TopBilled

TopBilled’s Essentials

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1 hour ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

A few replies come to mind even if I tacitly agree with your sentiment here.

  • Drama almost never has to go--nor should it ever feel bound to go --out of its way for factual accuracy.
  • Based on the year it was made, I myself don't expect multiculturalism or affirmative-action to be uppermost in the minds of the writers or producers. Paul Gallico was like, 50 or 70 years old at the time. And 1972 is barely out of the chaos of the 1960s.
  • Hollywood won't take a chance whenever it doesn't need to take a chance.

I don't know much about Gallico but the very liberal-minded Stirling Silliphant adapted Gallico's story and wrote the screenplay. I'm sure he could have been persuaded to add minority characters, if Irwin Allen and Fox had wanted it. Quite a few TV shows had been featuring blacks as regular cast members by this point-- The Mod Squad, Ironside, Mission: Impossible and Mannix come to mind.

I don't think it's helpful to make excuses about why a film like THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE didn't include more diversity. Diversity was not a new thing in 1972. I feel it's a valid criticism to "lob" at the film. It's too white, too American...and I'm a white American who was alive in 1972 saying this.

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If we were going to chastise ourselves for making excuses for Irwin Allen, we'd have to keep at it a good long while (excusing and then chastising, over and over) because there's a lot of other things going on in '72 which would need similar abrogation. I don't see it as cut-and-dried. Had 'All in the Family' even appeared yet? Despite a few 'diverse' TV shows multiculturalism back then (I would hazard) was far from being disseminated through the American mindset. Major paradigm shifts had yet to take place. This reminds me of one of our other discussions. Right now, in these 'much more enlightened times' resistance against these ideas is still very strong. Why bash the Americans of 72 for not solving problems we can't even eradicate ourselves today?

Another opinion I have is against this notion that films are made and released by accident, without a lot of oversight. There's no way a sound man 'remembers to insert some sound effects' as an afterthought while doing his job. A movie this costly is previewed and tested in a myriad of ways before it gets to the public. We might point out things that needed to be done better--and our criticisms might well be valid--but I feel its going too far to suggest someone was remiss or neglectful, as the cause of the errors we see. Errors are usually caught before they reach audiences. A lot of people in the production have a chance to prevent them.

 

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1 hour ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

A few replies come to mind even if I tacitly agree with your sentiment here.

  • Drama almost never has to go--nor should it ever feel bound to go --out of its way for factual accuracy.
  • Based on the year it was made, I myself don't expect multiculturalism or affirmative-action to be uppermost in the minds of the writers or producers. Paul Gallico was like, 50 or 70 years old at the time. And 1972 is barely out of the chaos of the 1960s.
  • Hollywood won't take a chance whenever it doesn't need to take a chance.

Gallico also wrote the books sourced for the screenplays THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES and THE THREE LIVES OF THOMASINA, as well as the short story that prompted LILI, among several more. A diversity of topics, to be sure.

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21 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

If we were going to chastise ourselves for making excuses for Irwin Allen, we'd have to keep at it a good long while (excusing and then chastising, over and over) because there's a lot of other things going on in '72 which would need similar abrogation. I don't see it as cut-and-dried. Had 'All in the Family' even appeared yet? Despite a few 'diverse' TV shows multiculturalism back then (I would hazard) was far from being disseminated through the American mindset. Major paradigm shifts had yet to take place. This reminds me of one of our other discussions. Right now, in these 'much more enlightened times' resistance against these ideas is still very strong. Why bash the Americans of 72 for not solving problems we can't even eradicate ourselves today?

Another opinion I have is against this notion that films are made and released by accident, without a lot of oversight. There's no way a sound man 'remembers to insert some sound effects' as an afterthought while doing his job. A movie this costly is previewed and tested in a myriad of ways before it gets to the public. We might point out things that needed to be done better--and our criticisms might well be valid--but I feel its going too far to suggest someone was remiss or neglectful, as the cause of the errors we see. Errors are usually caught before they reach audiences. A lot of people in the production have a chance to prevent them.

We're not bashing people in 1972. We're looking at how the film is entertaining yet considerably flawed. I am sure minorities in 1972 who went to see it wondered where the blacks, hispanics and asians were on board that ship. This can't be something that just dawned on people watching it in 2018.

