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Posts posted by KirkG

  1. As with several others who have already posted here, I find it difficult to be objective about Buster (though my favorite among Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd tends to be whoever I've just seen).


    One thing I find interesting in looking closely at this sequence is how one has a sense that Buster gets up off the ground, finds his mark for the window, has the building facade crash around him, reacts and then runs off, all in one shot (Dr. Edwards almost says as much in his analysis). It always amazes me that not only does he stand on the exact spot he needs to, after this two ton wall comes crashing around him he can remain in character to react and run off (imagine if he'd broken character - this is something you don't want to have to do twice).


    In fact, there are actually threes separate shots: Buster gets up and wanders a little dazedly, then in a second shot is seen standing perfectly positioned (how long did it take to set that?) for the fall, and finally we see him after the fact (and possibly after some recovery from the excitement and adrenaline of that second shot) giving his big reaction and running off. The editing is practically invisible here, so that we seem to experience it as one unbroken take.


    That said, if you look at the end of the second shot, you do see Buster start his reaction. What an incredible performer to have the presence not to break after having a two-ton wall dropped around him.

    • Like 1
  2. One of the interesting questions raised in today's "Daily Doozy" is that the gags in the silent era were completely visual. Of course that's mostly true. However, just as visual humor didn't just disappear with the coming of talkies, silent comedies have their share of verbal humor, with intertitles that could be quite witty. My favorites are "Beanie" Walker's work for the Hal Roach Studios.

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  3. It is my opinion, that in order to evaluate a film, it is necessary to see it in its original format as presented at the time of release. To see an edited version with sound effects, enhanced color, or music added, makes a big difference. The value of a film is best preserved in its original form. If improvement is deemed necessary, it is best to remake it with a new vision, but leave the original as is.

    As you say, Silent films were silent.

    I have to repeat here the common quote "silent films were never silent." Musical accompaniment (from piano to full orchestra) was almost always a part of the contemporary audience's experience, and good accompaniment is key for modern audiences to enjoy them fully as well.


    Of course, that doesn't excuse the kind of exaggerated accompaniment and sound effects that are sometimes found in clips such as these.


    I will say that as someone growing up in the '60s and early '70s, things like these Youngson compilations were a great treat. It was hard to get to see these films in any format, let alone uncut and properly presented. We're all fortunate for the ongoing work of preservationists and scholars, as well as leaps in technology, that can bring us so close to seeing these films as intended (and with a channel devoted to them).

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  4. To be honest, I was somewhat confused by the introduction to today's Daily Dose. It seems to say the "Elevator to the Gallows" does not count as film noir simply because it was not made in America (or perhaps I'm misreading it). I have a reasonably narrow definition of film noir myself, but specific nationality of the film is not one of the requirements.


    As to jazz and noir, I think they tie together for two primary reasons. First, jazz seems to be the music of mid-century urban America, which is the prototypical (but not only) noir setting. Second, the minor keys of jazz provide a melancholy feel which matches noir's interest in the dark influence of fate.


    In many of the films we've seen to date with a jazz score, that score was more swinging and edgy, driving the plot forward almost immediately. Here, Miles Davis' score is more laid back and sensual. It serves to emphasize the attraction that draws these people together, and makes it palpable for us. It seems like they're going to do something they shouldn't, but their sexuality won't let them stop, and the music helps us understand that.

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  5. In today's clip from "Beware, My Lovely," when we first see Howard he is putting up a window screen which somewhat obscures our view of him. There's a spot of dirt on the screen, which appears to be a black mark on his face (and on his character?) but he works to clean it off. When he gets his coat from the closet, we see him in a mirror, which tells us there may be more than one side to him. Finally, after discovering the body of Mrs. Warren, he is panic stricken and flees town. The running would seem to be the action of a guilty man, but his surprise at finding the body seems to indicate he wasn't aware of this (again, two side to the man, as in the mirror).


    Since Howard is played by Robert Ryan, we (and certainly audiences of the time) have even more reason to expect that Howard is a dark, violent character (and just as much reason to keep watching, since Ryan, even when typecast, is so damn good).


