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Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #14: Warner Bros. Noir (Scene from The Mask of Dimitrios)

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I think the entrances of the two characters are in direct contrast. Lorre's entrance begins as a relaxed, slight man in a large doorway, peering low to get the key into the hole while Greenstreet, a large man enters confidently through a small archway, broadening his appearance. As the banter continues, Lorre is standing and Greenstreet, with gun in hand, takes a seat, submissive and relaxed. Lorre says he has nothing to hide and then lies down and has a smoke, also submissive and relaxed. Both characters underplaying the anxiety set in this scene of a room in disarray, a drawn gun and hidden secrets. 

 

I also would like to mention the speaking styles of both men. Greenstreet, a Brittish actor, had a sort of distinct grumble to his pedantic speech that seemed to emanate from his wide chest. While Lorre was a very breathy speaker, his words exhaled from the top of his throat suggesting a smaller expression. One style implying a largeness and knowledge while the other the brevity of a sneak or snitch. Deep contrasts mark film noir, I think. Even on the level of the delivery of the dialogue.

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The Mask of Dimitrios is new to me, but I like how this scene instantly illustrates its noir aspects: the chiaroscuro, the kind of wide and consuming pans of the camera, the sparring of dialogue. This is some good stuff right here.

 

What I love most about this scene is the way in which space is presented. Now, I don't know anything about the story, but gather that Lorre and Greenstreet's characters know each other to a certain degree, with Greenstreet's character having the upper-hand here. There always seems to be a gulf of space between them, especially at the beginning of the scene. Besides master shots, I usually think of closeness of characters in films noir rather than having them spaced apart like this. Even when the characters physically come closer to each other, the way in which the camera is placed (a low angle on Greenstreet is especially odd in this shot-reverse shot-shot sequence; and even then, we linger on Greenstreet more than Lorre) creates this large space between the two characters. Again, a lot of times I think of space between characters as being much smaller in films noir, but I notice here that this isn't the case in this scene.

 

The entrances are polar opposites, aren't they? Lorre comes into the room almost innocently, his small and fragile body walking through the doorway. Then we get the looming Greenstreet coming through the shadows and into the room. I like how Lorre has to go through a door to get into his apartment, but Greenstreet, who's already infiltrated the apartment, comes through an open door frame. Lorre is puzzled and Greenstreet is in command of the situation; after all, he does have the gun.

 

I also really like that low angle dolly shot up into Greenstreet's face; there's nothing more menacing than having a large character in close-up looking down upon the camera. It not only puts Lorre's character in his place, but us as well.

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In this clip, Lorre makes an entrance by exiting from an elevator door, walking a few yards, then opening a door to enter. The camera captures Lorre exiting the elevator and follows him from the left of the screen to the right of the screen; cutting from when he opens the door to catch him on the other side, in the room. The mise-en-scene is lighted as Lorre gazes for a few seconds surprised and confused by what he sees.

Greenstreet is framed as he enters from another room by walking through an open door. As the dialogue progresses, Lorre takes steps towards Greenstreet who stops him with words and gun. Lorre's hands are hlep up and he stops abruptly - the camera mimics this action by following Lorre and stopping when he does! When Lorre sits down - leveling out the visual balance of actors in relation to each other and of the entire scene in view - there is more camera movement: as Lorre sits down, the camera follows down but then focuses over to Greenstreet, and closes in for a close-up of Greenstreet from below (the camera must have been at his feet).

 

Can't wait to see this movie and I'll be noticing how much of the action is the really camera moving about the actors!

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They both enter by kind of waltzing into the room, even though it is obvious that Greenstreet has been there waiting and has trashed the places searching for something. There is some unusual angles that the film is shot and some jerkiness, used for tension and to show that something is up.

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Greensteet's character seems to be very important the way he was introduced in this scene. The camera looks up at him while he speaks to Lorre's character. Hard for me to say much about Peter Lorre's character. He doesn't seem to nervous to have a pistol pointed at him as he lounges talking to the man with the pistol.

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The entrances of these two characters set up a marked difference between them.  The Peter Lorre character enters the frame in a nonchalant manner.  The camera moves with him as he exits the elevator and crosses to his room.  He talks to himself and plays with his hat until he reaches his door.  He becomes quite small as he bends down (further than would be natural) to unlock his door.  Even when he sees that his room has been ransacked, he reacts with surprise, but not fear.

