Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Hundred Days of the Dragon

Production Order #07
Broadcast Order #02
Original Airdate: 9/23/63
Starring Sidney Blackmer, Philip Pine, Mark Roberts.
Written by Allan Balter and Robert Mintz.
Directed by Byron Haskin. 

Using a very effective (Russian?) drug, the Chinese government manipulates an operative's facial characteristics to resemble a leading candidate for President of the United States. Once he gets elected, they just need to do the same with a few more key political figures, including the Vice President, to finalize their plans for world domination.

JS: Tonight's episode is brought to you by Silly Putty™! If only they had rolled his face across the funny papers, first.

PE: I'm embarrassed because I seriously thought that it was Kenny Rogers. In an alternate reality (I like to think of it as the Enfantinoverse), the henchman who carries around the face molds is also a wacky baker who accidentally brings his cake tins to America.

JS: Seriously, with such technology, why bother with politicians? Head to Beverly Hills, get rich doing plastic surgery to the stars, and buy your way to the top. Just imagine the body improvements you could do... on second thought, don't.

PE: The head scientist is something of a smug little bastard, smirking and smiling, considering he's "performing" in front of a tyrannical despot who, ostensibly, likes to cut pieces off those he finds disfavor in.

JS: I have a bit of an issue with President Selby (Blackmer) being described on TV as the most eligible bachelor. I've seen Jack Kennedy, and you're no Jack Kennedy, senator (and a Presidential nominee with a cigarette burning on TV? Definitely the 1960s. -PE).

PE: No, he's no hunk but Blackmer is a solid casting choice. He's very presidential in looks and poise. My only criticism is that when he's questioned about new habits, he gets beady-eyed and frowns. And when he's watching the concession speech on TV, is that an "Oriental look" on his face? Of course, our last sighting of Blackmer was as the cataleptic Edward Stapleton in Thriller's "The Premature Burial." I thought the whole cast was on the money, in particular Philip Pine as the suspicious Vice President, Ted Pearson. He must know the old man better than the President's own daughter since he's the first to smell a rat.

JS: This was a fun political thriller, and forgiving the press-and-go face plates/jello molds, it had plenty of exciting twists and turns. It certainly ratchets up a notch when the Vice President (Pine) comes face to face with his would-be replacement. I liked how when he starts to understand what's going on, they plan to exhume the president to have his dental records checked, only to have that plan thwarted.

PE: What have we seen so far in The Outer Limits? Straight sci-fi. Noirish sci-fi. Monsters. Comedy. And now political thrills ala The Manchurian Candidate. Sounds like a show in search of an identity. "The Hundred Days" is a solid political/espionage thriller (better than it had the right to be, as a matter of fact) obviously inspired by the James Bond craze sweeping the nation at the time. You could see 007 involved in a fantastic plot like this. The show also obviously owed a debt to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The President's daughter and son-in-law finally catch on and voice their concerns to the Vice President ("He's polite. He remembers all the right anniversaries and birthdays. But it's as if he's turned to stone. Suddenly I don't love him anymore") followed by a solid, creepy scene when Pearson comes face to face with his "replacement." Both these scenes mirror similar scenes in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

JS: I didn't think they sold the gratuitous rattlesnake scene very effectively. Blowing away a snake at point blank range with a shotgun didn't impress me as requiring the skills of a marksman.

PE: Spoken by a California boy who's never seen a gun up close, let alone a vicious, deadly, venomous rattlesnake. (You're right about the snake, but I'd bet even a non-gun toting Arizonan like you could take out a rattler if your life depended on it. -JS)

JS: What's with the dearth of secret service agents throughout this episode? Fortunately they were all back on the job in time for the finale.

PE: Looks like Ocean's Six to me.


David J. Schow on "The Hundred Days of the Dragon":

From The Outer Limits Companion, Copyright © David J. Schow, 1986, 1998. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission and by special arrangement with the author.

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  1. We've already seen a type of political/scientific conspiracy in TAOF and we'll see plenty more to come.

    Usually though, TOL's sensibilities were to question their own administration and State apparatus, 'The 100 Days of the Dragon' is atypical in that it's slant is right-wing knee-jerk fears. The President is suspect because he wants to sign a treaty and withdraw! And it's in a valley that's occupied by two warring sides. It's almost as if the writers were siding with the traitor Generals in 'Seven Days in May'. The enemy is slanty-eyed and one dimensionally other. I wonder what the writers would have made of JFK's Test Ban Treaty to stop the radioactive poisoning of the atmosphere?