All in the Family premiered on CBS in January 1971 and was an instant hit. It already had a spinoff, Maude, that had been on the air for half a season by the time THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE hit movie screens. But we don't need Lear's sitcoms as a marker of diversity. I mentioned several crime shows dating back to 1967 that had full-time black actors. And this isn't just a black thing, hence my including other minority groups.

I don't think we have to make a list of other societal ills in 1972 to understand the fact this commercial film, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, was tailored for white American people. 

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4 minutes ago, Brrrcold said:

Gallico also wrote the books sourced for the screenplays THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES and THE THREE LIVES OF THOMASINA, as well as the short story that prompted LILI, among several more. A diversity of topics, to be sure.

A diversity of topics, but not necessarily topics that included diverse populations. There are no minority groups represented in those stories, if I recall correctly.

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3 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

A diversity of topics, but not necessarily topics that included diverse populations. There are no minority groups represented in those stories, if I recall correctly.

I never considered whether there were or were not. It was no part of my comment. I simply find the range of his subjects interesting and unusual.

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I would still maintain that a Hollywood studio production in a previous era like the one we're talking about; is no better and no worse than the culture around it at the time.

In general over time, you can always detect that Hollywood usually lags behind the rest of anything that's going on in the country. It's timid as a little old lady crossing traffic.

But not for reasons of "-ism" (racism, sexism, etc). Hollywood is always following traditional, safe, staid, familiar narratives merely for reasons of fiscal prudence and financial / political caution.

For example, how long did it take for Hollywood to start dealing with suburban family issues like incest and other dysfunctionality? 'Blue Velvet' and 'American Beauty' took how long to appear in Hollywood history? Decades too late.

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7 hours ago, TopBilled said:

Yes, I see what you're saying. But my idea was that if it was bound for Europe, there would be some folks on their way home (if home was somewhere in Europe). No way would all the ship's passengers, whether they were sailing the Atlantic or the Mediterranean, be just a bunch of Americans or English-only types. Even if we are to believe the ones who died in the beginning were international tourists, it's preposterous to think the survivors would only be American or English-speaking people.

But let's go with the idea it was a ship comprised of only American passengers, why aren't there any black Americans or asian Americans? They couldn't be bothered to show one wealthy minority passenger? Not believable at all.

Plus so many previous crossing-the-Atlantic dramas like Ship Of Fools had a variety of accents that you would just assume this one would follow tradition. By this time, even airplane pictures like Airport showed some variety in passenger skin tone even if just the Caucasian actors were allowed to speak. It has been ages since I saw this one so I have little to contribute here, but I did read some old reviews online. A. H. Weiler in the New York Times confirms that the ship is bound for Greece, while Roger Ebert also noted no "black" character to be included along with the (stereotypical?) fussy Jewish couple, passionate liberal, tough cop, etc.

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This then, is comparing 'Poseidon Adventure' merely to previous Hollywood movies produced and set in other time periods and based on other source material. The 'Vera' of Porter's novel departed from ...Valparaiso, If memory serves. And those were European refugees of some kind returning home. There's also 'Voyage of the Damned' probably starring Maximillian Schell, Maximillian Schell, Maximillian Schell, and Maximillian Schell. All this instead of comparing the movie to actual American cruise line customers of 1972.

Not griping at you TopBilled but I honestly can't think of a reason myself, for the portrayal of cruise ship tourists at that time, to be wildly inaccurate if styled bland and white. It might be a tad lazy, okay. But they weren't making a Zinneman-style message movie either.

But it gets even stranger --as the observant and fun post from Jlewis above also points out, disaster films are always full of trope characters anyway. Ada Quonset in 'Airport', the singing nun, and so on. We saw it brilliantly lampooned by the Zucker Brothers.

So this is what is known as the classic 'isolated call for rigor' in clinical testing nomenclature. Always beware the 'isolated call for rigor'! :)

 

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Another angle: if you compare film criticism / reviews of that year (or the lack of it) against literary criticism and book reviews going on at the same time a new window might reveal itself. There were big-name authors utterly railing against bourgeois white hegemony which was very much reining over the land. John Cheever, John O'Hara, Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, Louis Auchincloss--America's top authors were issuing clarion calls for the stuffy, stodgy, white establishment to loosen its grip on the the country's consciousness. In the wake of 1960s protests and marches, Black Panthers, etc--WASPs had gone into a 'circle the wagons' mentality. There was 'entrenchment'; which (and this is my point) Hollywood still 'played-up-to'. I don't think that just because black characters on TV were emerging more, that this meant "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" was happening in real life American homes.