 

Sidney Greenstreet, however, enters as a shadowy figure; he is only seen clearly when he has completely entered the room.  The music is much more ominous upon his entrance and he walks with great confidence and purpose, none of the fidgeting or extra movement of Peter Lorre’s character.  His size also places him in contract with Lorre; while we just saw the already small Lorre get even small, Greenstreet is a large man who stands very tall and straight.  Lorre’s character continues to be in motion for much of the scene, while Greenstreet remains stationary.  Even without the gun in Greenstreet’s right hand, it would be clear that he is a dangerous presence and is in control of this moment.

 

The scene becomes more unsettling when the camera begins to zoom in on Greenstreet while he is questioning Lorre.  The camera moves in and then stops before zooming in again, but this time from an increasingly low angle.  The low angle makes Greenstreet look rather garish as he completely dominates the frame.  Lorre, on the other hand, is often smaller in the frame with other objects in the background.  However, at the very end of the clip we see him start to relax and recline, so this power dynamic might not be as simple as it seems.

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As most everyone else has said on this thread, Lorre and Greenstreet are polar opposites in the scene. One meekly enters through the steadfast frame of the camera, while the other has the camera move to him as he enters the room. The slow zoom in on Greenstreet's face is a great touch, and I really like how we never fully see Lorre's face for the duration of the scene - he is suddenly faced with his back towards the screen, as if he is now in the audience with us.

 

It helps immensely that one is small and short while the other large and tall, but even if this weren't the case, the framing and camera movement would've gotten us to this conclusion. Looking forward to seeing this forgotten gem Friday, no one could sleaze it up as well as Zachary Scott!

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Most scenes begin with some kind of entrance. A character arrives with the intention to do something, and the point of the scene is finding out whether they accomplish their goal. This is hardly unique to Noir. However, as usual Noir establishes a particular style.

 

Here, in The Mask of Dimitrios, Leyden returns to his room, just wanting to go to bed, but discovers the room has been searched. Then, Peters, a man he'd met on the train, steps out of another room, gun in hand. This kind of sudden twist by character entrance appears frequently in Noir, like in Laura, where the supposedly-murdered titular character returns, seemingly oblivious to her own "death."

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I couldn't help but think of your prototypical Western standoff when viewing this clip. Staging helps a play a part in that feeling. Peter Lorre's character enters the room from the front of the frame and is soon confronted by Sidney Greenstreet's character who enters from the back of the frame. Greenstreet is holding a gun and forces a standoff with Lorre. Lorre is obviously outmatched as Greenstreet is carrying a gun. Lorre is forced to use his words as his only defense. I think this might be the first clip we've seen where one character has had to use dialogue to get out of a potentially deadly encounter. You can also get a sense of the two characters in this scene. One prefers to let the gun do the talking while the other lets his talking do the talking.

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As Lorre enters the scene coming off the elevator from the left and heading to his hotel room, he passes the elegant stairwell. We see the beautiful architecture with unusual circles in the woodwork. He is happy, relaxed, talking to himself as he opens his door. It is a relaxed scene, but the music tells us otherwise. It is building with suspense. There is something waiting on the other side of that door.

He opens his door and immediately says, "That's funny," an ironic thing since he is met with Greenstreet entering the room holding a gun. It is anything but funny.

The lighting in the room is bizarre. There is light, but you feel it is dark outside. The lamps are very ornate and one projects circular shapes on the wall. It is unsettling and strange.

Greenstreet enters from the darkened bathroom area and steps into the light holding his gun and what looks like a candle in his right hand? I could not figure out what it was. There is a mirror behind him that shows Lorre briefly, but then is covered up by Greenstreet's figure. There are several mirrors in the room but none show any reflection but the furnishings in the room.

Both men converse in the clipped, cagy fashion of the film noir characters trying to get information from each other. Camera shots are ironic as Greenstreet says, "I am sure you are wondering exactly where I stand," as the camera shows Greenstreet clearly standing in front of Lorre, and then the camera cuts to Lorre as Greenstreet says, "and I am wondering exactly where you stand."

Lorre takes off his coat and sits down to light a cigarette, a very common device in film noir to let the character project that he is not afraid. Bogart did this under the threat of guns in The Maltese Falcon. Later, Lorre even lies down on the end of the bed as they speak, which is totally incongruous to a man facing a loaded gun pointed at him. 

Also, Lorre takes off his hat and coat showing that he belongs in this room. Greenstreet, even though he has been there awhile searching the room, still wears his coat hat and checkered scarf. He does not belong here.

This macho, "I'm not afraid of you," demeanor of both men is very indicative of the film noir style. It speaks that all the characters are tainted and tough. They all have something to prove and are not going to be easily pushed around.