    In fact, his neutralisation of Laos and planned withdrawl from Vietnam using the same model would render him in the same league as Shelby.

    And the dynamic behind the withdrawl would can easily be applied to Vietnam. It's simplistic political thought rank it on that level with Roddenberry's woeful thought out 'A Private Little War' from 'Star Trek'.

    As 'Mission Impossible' was one of the greatest pieces of white-washed CIApropaganda until '24' (doing what and Webb did for the LAPD in an earlier era with 'Dragnet'), this particular segment lacks resonance and thought.

    On a surface level, it's style is impressive, the musical score and photography typically outstanding, the ability to suggest a bigger budget, scene by scene very admirable.

    TOL as it's best is as good as any big screen achievement.

    Unfortunately, as a political thriller, this doesn't match up to the rich complexities of 'The Manchurian Candidate', 'Seven Day in May', 'The Parallax View', 'All the President's Men' and 'JFK'.

    1 zanti and detention for the writers.

  2. PS: Until this viewing, I'd probably seen this as 10 plus years ago and always though of it as a 3 zanti show. Perhaps I've educated myself too much about US politics in the 20th.

  3. It made perfect sense for OL to do their take on "The Manchurian Candidate," as it represented "grown up" science fiction at the time, an identity the series clearly wanted (and needed, to compensate for all the outrageous-looking bears AND the 7:30 pm kiddie time slot). The resulting show was one of their most sober and thoughtful offerings. If the politics seem slightly conservative by today's impassioned far left standards, we must remember that most political thrillers made in the '60s have this "problem," starting with "Candidate," which was was helmed by John Frankenheimer, an aggressive leftist. I suggest we put our 2011 political/social agitations on hold and review the show in the context of its era. The only serious flaws are the implausible press-and-go devices (though they are cinematically efficient) and the profound lack of protection for candidate Selby. Other than that, OUTER LIMITS produced a first-rate nightmare thriller with topical flavors: it's well-acted, scored, beautifully shot and directed (viewers get to enjoy Conrad Hall's amazing little touches for the first time), and a legitimate prestige item for the series, even without a bear. It's no wonder "Dragon" was moved up to the second show aired. Sure, as a kid I was disappointed with a monster-less episode after "The Galaxy Being," but, truth to tell, we had no idea there'd be so many monsters in this series (TWILIGHT ZONE might have one for every ten episodes), so nobody seriously complained. We just knew it was a smart, adult story with some weird and scary moments. And we'd only have to wait an additional week for the Thetan to come trundling along...so all was well with OUTER LIMITS at this early juncture.

  4. Hey, I thought we were going to stop talking about politics. So the very next episode is about guess what. Our hosts(and partners in crime), should have simply put up a sign saying "Due to the political nature of this episode we will not be reviewing or discussing "The Hundred Days of the Dragon". They then could have rerun a THRILLER episode.

  5. The great music on this episode is one of the series' soundtracks included on the GNP CD. (How's that for changing the subject?)

    I can't imagine a show today getting away with the faux Shelby squinting as the inscrutable 'oriental.'

    Mickey Rourke is still looking for that lost molding kit with his original face.

  6. I'm starting to get the impression that the TOL series is just about as uneven as Thriller. Another just "okay" episode. I did like the part where the doppelganger shoots and kills the politician.

    Not that I'm condoning political assassinations, I just thought it was pretty ballsy for 1963 television. Usually they would have just knocked him out, then stuffed him in a closet until the happy ending.

  7. Even though at this point in production the show still seemed to be searching for an identity, 100 Days has always stuck with me as the boldest, most adventurous episode yet, the most serious and possibly darkest filmed so far...and a slam-dunk when you compare it to the whimsical-to-the-point-of-nausea that is Controlled Experiment.

    Fascinating to read everyone's comments, too, as I'm really expanding my frames of reference for film & television from this era.

    And I, for one, can't walk past a cake pan or cookie cutter without feeling the impulse to press it against my face? Anybody else have this problem?

