and once you see them, you will know why .

behind-scens-xmas-dreamThe 1945 Czech made “Vánoční sen” was released in the U.S. to tv and home video by Castle Films in 1948 as A CHRISTMAS DREAM . This was the first film that director Karl Zeman mixed live action and stop motion animation . He later become world famous for fantasy films like THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE (Czech: Vynález zkázy /The Deadly Invention,1958,released by WB in 1961).Consider that this short was made when there was devastating rationing due to Nazi occupation until April,1945, it is astounding that the film has such a magical feel.In effect, a young girl neglects her old toy for a new toy,and the older one comes to life.

The English dubbing, however, makes the film enter into the realm of creepy. The high pitched voice of the doll will make a younger generation think of Mr Hankie from tv’s SOUTH PARK (Comedy Central,1997-still running) .

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Next up is SANTA CLAUS‘ STORY (Board of Education,Buffalo,1945).In this story,Santa appears to two little children and tells them “A story you‘ ll always remember“ – about monkeys. That’s right, lots of footage of monkeys. Did I mention monkeys? These first two films have been satirized by the Rifftrax team during their various Christmas specials .

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS(Castle Films,1946) is a live action telling of the the classic Clement C Moore tale, with bits of cartoon animation thrown in. The only thing wierd about it is how it haphazardly jumps from cartoon animation to live action, but is probably the most “normal“ film on the disc.

SANTA IN ANIMAL LAND (Art Reels Production/Official Films,1948)- A bunch of big headed animals get together and go to the North Pole to ask Santa Claus for gifts. This is basically a puppet show that was filmed. However, the behind the scenes history is very interesting. Puppeteer Alfred Wallace (1914-1985) was a Native American puppeteer who had a strong career in the nightclubs during the 1930s through the 1950s. His specialty seemed to have been political satire ,using puppets such as FDR as a baby, or a Senator puppet with two faces. This production seems more like a work for hire piece.

 

 

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The 1945 Czech made “Vánoční sen

 

 

SANTA & THE FAIRY SNOW QUEEN(Sid Davis Productions 1951)is probably the longest film in the collection(26 minutes) and the first in color .Sid Davis is a man best known for his public scare films, mostly about not talking to strangers ,running with scissors or you’ll impale yourself ,or the ‘dangers ‘of homosexuality .fairy Here, he seems to be showing you the dangers of community theatre telling a Christmas tale . Using public domain music , several annoying toys come to life(someone stop Jack In The Box,please!),an  female Elf named Snoopy and a drunk sounding Santa encounter a thick accented Snow Queen. This episode too has been spoofed by the Rifftrax team, but here you can experience it in all it’s bizarre glory.sfq100

THE ELF & MR. LITTLE (1953)seems to be a short made for local television (due to the chroma-key titles) Christmas tale shot in Arizona . It features marionettes by Rex Crum,better known as Rex Castle,who while Arizona based,toured and performed all over the world,even on Cruise ships and Las Vegas Night Clubs.In this a toymaker and his wife meet a Christmas elf.

 

SILENT NIGHT: THE STORY OF THE CHRISTMAS CAROL (Coronet ,1953)is a live action telling of how the famous song came into being.Though shot in color, the print appears at times to have faded almost to black and white.

THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL (CASTLE FILMS,1954)- Hans Christian Anderson’s 1845 story was shot as a live action French short in 1952,that Castle Films re-dubbed and sold on 16mm as well as to television syndication. While many of us think of a the Danish story teller as making lively children’s stories, a lot of his tales are damn depressing ! The Brave Tin Soldier has the title character melted with his ballerina love, the Little Mermaid in its original incarnation had the title character wanting to murder the Prince to get his blood , and then there is this ,the most depressing and saddest of all his stories.

A little barefoot Match Girl is forced into the cold by her (unseen) father to sell her wares. Hungry and cold, she lights her matches for warmth to no avail.As she dies, she sees a vision of the Virgin Mary (in the original story, it is her grandmother who greats her )who floats her off to Heaven. Actually, Anderson was ,like his contemporary Charles Dickens ,was pointing out the inequities of the poor and wanted to show how we neglect our fellow humans.

THE LITTLE LAMB: A CHRISTMAS STORY (Castle Films/United World 1955) is a live action film where a mother (Maureen O’Sullivan), after having her brood of five children say their prayers, tells them a story of a lost lamb and the Nativity. Morris Ankum, known mostly for playing generals and judges, here plays Azur The Shepherd. Not so much strange as a straightforward Christian tale.