The camera pushes from below and in on Greenstreet at a bizarre angle as he says that he "holds no ill will" towards Lorre, but the indication is that he is to be feared. The camera angle tells us not to trust whatever Greenstreet says. He is dangerous and does "hold ill will." Greenstreet's smile shows more madness than comfort.

Lorre sits downstage of Greenstreet and is completely dominated by the man, especially as he lights his cigarette. His physical demeanor is closed and protected, subservient, even when he tries to be relaxed.

The lamps beside the men as they speak tell a great deal, as well. The lamp next to Lorre is sending out the crazy designs, perhaps giving us a clue that Lorre is distorting the truth. Greenstreet's lamp is more traditional and giving off straight light, but it is heavily shaded. He is not telling all the truth either.

Both this film and the Maltese Falcon have men threatening each other with guns in posh hotel rooms. The staging and lighting and items in the room give us clues to the players and their motivations.

 

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This scene is simply wonderful.  You are watching two actors, well honed in their craft and comfortable with one another on screen.  Lorre's entrance is slowly paced, but the music under tells a different story.  He enters his apartment and is struck by the mess and replies, "That's funny." Of course it isn't, and then Greenstreet materializes from the other room, weapon in hand.  The banter between the two is quick and wonderful. Lorre's character doesn't seem scared as much as put out that his room has been destroyed and even peevishly exclaims that he only wants to go to bed.  The seating arrangement is telling in the scene as Greenstreet is much higher than Lorrie during the scene, but Lorre's character even lowers himself even further by reclining back.  The lighting is interesting, making it seem dark around the edges, but the light behind Lorre casts a bizarre pattern on the wall and creates an surreal feel to the entire interrogation.  All in all a small, gritty and wonderful scene. 

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While the dynamic between Lorre and Greenstreet is always interesting, this one has a very different tone. From this scene, it appears that Lorre, who enters from the left, almost coming from nowhere, and talks to himself before harrowing, dramatic music intrudes, is not a bad guy. In contrast, Greenstreet is clearly a little more immoral, entering at the moment of that same dramatic music with a quick pan over the destruction. He walks in from the shadows holding a gun, not exactly subtle or friendly.

 

Noir Elements: Use of shadows, few sources of light, fast, vaguely philosophical/poetic dialogue, low angle for Greenstreet, pan over of dark, vandalized room to dramatically reveal a character

 

Nobody Lives Forever didn't catch my attention enough, but I definitely saw similarities to The Maltese Falcon: coveted artifact owned by multiple people across the world that many major characters are chasing, confrontations in a small apartment involving a gun (and of course Greenstreet and Lorre)

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Peter Lorre walks in by himself, talking to himself, in a rather jovial mood.  He portrays a lot of movement by tossing his hat up and down.  He is well lit in a rather dim hallway.  Our focus is strictly on Lorre. 

On the other hand, Sydney Greenstreet enters in a somber, straightforward walk with a bit of haste.

The noir influence is seen in the upward angle as Greenstreet is speaking.  And there is a light casting a prism of smaller lights like the flash of gunfire on the wall behind Lorre as his speech pattern is heightened to show intensity amidst the calm of Greenstreet's voice. 

The scene is startling and yet hypnotic because of the patterns of speech and the odd quality that Lorre seems upset and yet able to sit and light a cigarette.

Ultimately we are drawn toward Greenstreet who is larger and more forboding (even without the gun) and is shot from below waist level looking up at him to show his power over Lorre and us.  When the two are seen in the same shot, Lorre is now sitting but looking lower and smaller.

Greenstreet had a similar role in Maltese Falcon.  The chair he sat in was a rocker but had to be bolstered so Greenstreet could sit in it.  The same angle of shooting him seated was the same as in this scene so as to show his power position.

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Great scene. I was impressed with Greenstreet when I first saw The Maltese Falcon and learned that was his first film role. Here, he is just as imposing and menacing. I loved the way the camera zooms on him as he is talking about "Dimitrios".

 

Also, I agree with whoever said that Lorre's character is a bit weird in that he seems both scared and relaxed, even dismissing Greenstreet as just some bothersome neighbor "I'm tired. I'm going to bed.. You wave that silly piece". It seems that he's a man that has been in this situation before and is not afraid of it.

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My, what wordy gentlemen, no? And to be as nonchalant as Lorre is, with a gun pointed at him! Then they talk to each other is a rather jovial and almost friendly manner..after his place was broken into and ransacked!  Such manners!

 

We have quick-thinking men who can talk themselves out of trouble and are brilliant at reading the situation, these seem like Warner Bros. traits to me.