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Thanks everyone for the comments that were posted in the thread yesterday. I always enjoy a healthy debate that comes from watching and analyzing a classic film. 

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10 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Another angle: if you compare film criticism / reviews of that year (or the lack of it) against literary criticism and book reviews going on at the same time a new window might reveal itself. There were big-name authors utterly railing against bourgeois white hegemony which was very much reining over the land. John Cheever, John O'Hara, Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, Louis Auchincloss--America's top authors were issuing clarion calls for the stuffy, stodgy, white establishment to loosen its grip on the the country's consciousness. In the wake of 1960s protests and marches, Black Panthers, etc--WASPs had gone into a 'circle the wagons' mentality. There was 'entrenchment'; which (and this is my point) Hollywood still 'played-up-to'. I don't think that just because black characters on TV were emerging more, that this meant "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" was happening in real life American homes.

You do raise some good points and confirm the initial debate that started the discussion: that this movie is dated but also backward rather than progressive like other movies and TV shows of its era.

I think Charles Shulz's Peanuts represented Middle America best which explains why more read it than any other comic strip at that time. There was one token "black" character Franklin who was introduced to the strip in July 1968, but he was seldom involved in any significant story arcs and only fleetingly socialized with Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Peppermint Patty (the token feminist chick), etc. He was a cardboard character lacking any distinctive personality, but had to be included nonetheless.

However that was a very important summer, being the one following the King assassination, riots in the streets and a major campaign started by third party candidate George Wallace as the backlash to LBJ's "Great Society" that many white southerners thought was too inclusive, too soon. (Note too that the biggest racial fuss in the seventies occurred among northerners instead of southerners with the Boston school bus protest of 1974, among other key events, so this was never a localized problem but a national one.) Both Hollywood and Madison Avenue were at a crossroads here, very much like your "little old lady" personality not wishing to get attacked from either side. CBS did shock some TV viewers with a thought provoking Of Black America series, but more typical of the mainstream was NBC's Julia with Diahann Carroll that was filming episodes that summer simultaneously with Warner Brothers backing their first black director, Gordon Parks, in The Learning Tree, all significant firsts but also safe firsts not intended to rock the boat. This was also the summer that PBS and the Children's TV Workshop put Sesame Street into production even though it would not air until the fall of 1969 and that show would make enormous strides in raising a new generation of children to become far more comfortable with a variety of skin tones than their parents and grandparents ever were.

Fast-forward to 1972 and you have that whole "blaxploitation" cycle cresting that was Hollywood's belated but over the top attempt to be all-inclusive. Yet it all wound up merely bombarding the screens with a lot of angry black characters sporting guns. (Granted, some of the directors of this genre were black but most milking it for profit were not.) Ditto the kung fu action-er which was the Asian equivalent, reaching its climax the following year with the final films of Bruce Lee. Usually when the cast was all black and presented "normal", it was more often than not a period piece like Sounder, released earlier that year.

It is evident when you go through the film reviews of December 1972 that there is quite a lot of criticism about The Poseidon Adventure being behind the times not just in race but story telling as well.  I have only found Roger Ebert being very specific about race here, but I am sure others noticed back then. Nobody took that film very seriously and the post-Zanuck executives at Fox were most awe-struck that it took off so well at the box-office.

All of this may explain why O.J. Simpson got a more prominent role in The Towering Inferno, also backed by 20th Century Fox as a joint venture with Warner. At least he did more in that film than Franklin did in the comics.

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Yeah JLewis. Good stuff. Do you remember Ivan Dixon, the token black character 'Kinch' in "Hogan's Heroes" and of course Greg Morse as 'Barney' ('Barney does it all') in "Mission: Impossible"?

How about the ABC series, "Room 222" about hippies on a college campus? This was a little more advanced: the enlightened and progressive professor was black, played by Lloyd Haines. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Room_222

But just like you say: it wasn't changing things in Des Moines Iowa.

Criticism of the concept of 'Posiedon Adventure' even at the time, doesn't surprise me. After all its not Richard III. There's elements of schmaltz and regressiveness. I admit that it was mainly notable for its 'wow' FX (which are still eye-popping). I personally just happen to enjoy the hell out of the casting, the over-the-top drama, the overall spectacle.