    However, all of these visual clues (the black mark cleaned away, the doubling in the mirror) may make us suspect that Ryan isn't just a killer. Is that also the message of the sign we see at the opening? "From the kindness of your heart" don't judge this man too harshly? Or am I just hoping for something more than this film will deliver?

    • Like 4
  6. With this opening of "The Narrow Margin," we're challenged to note ways in which "noir conventions are being burlesqued."


    Brief though it is, we notice the dialogue is even more slangy than usual. In just about fifteen seconds, a woman is described as a "dame," a "dish," a "60 cent special," "cheap," "flashy," who's "strictly poison under the gravy" because "what kind of a dame would marry a hood?" The fact that it one of the toughest of tough guys, Charles McGraw, delivering this in his flat, gravelly tone emphasizes just how far we've come from Bogart and Powell tossing out Chandler bon mots. That description, of course, fits the stereotypical femme fatale.


    For those who haven't yet seen the picture, I'll say no more, other than it enjoyably subverts many of the expectations set up here. Is it parody, maybe not, but it sure looks like the filmmakers were having fun.

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  7. In looking at today's clip from "Kansas City Confidential," I was stuck by the third suggested question. Why is a heist a good subject for film noir?


    First, it involves criminal activity, which must be a part of any noir film, and since we are following the story from the side of the professional criminal, we are deep into the dark side of life.


    Heist films take a purportedly realistic approach, familiar in many noir films, but rather than follow the authorities in solving a crime (as in "The Naked City") we see how the crime is planned. As things happen that (inevitably) put the plan at risk, the tension is increased, in a way that doesn't always occur in a police procedural.


    More importantly, however, in classic Hollywood films of the era, the filmmakers were still working under a Production Code that required that criminals not get away with it. Even though that Code was starting to weaken, you could still be pretty certain no heist in the movies would be a success. Thus, while we get the thrills of watching illicit activity, we know it is doomed to failure. Doomed protagonists are a cornerstone of noir.


    Even after the Code was eliminated, heist films still tended to end in failure. Was there ever a heist film that ended In success (other than con games and others where the target is worse than the perpetrators (like "The Sting" or "Ocean's Eleven") or spy films (like "Mission: Impossible") or even "Ant-Man")?

    • Like 4
  8. In today's clip from "99 River Street" we see Ernie Driscoll reliving his glory days watching one of his old fights on television. The Curator's Note in The Daily Dose has already commented on the inherent critique in the visual presentation of film versus video, and little more need be added. What I find interesting is how this makes clear what Ernie has lost, as the visceral excitement of his days as a fighter have been marginalized into this small confining screen. Once again in noir the past is a powerful influence, this time not because of something done wrong, but because of what has been lost, as big dreams settle into middle class mediocrity.


    Also interesting is the presentation of Pauline. At first she seems concerned about Ernie, trying to get him away from the the television and over to dinner, seemingly worried that he's too absorbed in his past and it's hurting him. With him (and the T.V.) close in the foreground and her the back, we can feel the separation. It's soon clear that she is more concerned with the present than the past because the latter represents missed opportunities (he could have been champion, she could have been a star). Like Jane in "Too Late for Tears," Pauline wants material success. But where Jane seems to feel the pressure of society, Pauline isn't concerned with what anyone else thinks she should have, but what she thought she was entitled to by marrying an up-and-coming boxer, who turned out to be a pug.

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  9. In today's clip from "The Strange Loves of Martha Ivers," several things work to establish the relationships of the characters.


    Walter is first seen slightly higher than Sam, but when Sam asks him for a "favor," he is the taller one, indicating he may have the upper hand here. Walter seems reluctant until Sam asks "for old time's sake" which seems to have a chilling effect on Walter, making us wonder what in the past Sam may have on Walter.


    Once Martha enters and recognizes Sam, they are photographed together, as a couple. Walter is seen in separate shots, or, if in the same shot, physically separated from them by a desk. Walter the D.A. would presumably hold the moral high ground over Sam the gambler, but he certainly is drinking a lot, at a time of the morning that even the gambler thinks is too early.