CHRISTMAS FAIRY TALE (1961), seems to be a Canadian made film about a little girl who looks at a book and suddenly it dissolves to barely moving clockwork mechanisms. In fact, over 6 minutes of its nearly ten-minute running time is footage is of a revolving diorama with non-moving figures that have a narrator filling in the story!hqdefault

If you want another interesting animated stocking stuffer ,check out also the just released                                                                                 LOST COLD-WAR PROPAGANDA CARTOONS-Color –                                                                       http://www.oldies.com/product-view/7874D.html

 

Kevin G Shinnick

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     (Go Home,Santa, you’re drunk !)

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BLINDMAN – ABKCO dvd review

blindman-movie-poster-1972-1020377327BLINDMAN (Il Cieco ,Italy, November 15,1971 /U.S. release by 20th Century Fox Jan.15,1972)-color -105 minutes-release by ABKCO -$12.99-release date November 4,2016

https://www.amazon.com/Blindman-Ringo-Starr/dp/B01LXU311M/ref=pd_sbs_74_img_0/166-8333352-5114628?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=HTM8B2YSKEX4QFHXZ38R

“I want my fifty women.”

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The Spaghetti Western reigned from about 1964 until sometimes into the mid-1970s. While there had been, westerns filmed in Europe before and after that time, Sergio Leone’s Per un pugno di dollari/Por un puñado de dólares/Für eine Handvoll Dollar, best known as A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (released in Italy in September 12,1964, released in the U.S by United Artists) was the first international success of the Euro Western. Many of these films were produced multi-nationally via German, Yugoslavian, Spain, the U.S., even Israel, along with Italian producers.blindman-2

 

Usually in the Spaghetti Western, the definition of bad guys and the good guys, unlike the classic American films, became blurred. The level of violence also escalated. As the westerns went along, they also developed interesting eccentricities and characterizations. Also, a dark sense of humor permeated a lot of them. DJANGO (1966 Euro International) and the coffin exemplified these.
However, by the 1970s, Kung Fu films became the rage, and the westerns slowly rode off into the cinematic sunset. Before they did, they left us with BLINDMAN (ABKCO FILMS, released in 1971 in Italy,1972 U.S. via 20th Century Fox).

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BLINDMAN was a bit more violent than many of the westerns and had a great deal more nudity. The original American release was pared down to 84 minutes in some areas. I saw it upon its original release, due to the casting of Ringo Star as a Mexican Bandito(!)and seeing this new release from ABKCO, I do not recall the film being as explicit .westward_the_women

Many of the Spaghetti Westerns had inspirations in other films, and BLINDMAN seems inspired by WESTWARD THE WOMEN(MGM,1951). In WESTWARD, Robert Taylor (WATERLOO BRIDGE, MGM 1940) is consigned to deliver 140 (not 200 as the poster declares) mail order brides to California. Indian attacks, renegades, even natural disasters, dwindle the numbers. The film was a huge hit when it came out, though it is not well remembered today.

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Tony Anthony an American born actor who had a good career in Italian Westerns, and later help bring about the 3D revival with his film COMIN’ AT YA (U.S. release Filmways ,1981), stars as the title character and who also wrote the screenplay for BLINDMAN, however, seemed to have been at least partially inspired by it. For good measure, he mixed into the blend a bit of the legend of the blind masseuse/ swordsman, Zatoichi. First filmed in 1962 as THE TALE OF ZATOICHI ( Dalei Studios ),the long running series had already had 22 entries by the time BLINDMAN was into production.

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The Blindman (he seems to have no other name), it seems, was contracted to bring fifty women to some miners in Texas. However, his partners double cross him and bring the women to Mexico. Blindman thus needs to hunt down his associates, who often end up dead, as he tries to regain his female consignment and honor his contract.

Blindman sets up the film by establishing that he is indeed blind ,but no less deadly, when he blows up a character named Skunk(an unbilled Renato Romano, DEATH LAID AN EGG / La morteha fatto l’uovo,Italy 1968) and an unnamed compatriot and woman companion after Skunk lets Blindman know his cargo is now in Mexico with Domingo(American born Lloyd Batista,who had appeared in Tony Anthony ‘s THE STRANGER/Lo straniero di silenzio,Italy 1968 ),his brother Candy(Ringo Starr* )and their sister called Sweet Mama(Magda Konopka,WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH,WB 1970) and their gang.