  8. Terrific comments by Bobby J, who sizes up the political essence here perfectly!

    I must agree that this episode is terribly dated, and doesn't bear the distinctive Outer Limits style and focus. It could well have been an episode in any other anthology series. It's still entertaining for sure, but it's more of a guilty pleasure, especially for those who have held this series in such high regard for so many years. It's one of Haskin's more pedestrian efforts, but it's always great to see Sidney "Teddy Roosevelt" Blackmer, who was so devilishly memorable as the neighbor in Polanski's ROSEMARY'S BABY.

  9. Dr. Su-Lin manhandling the Selby double's Silly Putty mug is my very first OL memory, so needless to say that scene made quite an impression on me (heh). The rest of the episode, not so much.

    These days I admire "Dragon" more than enjoy it. The writing, acting, and cinematography are all first rate (Frontiere's score strikes me as routine), but I find its overtly political story line out of place. Hindsight, I know.

    It's a product of its time for sure, so the moldy Cold War posturing and ethnic stereotyping can be forgiven up to a point. But the fact that "Dragon" dated so quickly makes me understand why Stefano favored more interior terrain as THE OUTER LIMITS progressed.

  10. Unfortunately, as a political thriller, this doesn't match up to the rich complexities of 'The Manchurian Candidate', 'Seven Day in May', 'The Parallax View', 'All the President's Men' and 'JFK'. --------------

    Please allow me to throw Executive Action in there as well. Sorry, had to do it.

  11. Gary: Back up — Conrad Hall's first OUTER LIMITS was "The Human Factor" (elevating average material), followed by "Architects of Fear" (amplifying and punctuating better material). Hall alternated shows with John Nickolaus until Nickolaus decamped, leaving Hall to do ALL the episodes from the middle of October 1963 through Exmas, and the mid-season debut of Kenneth Peach. Hall's dominance throughout OUTER LIMITS' "hot period" was another lightning-in-a-bottle stroke of good luck among many equivalent advantages, all occurring at the same time ... all the things that helped OUTER LIMITS grow into its best identity and made it memorable, yet all conditions and circumstances that would solidly make the series "of its time" and not replicable.

    When I was summing up the DVD sets, I found that each season of OUTER LIMITS cleaved rather conveniently into three phases. For Season One, those were: (1) "Breaking Ice & Finding Sealegs" (December 1962-August 1963); (2) "The Hot Period" (September 1963-January 1964), and (3) "Endgame" (January-March 1964). The end of the first phase — the search for show identity and the arrangement of key players — came as soon as Stefano and Gerd Oswald had both logged their freshman outings ("A Feasibility Study" and "Specimen: Unknown," respectively).

    What also emerged was a sort of "bullet point version" of the OUTER LIMITS book, in shortform, which I'd be happy to post here later, with the permission of the estimable Tim Lucas.


  12. Once again Gary Gerani offers a sensible perspective with which to view this show; sure, it's impossible to keep politics out of this one, but the show was made as it stands, and should be considered as is. Can't go back and change the past; all you can do, if offended by anything in this episode, is to avoid it.

    Even though it falls outside of OL's typical dramatic domain, I think "Dragon" is one of the first-season's standouts, so bold is its concept and incredibly stylish its execution. Sure, the plastic cookie cutter device is pretty lame (I believe this was the same year an electronic plastic-molding toy called the "Vaccu-Form" was released by Mattel), and is but one of several elements that really stretches credulity in this tale. But when you step back and consider what was actually put on the TV airwaves via this episode in 1963, you cannot help but be stunned.

    When I first saw it in syndication in 1978, the prologue was entirely CUT, which definitely screwed up the narrative; however...you saw the striking "disfiguration" scene only ONCE---at the show's climax, carried out in front of a room full of exclusive Washington political elite. The effect was, I believe, far more startling.

    CALL ME CRAZY: I LOVE the shadows of those tree leaves on the wall during the opening scene; that simple, exotic effect, along with Frontiere's eerie, ominous music, and the magnificently sinister Richard Loo, is one of the show's most memorable images for me.