    When Sam asks how Walter knows he will win the election, Walter says he should ask Martha. This not only suggests she has some control here (and what does it take to guarantee an election?) but further diminishes him in relationship to his wife.


    Overall, the scene gives us a sense of mysterious doings in the past that keep reverberating in the present, a sense of corruption in terms of D.A.s doing favors for gamblers and elections that can be guaranteed, and a strong woman holding a man under her thumb - all noir staples.

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  10. Today's clip from "Too Late for Tears" would seem to begin with a couple of completely innocent people who by random chance end up with a bag of (presumably ill-gotten) money. By choosing to drive off with the money it would appear the couple takes their first wrong turn, which will likely lead them down a road of noir complications.


    One can reflect that the idea of innocent people being drawn into a dark and violent world would have resonance in post-war America. Many Americans would feel that they had just been unwillingly drawn into a World War and its attendant hells.


    But what I find interesting here is whether this couple is really that innocent. They are quarreling from practically the moment we meet them. The women is concerned about being looked down upon by those with a higher social standing (giving her motivation to keep the money). Visually, we see the couple straight on looking into their car, so the center post of the windshield divides them, the angle of the shot only changing when the husband agrees to turn the car around, and then we see them together on the same side of the post.


    Note that the wife is insistent that he open the bag full of "paper" as if she already suspects (and hopes?) what they will find. And note how she takes command, driving their getaway while he sits impotent in the back seat.


    I don't know if this is "the best unknown American film noir" but I'm definitely intrigued and will be watching this weekend.

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  11. I generally do not consider Hitchcock's films to be noir, though "Strangers on a Train" might actually qualify.


    To me, one of the important traits of the noir protagonist is that he has crossed the line somehow ("I did something wrong once"). It may be a big thing, it may seem minor, but this transgression sets the protagonist up for whatever happens to him. This may be too limiting of a definition, but there it is.


    In Hitchcock's world, the protagonist generally gets into trouble for no good reason, perhaps because he is mistaken. But "Strangers" could fit my noir definition because Guy does seriously consider doing away with his wife, and this gets him embroiled in Bruno's actions.


    But even in terms of style, Hitchcock is somewhat outside of the noir mainstream. In the opening we see today, the shots of moving feet, the directional lines on a collision course, etc. could all come from any noir director. But note the music. In a standard noir film, we'd expect the scoring to be building up the suspense. In "Strangers" the scoring is actually kind of playful. Hitchcock wants us not to feel too nervous about Bruno yet (we'll get there soon). One can almost imagine him smiling, anticipating the fun he is going to have putting us through this.

    • Like 5
  12. In my quest to watch new-to-me films noir off each Friday's schedule, this week I certainly got a mixed bag.


    "Follow Me Quietly" wins the award for most interesting title, and it also had some interesting ideas for a police procedural. Unfortunately, I didn't think it was too successful in following through on them.


    "Red Light" was certainly interesting in its combination of noir themes and style with religious ideas. It was a bit heavy-handed in its handling of the latter, but what really sank it was George Raft. Change the leading man and you might have had something.


    Some might say that "Caged" was similarly heavy-handed in its message. However, I just wasn't expecting it to be as hard-boiled as it was. It's attitude completely took me by surprise, and I found the performances very effective. This was definitely my favorite this week.

  13. In today's clip of the opening of "D.O.A.", we're not in a car, but as we follow behind Frank Bigelow, we might just as well be in Mike Hammer's convertible or in the police wagon of "Caged." We're driven relentlessly forward into the frame. We can almost feel the lines of perspective drawing us in.


    We don't see Bigelow's face for the long time, and this increases our curiosity about this man. Who is he? We also (without the camera tricks of "The Lady in the Lake") find ourselves in almost a first person p.o.v. This, combined with making the character a cypher, causes us to identify with him, and, along with the relentless drive forward, pulls us further in.