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The bandits shower down the kidnapped women while Sweet Mama and Dominic discuss if Candy might want one of the captives. However, Candy is sweet (sorry about pun) on Pilar (Agneta Eckemyr, later to appear in ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD (Disney, Dec 20,1974)). The women are being offered to a General (Raf Baldassare, who appeared in Mario Bava’s ERIK THE CONQUEROR/Gli Invasari, Italy 1961) and his drunken battalion.

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However, even more double crosses happen and El General is captured for ransom. More betrayals occur and more characters end up dead (including Ringo!), and The Blindman is at times caught and tortured.blindman12

The actors seem to be having a good time in their various roles. The women, however, to be blunt, are for the most part, sex objects, and spend a great deal of time being naked and pawed by the various cast members. Konopka, hints at a sick sadistic pleasure of watching this, and that she is closer to her brother Dominic that would be considered acceptable.cropped

The at times surreal western was directed by Ferdinando Baldi was a very busy in the 1960s through 1980s, jumping genres but most comfortable in the oater genre. He later would direct the two 3-D films that Anthony would write and star in. The film was lensed in Almeria, Spain, a desert like stretch that was used in numerous westerns as well as films like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (Columbia ,1962) and HOW I WON THE WAR (U.A. ,1967). In fact, Ringo had visited John Lennon on location there while Lennon was filming HOW I WON

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Music by Stelvio Cipriati, who had scored THE STRANGER RETURNS (Italy,1967) and is still scoring films today, does a Ennio Morricone -like score with a lot of jangly sounds and odd vocals. Ringo did not contribute to the soundtrack, though on the flipside of his song single “Back Off Boogaloo”, he wrote and performs a song called ‘Blindman” that sounds inspired by Cipriati’s score https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5EXfCMyibw

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Allen Klein, the head of ABKCO Films, was the former manager whom Paul McCartney blames for his exit from The Beatles. Ringo obviously had no ill will to Klein, and took the supporting role. Being the most famous name in the film, his prominence in ads and trailers was expanded. Ringo acquits himself quite well in the atypical bad guy role. (See trailer : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5454Qe6uoaM )ringo-starr-and-allen-klein-holding-gun-spain-july-1971

     Ringo & Klein(holding gun) clowning on set.

The DVD transfer shows off cinematographer Riccardo Pallottini (CASTLE OF BLOOD/ Danza macabra, Italy,1964) sharp images, thanks to a HD transfer from an original 35mm negative. The film is also available as a digital download, though no word of any planned BLU RAY release (if they do ,perhaps a commentary by Anthony, or even Ringo?). Sound quality is a 5.1 transfer with no noticeable pops or hiss. The only extra on the DVD is a trailer.mpw-20184

BLINDMAN was one of those films that had been available on the gray market in variable quality prints. In fact, SCARLET reader John Crummett informed us when BLINDMAN was first announced for DVD that some time ago he had attended a screening of GET MEAN**(Italy ,1975, U.S. release through Cinemation)  at the Silent Movie Theatre in Hollywood and director Tony Anthony himself doubted there would ever be an ever be an official release due to all the bootlegs. ( You can see how bad a typical bootleg looked here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l95IUUNnpjg )

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I am glad that Tony Anthony was wrong about that, and that the film is finally available in a good quality print. One small note about the ABKCO website- they really don’t sell their DVDs very well, concentrating more on their musical releases. The most important thing, though, is you can finally get BLINDMAN in a high-quality release.

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Recommended for Italian Western Fans, as well as Beatles completists.
Kevin G Shinnick

*-Was Ringo’s name CANDY a reference to his first non-Beatles film, CANDY (A.B.C/Cinerama ,1968)?candy1968

**-GET MEAN, also directed by Baldi with performances from Baldassare and Battista, is available on BLU RAY from BLUE UNDERGROUND.blu-bd-8005_l

PLEASE “LIKE ‘ and SHARE SCARLETTHEFILMMAGAZINE on WORD PRESS, as well as SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE REVIEWS on FACEBOOK, to get our latest reviews and articles. Also ,check out our earlier reviews and articles starting with https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2015/10/

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THE SPIDER (1931)

the-spiderTHE SPIDER (Fox Film Corporation, released September 27,1931) b&w. 59 minutes.  $15.00  DVD-R from 16mm print offered by John Carpenter. Contact him via email at pixthatmove@gmail.com .