    CALL ME WHAT YOU WILL: I LOVE the shots of the "inscrutable" (exactly the term I would have used) Oriental (oops!!..I meant "Asian")
    Sydney Blackmer, as he sits in silence, contemplating the progress of his grand scheme. It's but one of many devices by which OL takes us into this hellishly bad dream, festering with evil and relentlessly intense. (I would think that the onscreen shooting of the unconscious presidential candidate might be the single most shocking moment in TV history up to this time--WAY beyond what I would have thought the censors would allow).

    Great rear-projection work with Philip Pine confronting himself (I like running this brief shot in slo-mo to really appreciate its technical excellence) as well as in the big finale.

    Frontiere's score is beyond brilliant, and succeeds in adding a truly "OUTRE" quality to one of OL's rare "bear-less" shows. I must, however, admit my disappointment upon learning (from DJS) that the composer bascially re-cycled this score from the April '63 Stoney Burke episode "The Weapons Man"---though I must say that the alluring, almost hallucinatory quality of the music is much more "at home" here in this dark, disturbing and amazingly bold offering.


  13. I like this music too, which definitely seems suited to this OL. It's the one Frontiere score I can think of that puts me in mind of Goldsmith for some reason. By the way, the music on that old GNP CD is included with lots more on the recent La La Land 3 CD set--highly recommended.

    Not a favorite episode, but I enjoy it as a well crafted product of its time.

  14. Although Hall already shot "Human Factor" and "Architects of Fear," "Dragon" was the first OUTER LIMITS of his that was aired (followed by "Architects' and "Man with the Power"), introducing his unique visual style to us ready-for-anything kids. We were still weeks away from the extreme up angles and other expressionistic devices ("gimmicks" Hall called them in a 1970s interview) that would come to characterize the series, especially when Gerd Oswald was directing. But even so, "Dragon" is a low-key, carefully-crafted visual delight, culminating in that terrific rear-projection shot that Larry mentions.

  15. Gary: Point. I neglected to account for the broadcast/syndication order.

  16. Though I agree with Gary that a show can be looked at from the era in which it was made, the nostalgia factor, I also think should also be looked at from each era since it was made.

    The essence of SF is thought and philosophy, and to look into the conceptual underpinnings and assumptions of the show is mightily important. TOL was a wake-up call that was/is one of the provocative and stimulating calls to thought.

    The ideas expressed in this show are seriously dangerous in there implications.

    There's a dreadful TTZ segment in which Peter Falk hams it up as Castro. Some of it forgiveable as a reflection of it's time - the paranoia of Sputnik and the media, but as the writers here were to go on and script 'Mission Impossible', in an era of similar mass produced thick-ear brain-washing hokum, when in actuality; coups, assassinations of foreign and domestic leaders, LSD experiments on it's own citizens, the brainwashing zombie-fication of MKULTRA and the sabotaging of any social justice movement was the order of the day....there's is something more than a mite hypocritical about the control voice's opening line, "An irresponsible threat to the peace of the world"...must mean that oil has been found!

  17. I always really liked this episode, especially the casting of Blackmer. It definitely falls into the grand tradition of paranoid political movies, and for an hour TV show manages to be eerie, tragic and almost plausible.

    My sister and I used to have a joke about the first names of three of the characters in the episode -- we'd say our imaginary line "Hi Bob, Hi Carol, Hi Ted -- where's Alice?" -- which obviously dates our joke to about 1969, when OL was in reruns and the B&C&T&A feature film had just come out.

    No monsters in sight here, but this one presents a truly monstrous concept and that made it a favorite of mine.

    Super comments from everybody here!

  18. I have to confess I'm not a fan of politics especially, but I'm always surprised how much I enjoy this episode when I see it again. And I have to give a babe vote to Joan Camden, an underestimated OL gal. She was given a lot more to work with later in "It Crawled Out Of The Woodwork", but is still good here. I wonder if it would be possible in this day and age, for there to" be no order" of retaliation for an act like Selby's murder?

  19. Never liked this one. Seemed alittle slow and boring. The music was good, though.

  20. Anon's problem with this one is one of my few problems with it. I think that any given time you hear a speech about how " ----- is a threat to peace" you can almost bet that even if it's TRUE, ------ is also a threat to SOMETHING ELSE, or you wouldn't be HEARING speeches about how he's a threat to peace.

    One of the things I DO enjoy is Aki Aleong's "contagious" enthusiasm during that demonstration. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's reminded of info-mercials while watching it.