    When we at last get it to see Bigelow's face, it's at the moment he announces that he has been murdered. As with the other clips this week, we are starting out at a dramatic high point in the story, though maybe no other film begins with such a remarkable revelation.


    We're certainly aware of other noir protagonists who are heading toward a fatal end, but here we have one who starts there.

    • Like 3
  14. In today's opening shot from "Caged" we are once again traveling down a road, but this time our view is restricted to a very small window through wire mesh. The sound of a siren means we could be in an ambulance, but the title of the film makes it more likely we're in a police wagon.


    The interior is dark, with just a few Indistinct shadows moving around. Then the vehicle stop, the door is opened and we see we've been sharing this space with several women, the most prominent of whom is fearful (not unlike Christina).


    Once again we seem to be thrown right into the middle of a story, where bad things have clearly already happened, and it looks like things will get worse before they get better.


    The most interesting thing here: a cast list of eleven and not a man among them. And one of the screenwriters is female.

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  15. Today's clip from "The Hitch-Hiker" is fascinating in comparison to yesterday's "Kiss Me Deadly." Both involve hitchhikers on a lonely road, but where yesterday we had a terrorized figure being picked up by someone with seemingly no empathy but who turned out to be entirely in control, today we have a figure who terrorizes others, picked up by good samaritans who immediately lose control to this stranger.


    This contrast is strengthened visually but the fact that, although both scenes take place on a dark road at night, Christina was seen fairly brightly lit, while Emmett is clothed in the deepest shadow, even after he gets in the car. His gun emerges into the light before his face does. Can there be any question that he is a figure of evil?


    The lighting in this scene is remarkable. For the most part it seems to come from limited natural sources (the dashboard, a flashlight) that heighten the sense of fear. Who hasn't driven in a car at night on a lonely road with just such lights, being the only respite from the surrounding darkness? Maybe you've even fantasized about something jumping out of that darkness. I think the filmmakers were counting on such memories to work with the lighting and shot selection to put the audience right in that car when something bad does emerge from the shadows.

  16. The one thing about Welles is that he was willing to try everything that film had to offer. That makes him exciting to me, but it also means that inevitably there will be failures (if you're swinging for the fence you're going to whiff a few). It sounds like there are a lot of people on this forum for whom "The Lady Fron Shanghai" is a failure. I don't think it's a masterpiece, but I still find it fascinating and more interesting than most pictures made around that time.

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  17. Today's clip of the opening for "Kiss Me Deadly" throws us straight into the action, with no explanation, following a trend we've been seeing in other pictures (such as "Act of Violence" and "The High Wall"). In this case, we're in the thick of it before the credits even roll.


    Mike Hammer is the toughest of tough guys. Confronted by this woman in great distress, his first response is "You almost wrecked my car." This is not Raymond Chandler's "man...who is not himself mean." Hammer may be meaner than the streets he goes down. He even threatens to throw Christina off a cliff.


    Yet when he learns the police are after this escapee from an asylum, all it takes is for her to desperately squeeze his hand and in an instant he covers for her.


    The credits sequence is notable not only for the graphics that come down the screen as if they are painted on the road, but also for continuing the sounds of Christina's gasping and sobbing. Where most Hollywood movies of the time would have given full play to the Nat King Cole song, here the sounds of the character are insistent, not letting the audience forget her terror and desperation.


    Every aspect of this opening shows Bezzerides and Aldrich are going to keep us rushing headlong at top speed, jumping over exposition and other niceties of traditional Hollywood filmmaking, creating a palpable excitement.

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  18. I'm glad to see a little love for "Act of Violence." I remember the first time I saw it. It's one of those pictures that you think you've got all figured out. Frank seems to be a good guy targeted for some reason by the psychotic Joe. But things seem off, and you get a disquieting feeling: the Memorial Day parade that interrupts Joe's single minded movement, the high winds and storm clouds lowering at the lake. Suddenly, about one-third of the way through, Frank escapes to L.A., but leaving his family behind seems wrong and dangerous. What just happened? From then on, everything you thought you knew about these characters will be challenged.