THE SPIDER is a film that deserves to be better known. Released after DRACULA (Universal, February 12,1931) but before FRANKENSTEIN (Universal, November 21,1931), this film, while in the end a murder mystery, has several strong supernatural elements.thespidertc

The film was co-directed by Kenneth MacKenna and William Cameron Menzies. MacKenna was an actor who also directed several mostly forgettable films between 1931-1934. mackennaMacKenna, born Leo Mielziner, Jr, is today mostly remembered for sponsoring and helping his brother Jo Mielziner (Tony and Academy Award winning set designer). He also was an early “angel” (theatrical financial backer) who introduced his friend Richard Rodgers to the James A. Michener’s book “Tales of The South Pacific” (MacMillian, NY,1947), feeling it might make a good musical. He was right. It became the 1949 musical SOUTH PACIFIC (Majestic Theatre, April 7,1949).tales_of_the_south_pacific_michener

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The real visual director of THE SPIDER would be Menzies. Menzies entered films in 1919, after his service in WWI. Training in effects and 004_thiefstaircasefilm design, within a few short years he was the art director and production designer of classics like THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD (United Artists, March 18,1924). Pictured above his sketch and the fully realized design in the film. He is perhaps best known for his design of GONE WITH THE WIND (MGM, December 15,1939). Not only did he design the look of the film, he even designed some of the famous shots like the massive pullback shot at the train station.

He also later directed the 3D horror film THE MAZE (Allied Artists, July 26,1953) and the classic science fiction film INVADERS OF MARS (20th Century Fox, April 22,1953). He was a visual stylist who made the most of his budgets, big or small.

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(Menzies ,as photographed by Karl Strauss)

 

The screenplay was written by Barry Conners. Conners was a former stage actor who was blacklisted when he tried to unionize actors against corrupt producers.barry-conners He turned to playwriting and had a few Broadway successes, including HELL’S BELLS (Wallack’s Theatre, Jan 26, 1925 – May 1925)which was the Broadway debut of both Humphrey Bogart and Shirley Booth.

He used his success to become a screenwriter for MGM and then Fox Films (later to merge and become 20TH Century Fox). Among his screenplays were an adaptation of his play THE PATSY (MGM,April 22,1928 ). At Fox, he exhibited a strong ability with mysteries, writing the screen adaptation of several of the early Charlie Chan films (including two “lost “Chan films (…Carries On, (Fox, April 12,1931), …. Chance (Fox, Jan 24,1932), as well as THE BLACK CAMEL (June 21,1931).

 

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Later, he would be one of a team of writers who adapted the radio series into CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (Fox, August 4,1932), another mystical adventure directed by Menzies and best known for starring Bela Lugosi as the villain Roxor. Starring as Chandu was Edmund Lowe. Lowe had already gotten his magical bona fides, starring in THE SPIDER as the film’s star, magician Chatrand. Lowe had begun in vaudeville before getting into silent films. When sound began, his good looks and voice established him as a reliable leading man in the thirties and forties, right up to THE STRANGE MR. GREGORY (Monogram, Jan 12,1946), wherein he starred as—a magician!!!!mv5bytu5yzhkogitngewns00yjy4ltk0nzgtmdqxyzc4zjg2mju0xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymzi2mdewna-_v1_

THE SPIDER was adapted from a stage play by Lowell Brentano and Fulton Oursler that played Broadway at Chanin’s 46th St Theatre (3/22/1927- 5/28/1927) before moving to the Music Box Theatre (5/30/1927-12/17/1927) for a successful run of 319 performances. THE SPIDER: A Play of The Varieties, to give it its full title, was a three act Mystery Melodrama. The setting was the fictional Tivoli Vaudeville Theatre, where the action takes place. The play starred Broadway actor john-halliday(John Halliday )

John Halliday as Chatrand, and featured a lot of vaudeville performers Mack & La Rue, billed as The Skating Marvels of The Century, and Lytell & Fant, listed, intriguingly as The Chocolate Cake -Eaters.0002334_spider_the_300

Oddly, the play had several lawsuits brought against it for plagiarism, one of which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1933 before it was dismissed.