No, I wouldn't put the thing on a Mariner or a Galileo and send it out of the solar system to introduce us to higher intelligences. But it is enjoyable.

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9 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

No, I wouldn't put the thing on a Mariner or a Galileo and send it out of the solar system to introduce us to higher intelligences. But it is enjoyable.

There is so much worse that we can blast into orbit. After all, the theme song sums up the state of our country and planet these days...

 

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January Focus: Acting choices

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Charles Laughton & Elsa Lanchester. I will review two films in which the couple costarred, one film that featured just Laughton, and one film that featured just Lanchester.

REMBRANDT (1936)
THE BIG CLOCK (1948)
THE MAN ON THE EIFFEL TOWER (1949)
MYSTERY STREET (1950)

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3 hours ago, TopBilled said:

January Focus: Acting choices

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 5.40.54 AM.png

Charles Laughton & Elsa Lanchester. I will review two films in which the couple costarred, one film that featured just Laughton, and one film that featured just Lanchester.

REMBRANDT (1936)
THE BIG CLOCK (1948)
THE MAN ON THE EIFFEL TOWER (1949)
MYSTERY STREET (1950)

As an aging character actress, Elsa Lancester was terrific in "Mystery Street".

She - and Marshall Thompson - so easily stole that one.

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JLewis contributed:

Quote

All of this may explain why O.J. Simpson got a more prominent role in The Towering Inferno, also backed by 20th Century Fox as a joint venture with Warner. At least he did more in that film than Franklin did in the comics. 

This --and the other chatter about 'Mary Poppins Returns' --raises a question with regard to quality standards. TopBilled says above (if I may paraphrase here) that he doesn't believe it "helps anything" to refrain from criticizing dramatic theater of the past, for its homogeneity.

But returning our gaze to today...I might ask what does it help? As long as casting practices aren't restrictive, (or illegal as per the US Constitution), who is hurt by casting a play or a film with the parts as recommended by the author or playwright?

As long as no one is being refused work for willfully unfair reasons, there's nothing wrong with competition for jobs.

Does mandating diversity automatically make theater any better? If you have movie casts which are controlled by inclusion clauses, what exactly does this help --other than external political agendas?

Will it make theater more realistic? Maybe. And, maybe not. Depends on the yardstick one uses.

Whatever way it goes, it seems a poor deal for the original author of any long-standing property. The sanctity of the artistic vision is being mighty casually violated. No wonder Kim Novak is outraged about Bernard Herrmann's music being stolen. All part of the same issue.

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The sheer audacity of the man! This is like Babe Ruth stepping up to bat, and calling out what part of the field he is gonna homer in...he knows his target in advance!

:lol:

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Id like to see a good discussion on Charles Laughton. With a face like that, he should have portrayed Balzac

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Essential: REMBRANDT (1936)

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The film starts with Rembrandt van Rijn (Charles Laughton) already a well-known and sought-after painter in Holland. He spares no expense when it comes to buying the most lavish gifts for his ill wife Saskia. While having a pot of beer at the local pub, Rembrandt makes a speech about all women and how knowing his wife is like knowing all women.

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It's a marvelously recited piece, and Laughton does it beautifully, covering a variety of feelings the character espouses. After spending time in the village, Rembrandt arrives home and learns his precious Saskia is dead, leaving him to raise their son Titus on his own. We then see him painting her portrait, imagining his wife sitting in an empty chair in his studio. The next sequence moves the story forward.

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A big fuss is made about a large painting Rembrandt does of the city's civic guard. To say the denizens of high society don't like or appreciate it is an understatement. One critic complains it has too many shadows, too much darkness and confusion. Perhaps this is what Laughton grapples with putting Rembrandt on a canvas called celluloid.

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After Rembrandt's failure with the local politicians he remarries. The new wife is his housekeeper Geertje (Gertrude Lawrence). The film then skips ahead ten years, and we see they are in dire financial straits. Furnishings are being repossessed from the large home they share. He can reverse his misfortune by painting "properly" for the prince. He is told decent painters paint decent people, not beggars (a favorite subject of Rembrandt's).  He is supposed to paint pictures people will want for their money.