    It's a wonderfully shot picture. Ryan is great as always, but Astor steals the show. And unusually for noir, there's even redemption at the end...for both men.

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  19. This weekend I continued my effort to watch films new to me with two titles.


    At first, "They Won't Believe Me" didn't grab me. Visually, I didn't find it that impressive. But the character of an apparently nice guy (because he's played by Robert Young?) who is not only cheating on his wife as the story starts, but then dumps his girlfriend to go back to his wife's money, then cheats on her with another woman, was fascinating and unusual for the time. I began to notice little directorial touches like the overlapping of one shot with the sound of another (as with the discovery of the body coming with the gun shot putting the horse down). And what a great noir ending, with the protagonist deciding that even if he is judged not guilty in a court of law, he still must answer to himself for the things he's done.


    "Berlin Express" is one of those great Hitchcock pictures that Hitchcock never made. Tourneur gives it some great noir stylistic touches, but other than visually, it doesn't feel like noir to me. Setting its story amid the rubble of a European city, it feels like a precursor to "The Third Man," but it takes its political aspirations of reuniting a fractured city too on-the-point, whereas Greene and Reed used the background not to tell an overtly political story, but to highlight the moral ambiguity of a world after such a destructive war.

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  20. And I never thought of this as film noir. No relentless descent into darkness, no femme fatale, etc. Stylistically, there's a beautiful use of light and shadow, and wonderfully framed angled shots, but is that enough to call The Third Man a film noir?



    To me "The Third Man" is absolutely noir. The key is the moral uncertainty. There seems to be no clearly defined right or wrong in this world, and Holly, the American "cowboy" is completely ill equipped to deal with it. And when Holly does realize that Lime is evil, and takes part in his finish, it brings him no reward. In one of the great final shots, Anna, working under her own code of loyalty, simply ignores him.


    It may be true there is no femme fatale, but consider if there is an homme fatale. Doesn't Harry tempt Holly just as cleverly and ruthlessly as any of the women we've seen?

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  21. The first view of Harry Lime in "The Third Man" is one of my absolute favorite sequences in movies (perhaps second only to the final shots of "City Lights").


    Where to start with this iconic scene? We are clearly on the actual streets of Vienna, as we are throughout the film, often seeing the massive destruction caused by the war. But in the midst of these realistic settings we are given incredibly skewed camera angles, lighting from impossible sources, throwing increasingly weird shadows. These are noir standbys that we have seen in other pictures, but never pushed as far as they are here, yet they never seem forced. These effects may be patently unrealistic (note how there appears to be a light source from the far side of the archway casting shadows, but once we've passed through the arch there is no such source on the other side) yet they perfectly reflect how the naive American, Holly Martins, finds himself completely unable to understand the complexities of this world. In this starkly black and white world, oddly enough, nothing is black and white.


    And that reveal! A mysterious stranger in the doorway, a sudden shaft of light, and there's the supposedly dead Harry Lime. As much to the audience as to Holly, he can't resist giving that slightly smirking smile. It's a brilliant piece of acting by Welles.


    But don't forget the whole setup of this scene, and the masterfulness of the film as a whole has to be credited to its director, the great Carol Reed. He needn't have done anything else to insure his place in film history, but the more of his work I see (especially from this period) the more impressed I am.

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  22. The entrance of the two main characters in "The Postman Always Rings Twice" tells us a lot about them in myriad ways.


    Frank, first heard in voice over sounding wearier than he does in the flashback we see, so we can tell something's going to beat him down (I can't recall how much the scene before this reveals). He's hitch hiking - from nowhere, going nowhere - but he might stop here. The first thing we hear once he's left at this location is a police siren - a portent of trouble with the law to come? He easily assumes that the cop took a bribe, because he lives in an immoral world, accepting that that's the way it is. He seems to have come for the job (his "future?") but as it's offered to him he already wants to get away. Nonetheless, he goes in and the window light throws a pattern behind him reminiscent of a chain link fence - does he feel fenced in already?