Writer Brentano worked on Broadway writing thrillers as well as musicals, including the intriguing thriller ZEPPELIN (National Theatre, Jan14,1929-March ,1929), set aboard the cabins of the air vessel. He also worked in Hollywood on films like THE PENGUIN POOL MURDER (RKO December 9,1932).

 

 

 

Fulton Oursler was a magician who wrote for several pulp magazines. He joined Harry Houdini in discrediting fake mediums in the 1920s, going so far as to write an expose Spirit Mediums Exposed (New Metropolitan Fiction) under the pseudonym Samri Frikell. fulton_oursler_magicianoursler-a-spirit-mediums-exposed

After converting to Catholicism in the 1940s, he wrote THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (Doubleday,1949). It was later adapted into the 1965 movie by the same name.

The film of THE SPIDER obviously cut the play down to its barest storyline, as a three-act play would have run at least 90 minutes. With many of the within the show vaudeville routines cut, time was filled by adding the comedy of Elmer Goodfellow Brendel, better known as El Brendel. Born to an Irish mother & German father who entered vaudeville as a German dialect comic but when anti-German sentiments grew during WWI, he became a simple Swede, often named Ollie, Oley, or Ole.

He began working in films, appearing in the classic silent WINGS (Famous Players/Paramount, August 12,1927). After a brief return to vaudeville, he signed a contract with Fox Studios, taking advantage of the innovation of sound movies. His biggest starring role was in the musical/science fiction film JUST IMAGINE (Fox, November 23,1930). He was billed as the most popular comedian at the time but he soon was reduced to supporting roles and starring in B-comedies. To be honest, to modern audiences, a little El Brendel goes a long way. However, it was probably thought getting El Brendel for THE SPIDER was a good idea at the time.39

The film takes place in the Tivoli Vaudeville House, where the Great Chatrand (Edmund Lowe) is packing them in. Chartrand’s show is being broadcast, and he announces that assistant whom he calls Alexander (Howard Phillips, making his film debut. He only made 11 more films up to 1938, none of which was as good as THE SPIDER. ) is an amnesiac whom he found two years earlier. However, he seems to have lost his memory but developed psychic mind reading powers which they use in the act.vlcsnap-763909

Beverly Lane (Lois Moran, who is said to have been the inspiration for the character “Rosemary “in  F.Scott Fitzgerald’s TENDER IS THE NIGHT (Charles Scribner’s Sons, April 1934 ) has been looking for her brother Paul who disappeared about the same time ,but her uncle John Carrington (Earle Foxe ,who began in silent films back in 1912.He had starred in an odd silent fantasy feature LAST MAN ON EARTH (Fox, November 2,1924) as well as the lost early talkie THE GHOST TALKS (Fox, February 24,1929 ) says it is only a publicity stunt and that it cannot possibly be Paul. However, she insists that they go to see the next performance and Carrington begrudgingly agrees.mv5bngq4nwi4ngitngyyos00mdnllwfly2mtmznindm3n2mymzfmxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtq2mjqyndc-_v1_

During all this, we have comedy where Ole (El Brendel) and his young charge (Kendall McComas, who started in the silent Mickey McGuire comedy shorts and in 1932 appeared in some of the Our Gang comedy shorts) are considering what type of tickets to purchase. The ticket taker, by the way, is a cameo by co director MacKenna. When they finally do, and go to their seats, it ends with El Brendel putting a hole through the top of his bowler.48

Chatrand peers through the curtains and recognizes Beverly from a photo that Alexander has. The act begins, and Alexander is blindfolded as Chatrand walks though the audience and holds up various objects. When Chatrand holds up Beverly’s locket, which is like the one Alexander has, Carrington begins to try and take it away from Chatrand. The lights go out, and a someone shoots Carrington. The staging of this scene is quite well done, with rapid cutting between all the parties, and Alexander acting as if possessed, finally ending with the shooting, and Alexander collapsing.vlcsnap-763749

The police arrive and find a gun by the unconscious Alexander. Beverly recognizes Alexander as her lost brother. Now revived and out of his trance, Alexander/Paul blurts out: ‘He tried to kill me! I had to do it.” That’s all the police need to hear, and arrest Alexander. Chatrand escapes via a magic trick, and the police seal off the theatre. No one can leave. Can Chatrand, with his magic skills, find out who the killer is?72

The film moves along at a good pace, and it is a fun movie worthy of rediscovery. The highlight of the film is towards the end during a superbly staged séance sequence.32

The movie is a rarity, and as far as I know, it has not aired on any television stations for decades (indeed, there is hardly anything about it on the Turner Classic Movies site), and it is a shame.img259

It is a short, fast paced little thriller with supernatural elements that deserves to be better known.