  21. "'The 100 Days of the Dragon' is atypical in that it's slant is right-wing knee-jerk fears"

    Yeah, like communism is bad? I'd note that while the filmmakers were not aware of this, at the time this episode was made the Mao government of China was doing something called the Great Leap Forward, which in their zeal to forcibly impose pure Marxist economics on the population, resulted in some 30 million people dead, or five times the number killed by Adolf. So the notion that this episode is somehow "tainted" by today's standards is the most laughable piece of claptrap I've ever heard except in the mind of someone with a "far-left" standard that never wants to acknowledge the truth about what kind of a regime this was. And that's my definition of pathetic.

  22. I always enjoyed the conspiratorial tone of first season OL episodes. Did ABC put the kibosh on this kind of thing as a result of JFK's assassination and the subsequent conspiracy theories which followed immediately afterward? ; ) Just a passing thought....its the Zapruder in me I guess! "Hundred Days" was a great episode, gaping plot holes notwithstanding. I admired the fact that something like this even aired on TV, so I guess its "Manchurian Candidate" roots may have helped somewhat. Either way a thrilling hour which showed everyone you didn't need an alien to creep folks out. The music here was also great. Thanks again for the review.

  23. First episode I watched for this blog. If this is a 2 1/2 or a 3 as Peter and John say, I'm not looking forward to the 0-1ers. There are too many problems wiht this episode. The criminals sure get into the president's bedroom easily. Maybe the idea seemed novel in 1963, buts its too clearly a watered-down variation of the Mancurian Candidate. Acting isn't great, dialog equally wooden. What's the stuff about "oh by the way we believe the president is buried in this unknown grave we just happen to know about." The end is rediculous. First, everybody just allows the v-p to gouge the face of the man they believe to the president of the United States. Second, if the Russians or whoever killed Presdient Obama or Bush and replaced him with an imposter, thats probably grounds for some kind of military intervention, rather than the v-p saying well, we'll just let it slide. 1 Zanti

  24. I know the thread about this episode keeps getting political, but I might be able to answer jimbar's question. When the Clinton White House was doing badly in the polls for just about about the first time, it made a bombing raid on Iraq because allegedly they'd discovered a 2-3 year old Iraqi plot to assassinate George H. W. Bush - which of course, unlike the Selby one, DIDN'T succeed, or even get acted out - and this raid was to "retaliate" for that. So again, bad opinion polls - FAILED plot against former president uncovered - "punish" the country the plotters were in - GOOD opinion polls.
    But here you have the new president Pearson, who really weighs the whole idea of retaliating or not, even though HE actually has an assassination to retaliate FOR.

  25. I saw it again last night, and I noticed for maybe the first time that one of the party guests at the end is a Jacqueline Kennedy look-alike. I know she made that whole look of hers extremely trendy, so it could have just "happened," but was that a deliberate joke?

  26. Grant : Yup ! A stunning Jackie Kennedy look-alike dancing away in the first images of the party scene at the end, indeed ! BTW, the imbd article mentions an interesting bit of trivia : according to them, the voice of the commentator on TV announcing the election results is the voice of ... Leslie Stevens !

    1. If you check the credits listing in the excerpt from The Outer Limits Companion, you'll find the original source of said information.

  27. After the real Selby is killed, the fake one stretches his left ring finger to make it appear normal . . . but wouldn't a flacid (the re-arrangement drug doesn't work on bone according to Aki Aleong's demo for Mao Tse-tung) fingernail-less finger be noticed by the coroner during even the most cursory autopsy?

  28. I saw many of these for the first time in the 70s. Even as, when I saw "THE ARCHITECTS OF FEAR", it reminded me of "THE CHAMELEON" (which I had seen first-run), when I got around to "THE HUNDRED DAYS OF THE DRAGON", I immediately saw where my favorite Tara King episode of THE AVENGERS came from-- "THEY KEEP KILLING STEED".

    Incredibly, Brian Clemens swiped outright the method of duplication-- the drug and the face-mask. He just upped the ante with having multiple agents using them at the same time. The kicker was after they kidnapped Steed, he got loose briefly, and tampered with the face-masks, resulting in multiple Steeds, who, not in on his "joke", began killing EACH OTHER.