    Cora, rolling out the lipstick tube as if she were casting bait. Standing there perfectly posed and framed, and knowing it, knowing exactly what she's doing and the effect she's having until she makes her perfectly staged exit.


    After that "sizzling" meeting, we learn the hamburger Nick was proudly preparing as symbol of how good life would be there is ruined and must be thrown out, because Cora distracted Frank. Frank seems to see the danger and looks to be getting out of there as the clip ends. Too bad he didn't follow through.


    Overall, this scene could have been from a Warner Bros. picture, it would fit at the studio, down to having borrowed John Garfield. But then Lana Turner enters and she is an important MGM star and this is one of MGM's A-list productions, so she's going to get the full glamour treatment (part of the house style) and that may be the reason why some modern viewers find her appearance jarring or even laughable. I don't think audiences of the time would have had that reaction.


    It's interesting (if perhaps unfair) to compare her first appearance with that of Barbara Stanwyck in "Double Indemnity." Stanwyck is attractive, but just cheap and gaudy enough in her blonde wig to feel instantly dangerous (she also gets some wonderful dialogue and, hey, she's Stanwyck).

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  23. Okay, perhaps I’m flaunting my ignorance but I’m not sure I truly see the “house style” thing. Yes, I see similarities in “Mask of Dimitrios,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “To Have and Have Not,” “They Made Me a Criminal,” “White Heat,” and so on. But the same year that Warner Brothers made “Mask of Dimitrios,” they made “Shine on Harvest Moon,” “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “The Adventures of Mark Twain,” “The Desert Song,” and “Hollywood Canteen.” So perhaps we’re only seeing a studio style in retrospect.

    Not trying to pick on Ed here as he make an interesting point. But the idea of a house style didn't mean a studio only worked in specified genres, but that whatever genre the studio did use would be colored by the studio's overall tone.


    So when Warners did a musical, it was more likely to have the grittier edge of "42nd Street" rather than the frivolity of "Flying Down to Rio." When they made a technicolor swashbuckler, it was more likely to have the social conscience of "The Adventures of Robin Hood" rather than the dance like acrobatics of "The Three Musketeers."


    It's not that these things were mandated by the studio so much as they grew organically out of the mix of talents that were there, and the types of assignments they most often got.


    Maybe things were relaxing by the time Ed is mentioning. I mean how gritty can you get with Doris Day in "Shine On Harvest Moon" (though Doris got hard edged in "love Me or Leave Me" - an MGM picture! - does the exception prove the rule?).


    (And if I've in any way misread the intention of the original poster, my apologies.)

  24. Today's scene from "The Mask of Dimitrios" is utterly charming in the way it enjoys playing with the characters of Lorre and Greenstreet. This film could have been made with two other actors, but then it wouldn't have been written or shot this way, to play on our expectations of these two from their other pictures, especially "The Maltese Falcon" (notice the low trucking shot forward and up until Greenstreet fills the frame and try not to think of Gutmann). This was all as much a wink to the audience as the pair's overtly jokey appearance as "themselves" in "Hollywood Canteen"


    In looking for the Warner Brother's house style, which was typified by the American urban locations of their gangster and social problem pictures, this European hotel room might first seem out of place. But if this same setting had been shot at MGM or Paramount, think how slick, tasteful and well lit everything would have looked. Instead, here everything is a little cramped and dark, not necessarily with the studied shadows we've seen in other Noirs (not yet) but just because at Warners the world was a little darker place.

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  25. Today's clip from "Out of the Past" demonstrates what a beautifully photographed film this is. As with "The Big Sleep," we have an introductory scene played out in heat, but whereas that was conveyed through the General's description of his situation and Marlowe's discomfort, here we feel it through Jeff's voice over and the brightly lit exteriors.


    Kathie's entrance is remarkable. We see her in her white dress but, for a moment as she crosses into the shadowed cantina, she seems completely and deeply black. The visual effect doesn't seem forced, but is exactly what you'd expect seeing someone cross that threshold. Still a feeling of moral ambiguity is created.

    • Like 1
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