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(announced but unmade version)

John Carpenter (no not the director, but this one is known as “The Movie Man” due to his extensive movie collection) is offering a special deal to SCARLET THE FILM MAGAZINE readers .The sound and picture quality is good, especially when you consider how truly are this film is . John will make a DVD-R of this rare film from his own 16mm print. Cost $15.00 within the continental U.S.A. Contact John directly at pixthatmove@gmail.com . Let him know that SCARLET sent ya!img258

Recommended.
-Kevin G Shinnick

 

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FASCINATION The Celluloid Dreams Of Jean Rollin

FASCINATION
The Celluloid Dreams Of Jean Rollin (paperback, HeadPress) 268 Pages.

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http://www.headpress.com/ShowProduct.aspx?ID=143 £15.99
In the U.S.:
https://www.amazon.com/Fascination-Celluloid-Dreams-Jean-Rollin/dp/1909394238/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1469925570&sr=1-4&keywords=fascination    $19.99
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Jean Rollin was a surrealist filmmaker who became identified with the horror genre. While his films do indeed deal with vampires and the undead in various forms, they also have a lyrical dreamlike quality with imagery that would make Bunuel (with whom he once almost worked) proud. A vampire comes out of a grandfather clock forever frozen at midnight, a woman plays piano within a cemetery, recurring images of figures isolated on an empty beach, these are some of the haunting sights that are mixed in with a sense of loneliness for the preternatural figures within the films.

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Before big budget films like INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE (WB,1994), Rollin was mixing poetry, beauty along with violence and the need to kill the one you love to survive. Sadly, due to the violent reaction to his first full length feature*, Le Viol du Vampire (RAPE OF THE VAMPIRE, Les Films/ABC,1967), his films were considered not worth proper study and failed as both art house films as well as horror. Considering that that first feature was actually two separate films put together, the duality of his films (both art and horror, the use of twins, lookalikes, and parallel storylines) seemed organic for most of the remainder of his career.

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I first heard of Rollin when I saw a full color photo of his wild poster for his third film, Le Frisson des Vampires/THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES (Les Films/1970). It was a wild image, sexy, art deco-ish, and different from most of the film posters that I had ever seen before. I recall that at the time the book was dismissive of Rollin’s films, calling them dull.

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The first of his films that I actually saw was in a cut and poorly dubbed VHS release bowdlerization of his Requiem pour un Vampire/REQUIEM FOR A VAMPIRE(Les Films,1971) called CAGED VIRGINS (Boxoffice International Pictures (1973) shorn from 95 minutes to 65) . The dubbing I recall seemed very sloppy and made the film feel very cheap. The choppy editing to get to the good stuff (i.e. sex) also made the film seem like a cheapo horror.

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Due to his films suffering from poor distribution, Rollin was forced to go into making porno films. It must have been maddening to him that these cheaply made films were better distributed and more financially successful than his personal projects.

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However, it did give him connections, among them finding the beautiful Brigitte Lahaie, an adult film actress with great screen presence who was featured in several of his later films, to the advantage of both. Due to her popularity, people sought out any film that she was in, including Rollin’s work. Their best collaboration was the film FASCINATION (Comex/Les Films ABC ,1979) which has the very striking image of a shroud clad Lahaie wielding a very deadly scythe. Death had never looked more beautiful nor deadly.

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Finally, there arose in England a group of film buffs who began to champion Rollin as a filmmaker to be reckoned with. Redemption UK distributed many a fine print of his works to a growing appreciative audience.

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After a couple of action films for hire, as well as shooting some films that Jess Franco dropped out of(!), Rollin made several more personal fantastique films that were among his finest, garnering good reviews and appreciative audiences. What was little known, however, was that the filmmaker had long been ill, and created his movies while racing back and forth from hospitals.

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(from LIVING DEAD GIRL /La morte vivante,1982)

He completed his last film, Le Masque de la Meduse /THE MASK OF MEDUSA (Les Films,2010) just shortly before he passed away, and it was a perfect film to end his career, as much of it mirrored his first feature, and also referenced many of his other creations.