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There's a lengthy scene where Rembrandt is taken on to the street to learn how to beg properly by a derelict (Roger Livesey) that has been sitting for one of his portraits. But Rembrandt knows that begging on the street is not the same as begging the prince to sponsor his work. Watching the scene makes one wonder what Laughton is thinking while saying the lines. Can an actor perform "properly" by only playing royal figures and men of great standing? Or can he be just as masterly portraying a beggar painter like Rembrandt van Rijn?

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The film's a treatise about the value of art for art's sake versus art as business. Laughton captures the pathos of a man torn between both extremes, who continues to work because of his ongoing need to create. It's more a meditation on character than a story with a strong underlying plot. There's an extended segment with good character development, where he returns to the country to see his own people. Laughton revels in portraying the peasant-like qualities of the man.

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When Rembrandt gets back to the city, he meets a new maid named Hendrickje (Laughton's real-life wife Elsa Lanchester). He puts a clean canvas on an easel and begins to paint her portrait. She's a former country girl, so a common bond develops immediately. Laughton and Lanchester enjoy a natural, easy chemistry. Significantly Laughton uses his dialogue as Rembrandt to speak truths about Lanchester instead of the character she's playing. At least that's how it feels.

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Some household drama occurs when Geertje clashes with Hendrickje, before she separates from Rembrandt. This is followed by troubles related to money owed the government, which culminates in the loss of Rembrandt's house and furniture. But his spirit is indomitable, and we see Rembrandt and Hendrickje take up residence in a small house where he continues to paint. One day a marquis visits and offers cash for a painting. However, what Rembrandt earns must to be used to pay off his creditors. The creditors have the law on their side.

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Cleverly Hendrickje comes up with a way to subvert the law. As Rembrandt's new "employer" claiming ownership of his artworks, she can sell the paintings and not pay his creditors since she is not the one in debt to anyone. They are happy for a time until Hendrickje takes ill, like the first wife Saskia. So the story starts to come full circle. There's a splendid scene where he's painting Hendrickje for the last time, and they reenact their first meeting with the same dialogue.

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The story comes full circle in another way, too. Rembrandt is seen begging on the street after Hendrickje's death, and a brash young painter wants to do a portrait of him. The young painter and his friends take Rembrandt to a pub where they learn who he is. Rembrandt is given some pocket money, and he leaves the pub to go purchase some paints and brushes. He looks in a mirror and decides what he shall paint next.

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REMBRANDT airs on TCM the 17th of January.

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Great stuff. But --ulp! I just realized Elsa ...Lanchester ...is not the same as ...Elsa Maxwell:lol:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elsa_Maxwell

Wasn't Elsa Lanchester famous not just for her acting career (and her marriage to Laughton) but also for being an acclaimed hostess in her own right, one who threw frequent parties?

I'm also curious about Laughton's career relationship with luminaries like Olivier, Richardson, Burton, Guiness, and Gielgud. Did they admire him? Did they spurn him? Why is he never cited in combination with these big British names? Just wondering aloud here...

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23 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

I'm also curious about Laughton's career relationship with luminaries like Olivier, Richardson, Burton, and Gielgud. Did they admire him? Did they spurn him? Why is he never cited in combination with these big British names? Just wondering aloud here...

Laughton had considerably more success in Hollywood than some of the other ones you mentioned, and while he and Lanchester did return to England occasionally, I think they became much more "American." Ida Lupino also became more Americanized. As did Julie Andrews. Of course becoming expatriates doesn't mean their fellow Britishers would think any less of them. But Laughton was much more independent-minded I think.

In a documentary made shortly after his death in the mid-60s, Dirk Bogarde calls him a genius, and goes on about how Korda and the actors who worked with Laughton in films under Korda considered him one of the greats.

You may want to check out Simon Callow's book, published in 1997, which is entitled "Charles Laughton: A Difficult Actor." He was difficult in the sense that he took his craft as an actor very seriously and struggled to get the characters just right that he was portraying. He had a very specific working style, where he required extreme concentration and often demanded that his costars approach scenes with a similar dedication. He was in every sense of the word a perfectionist.

Lanchester was also a highly disciplined performer, but I think she had a much lighter, airy quality than her husband and does not come across as serious as he does.

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That jibes with what I've read. Thanks. But just as often as I've heard about Laughton's perfectionism, do I hear mention of his 'hamminess'. I think its a terrible accusation in that its too subjectively applied. His 'Hunchback' for instance; how to underplay that to any better result? Its a role which is justifiably celebrated, I should think.

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