    That episode was also my introduction to Ian Ogilvy, who, years later, would become my favorite actor for his performance as "Simon Templar" on RETURN OF THE SAINT.

    It was nice to see Philip Pine as a good guy. I mostly remember him from the 3rd season STAR TREK episode, "THE SAVAGE CURTAIN", which involved another U.S. President getting killed... Abraham Lincoln.

  29. I saw it again last night, and it's easy to say this now, but I know what Ziggy Mehta means. Unlike the rest of the hands, it's easy to imagine those two finger joints having a sort of clay sculpture look to them.

  30. Excellent early entry for the series, beautifully directed to make it lo like a feature film, very well acted by the urbane Blackmer, an intense and increasingly suspicious Philip Pine,--in both instances, excellently cast in their roles. The Outer Limits truly was, for its first season anyway, a classy, classy show for its time.

  31. I enjoyed this episode very much except for the ending. The story is long, detailed and reveals itself slowly and carefully. Up until the last 5 minutes, this episode was almost perfect and then, suddenly, the story went to hell. The comman technique for ending a dispute between a real person and a fake duplicate is to either probe their knowledge or find some small discrepancy in their appearance or voice,etc. I was relishing the moment when the "grand finale" would begin: the real man vs the duplicate, and instead, they quickly arrest/remove the fake president who offers absolutely no resistance at all. The scene where the real president was killed and replaced by a fake was brilliant, better than I had expected, but the ending was incredibly lacking. My conclusion is they ran out of time. How very sad.

  32. I just watched it again, or as much as I could, on the Comet substation, which had many freezed fames and also a lot of scenes cut out altogether. Sad. It's a wonderful episode, sadly dated by its non-p.c. vibe, which could have easily been fixed by having a "good Asian", better still, an Asian-American, but they didn't got for that.

    Like most of the best first season TOL eps, 100 Days Of The Dragon feels as much like a feature film as a TV series. The production staff did a fabulous job with the show, which is often visually lush (there must be a better word for this...), featuring nice textures, evocative lighting. Yes, it's Hall and Nickolaus but also others who worked behind the scenes. There's no other TV series from the same period I can think of with such a distinctive, classy look.

  33. "My favorite "L-OL" moment - except that it's hard to consider it ACCIDENTALLY funny - is Aki Aleong presenting the invention to the Chairman and his staff with that big smile. He's so enthusiastic that it's almost impossible not to be reminded of an info-mercial host.

  34. Yes, that early scene (pre-credits, I believe) is really something. The narration is nicely evocative, along the lines of "south of the Mongolian border, north of the equator", etc. Good writing, and right for 1963. It could
    almost be Walter Cronkite.

    It's an incredibly far fetched story, and, as I just finished watching it (yet again) and loving it, I was reminded of this, what with the "colonel" standing in for Blackmer early on, standing opposite Chairman Richard Loo, this one required some major suspension of disbelief.

    Some of what was mentioned later in the episode ought to have been dealt with early on, such as the remains of the would-be assassin kept somewhere. Also, the body ought to have been examined more closely. Plus, the Clone is way too good an actor to not F up somewhere along the lines. His daughter later on mentioned her concern about "little things" about him that changed. How's about big things. There's no way a Duplicate President & Father could pull off such an act IRL without being outed purdy darn quick.

    Still, a terrific episode,--I can write off its improbabilities by using the all purpose term fever dream to describe it--and as such it's near flawless.

  35. I’m afraid this one didn’t really work for me. Oh, it was an interesting premise, but it all took sooo long to play out. And we didn’t see any big payoff at the end. After all that time taken to set up the false president, all we see him do is say “Oh, well, in a few months we’ll withdraw our troops from this contested area” and that’s it.

    I was kind of hoping for a twist at the end, where it was revealed that the vice president was in fact a replacement as well, and he wanted to discredit the fake president so he could take over instead, but.... nope.

    Yeah, for me this was extremely dull; it isn’t an episode I imagine I’ll re-watch anytime soon, if ever.

    1. Always one of my favorites. Blackmer looks and sounds so presidential and Hall's lighting, in noirish nightly scenes or not, is glorious as always. The rest of the casting is great. But what really made the episode for me was Dom Frontiere's spectacular music, even if probably all of it was tracked and used throughout Leslie Stevens Stoney Burke series a year or so prior.


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