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HEADPRESS is to be commended for giving us this wonderful tome, FASCINATION: THE CELLULOID DREAMS OF JEAN ROLLIN by David Hinds, as it is probably the most definitive work on the filmmaker that we are likely to see for some time. The author has a great passion and love for the oeuvre of Rollin, having discovered him among the many Euro Horror filmmakers that were coming to the early video store markets in the early 1980s.

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Hinds has done remarkable research, finding and seeing what still exists of much of the director’s work (a few shorts have gone missing, as well as some of his adult films). His descriptions of the films and the behind the scenes stories on their creation and distribution does what any great film book should -it makes you want to go out and see the films for yourself.

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(One of his work for hire productions ,aka ZOMBIE LAKE ,1981)

Hinds has gone the extra step and reviewed the various video, DVD, and even Blu ray releases of these films, so you will know which is the best one to purchase.

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le-viol-du-vampireHe also sought out and interviewed several of the people involved with the films, including the fullest interview with the late director that I have ever read( and perhaps the last that the filmmaker ever gave).

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The only quibble that I have is that for such a beautiful done tribute to Rollin, the photo reproductions are often muddy and very hard to see, resembling a reproduction of a newspaper photo from microfilm.  One wishes that they had tried a bit harder to show the haunting imagery in quality representation, perhaps putting them all in the center of the book on better paper, mixed in perhaps with some color.

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If you are open to seeing and experiencing something beyond the often paint by numbers films that are hailed by our genre fans. Then by all means seek out this book and then see the films!

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HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Kevin G Shinnick

*-In 1968, rioting, occupations, and strikes were the norm in Paris it seems to everything. It’s hard now to believe film fans expecting a Hammer type film would react so violently, but given the time it was not so unusual an occurrence.it is forbidden to forbid

(“It is forbidden to forbid” -saying during 1968 protests, and apropos of Rollin’s work )

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X MARKS THE SPOT (1931)

X MARKS THE SPOT (1931) B&W. 67 Minutes. Oldies.com $7.98
http://www.oldies.com/product-view/7792D.html

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Inspired by plays and films like THE FRONT PAGE (U.A.1931), X MARKS THE SPOT (Tiffany,1931) starts with peppy banter that was common in newspaper stories of the 1920’s and thirties.

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The film changes tone briefly when reporter Ted Lloyd (Wallace Ford) finds his younger sister collapsed in the street. Ted finds out he will need $5,000 to save his kid sister by sending her to this one Dr. Mueller in Germany.

He gets offers of $500 here and $600-$700 there from his friends, but says it’s not enough (hinted, if you take it and add it up, it’s closer to your goal!).

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Desperate, Ted goes to the local pool hall to meet with gangster Edward Riggs (Fred Kohler)to ask for the money. “Ha ha Ha-you don’t make five grand a year, says the gangster. Ted offers to get info on the district attorney if it helps save his sister. The gangster socks him saying he hates squealers but gives him the five grand.

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More stuff occurs in the newsroom before Ted meets with Sue(Sally Blane) for some quips and flirting before the film heads off to the Follies. Some pre-code dialogue (reporter offers to print an actress’ photo in the paper, only this time with her clothes on.).

Showgirl Vivian Parker (Mary Nolan) ends up murdered, and Ted becomes the main suspect as he was the last one to see her alive. Ted finds out that Riggs was responsible for the killing, but the gangster reminds him of how he helped with his sister’s medical bills.

How will Ted act when Riggs is put on trial?

X MARKS THE SPOT was one of the last three films made by Tiffany (along with DEATH KISS,1932 starring Bela Lugosi). The studio had been involved with a major prestige picture (JOURNEY’s END ,1930, James Whales ‘adaptation of the stage play), but like so many indie producers, they lacked proper distribution. When they folded, their films like so many independent productions, fell into public domain.

X … is a compactly made drama of the early sound era. The acting ranges from very good to stiff.

Lew Cody as editor George Howe is a strong competent performer. He had been acting in films since 1914, and had been married to actress Mabel Nomand. He died in 1934 at age 50.

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Wallace Ford is probably the best known actor from this film by today ‘s viewers, appearing a year later in MGM’s FREAKS as well as Frankie McPhillips in THE INFORMER(RKO,1935). His career last until 1965, with television making up the bulk of his later work.

Sally Blane also had a long career, usually in supporting roles in major films (CHARLIE CHAN AT TREASURE ISLAND, FOX,1939) but here she is the female lead and makes one wish that she had larger parts in films.

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Mary Nolan as showgirl Vivian has a bit of a Midwest accent (“Git Outta heah!”) and is a bit stiff (no pun intended). Her life seemed to be one of those tales that warned of the dangers of show business. She had been a Ziegfeld showgirl who had been fired due to a scandal with a married man (who beat and abused her), but had a good career in silent films both in the U.S. and Germany. Under contract to Universal, she was loaned out to appear in the Lon Chaney MGM film WEST OF ZANZIBAR (1928) and received good reviews. She had another abusive relationship with Eddie Mannix (who also was possibly involved with the murder of George Reeves. Reeves had been having an affair with Mannix’ wife), who beat her so bad that she became addicted to morphine. This led to her contract being terminated at the major studios and thus struggled along at the indies. She died at age 45 from a Seconal overdose.

Clarence Muse made a career of playing butlers, porters, and servants, but the actor had starred and worked in theatre, as well as starring in HEARTS IN DIXIE (1929), the first all-black movie produced by Fox. Here he is trapped in embarrassing stereotype dialogue in his scenes.

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Helen Parrish also began in silent films, playing Babe Ruth’s daughter in BABE COMES HOME (1st National,1927; also released as a Vocafilm sound film, with added music and sound effects) as well as appearing in Our Gang films. Later she appeared in films starring Deanna Durbin, as well as the female lead in another film called X MARKS THE SPOT (Republic,1942), also available from OLDIES http://www.oldies.com/product-view/4748D.html . She died at only age 34 from cancer.

Fred Kohler had made a career playing baddies, most memorably in the silent John Ford THE IRON HORSE (Fox,1924).

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Director Earl C. Kenton directed over 130 films from 1916 to 1957. He is best known for ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (Paramount,1932) and HOUSE OF DRACULA(Universal,1945). The camera work is very fluid at times with some dolly work showing that sound equipment was no longer holding directors to static shots that had plagued earlier sound films.

The film comes from the collection of John Carpenter and his THE MOVIE MAN’S MOVIE MATINEE https://www.facebook.com/groups/1117540858264025/ . Collectors like Carpenter have done much to save a lot of films from disappearing, as well as getting them out to the general public. The print is from a dupey 16mm, but to be fair, I would doubt a better print still exists. At one point, we see a notice about a reel change, which made me nostalgic for when the only way you could see these films was from a private collection.

While not a classic, it is an entertaining little drama, with some good 30s banter, a bit of pre code naughtiness, a shootout near the finale and a style that would later lead to film noir.

Kevin G Shinnick

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DOWN FROM THE ATTIC (book review)

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Down from the Attic: Rare Thrillers of the Silent Era through the 1950s
By John T. Soister and Henry Nicolella -(McFarland; June ,2016 )248 pages $39.95

 http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-9831-4

This wonderful follow up to UP FROM THE VAULT: RARE THRILLERS FROM THE 1920S AND 1930S (McFarland ,2010) has author John T Soister joined by Henry Nicolella to track down and view where possible twenty-four films that are ignored and unknown by the majority of genre fans.

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Some are at present lost (i.e. deteriorated nitrate negatives and thus no longer in existence) and others available in truncated forms. Yet that we have still so many of these films for viewing is in itself miraculous, as according to Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation claims that “half of all American films made before 1950 and over 90% of films made before 1929 are lost forever.”

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Beginning with the silent era and going up to 1951, the pair of author sleuths tracked down films and prints from around the world, viewing whatever prints are still extant, and delving deeply into research about productions and reviews buried long ago in musty volumes and microfilm. Their summaries and plot synopses of the films covered makes one seek to look for many of these films, and some make you wonder why a few of them are not better known. Hopefully, their research may bring a few of these films to being found and perhaps preserved.6676769_1

What also makes this book invaluable is their willingness to seek out films that were made outside of the United States. Movies from The U.K. Germany, the Czech Republic, and South America are also explored, many perhaps for the first time in such detail outside of their borders.

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Plus, they cover the odd career of filmmaker Bud Pollard, responsible for the elusive and obscure THE HORROR (Bud Pollard Productions ,1932) as well as the first sound version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6O8kbTi4WNo .

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Soister and Nicolella have done a wonderful job of finding these films and bringing them to the attention of genre fans. As they point out, not all of the films can be considered classics, but their importance cannot be denied.

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HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

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-Kevin G Shinnick

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