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Peter Lorre enters as a man down on his luck. Greenstreet enters as one fully in charge asking all the questions.  As they interact, it comes down to a meeting of two equals, each wanting answers from the other.

 

The biggest thing to me was the extreme closeup of Greenstreet filling up the screen. After this Lorre is shown filling barely half the scene.

 

When compared with the other films Greenstreet also seems to be in power only to have it taken away.

 

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Peter Lorre enters the scene calmly, unconcerned, talking to himself. He enters the room to find it completely trashed. Then enters Sydney Greenstreet, also calmly, unconcerned, yet holding a gun. Both had a slow-walking pace. The camera angle is shot diagonally so with Peter always facing Sydney at an angel and vice versa. The lighting is always behind the actor, lit from a lamp in the corner, which stays in focus with the two actors when they are seated. The telephone is always in focus too, and is even commented on by Sydney when Peter reaches for it. There is a slow tracking shot to a close-up of Sydney attempting to assume additional power over Peter, besides holding the gun on him. The close-up is done at a low angle so that Sydney towers over the audience, indicating he has power, he is in control of the situation. An indication that is refuted by Peter’s behavior after the close-up. In a horizontal normal close-up and then a normal, non-angler long shot, Peter is smiling and acting normally. He lights a cigarette and leans back with a smile, showing no fear of Sydney. This is definitely a power struggle between the two characters only shown through camera angle and lighting, in addition to actions. The dialogue is witty and sarcastic given the situation and adds humor to the situation. 

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Peter Lorre enters the scene calmly, unconcerned, talking to himself. He enters the room to find it completely trashed. Then enters Sydney Greenstreet, also calmly, unconcerned, yet holding a gun. Both had a slow-walking pace. The camera angle is shot diagonally so with Peter always facing Sydney at an angel and vice versa. The lighting is always behind the actor, lit from a lamp in the corner, which stays in focus with the two actors when they are seated. The telephone is always in focus too, and is even commented on by Sydney when Peter reaches for it. There is a slow tracking shot to a close-up of Sydney attempting to assume additional power over Peter, besides holding the gun on him. The close-up is done at a low angle so that Sydney towers over the audience, indicating he has power, he is in control of the situation. An indication that is refuted by Peter’s behavior after the close-up. In a horizontal normal close-up and then a normal, non-angler long shot, Peter is smiling and acting normally. He lights a cigarette and leans back with a smile, showing no fear of Sydney. This is definitely a power struggle between the two characters only shown through camera angle and lighting, in addition to actions. The dialogue is witty and sarcastic given the situation and adds humor to the situation. 

It's definitely important to note that Lorre is definitely not as afraid as he may initially have seen and that he holds more power over Greenstreet by virtue of knowing more about Demetrius than he. That is, of course, why they're where they are at the beginning of the film. Though not much is revealed about what ties these two men together, it's clear that Lorre knows more and Greenstreet is absolutely desperate to find out. It'll be very interesting to see how the power struggle develops. Will Lorre end up with the upper hand? Or will Greenstreet?

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Lorre appears from outside the room.  He is talking to himself.  As the amused elevator man looks after him the camera tracks his walk to the door in a medium close up.  His monologue, “...completely unmoral.  But fascinating…”, reveals an acceptance of the human condition.  As he enters his ransacked room, his placid comment, “That’s funny,” again reveals his low-keyed reaction to people and events.  Greenstreet enters the scene full figure, emerging through French doors with a gun in his hand, all oily politesse.  He appears larger than Lorre, and in full, if apologetic, command of the situation.  Lorre is more annoyed that terrified by his intruder, even going so far as to take off his coat and announce his intention to go to bed.  As Greenstreet sits down, the relationship begins to change.  Lorre becomes more aggressively inquisitive, then reverts to a calmer demeanor.

 

As Lorre also sits, the director cuts from a two shot to dolly in on Greenstreet, making him appear more imposing with a low angle close-up.  Lorre takes an inquisitive stance as he lights his cigarette and demands an explanation.  The pair is now in a two shot, again sharing power and information.  As Lorre discovers he knows more than Greenstreet, he relaxes into a semi-prone position on the sofa, his smile and relaxed body language now denoting, even on a lower plane, he is the more comfortable, more powerful player in the confrontation.  The interest in the scene is not so much the situation the actors are in, but in the characters they bring to life and the relationship they are building with each other.  In the best film noir tradition, their style draws us in.

 

The dialogue is brisk and sophisticatedly cynical, taking unexpected turns.  The lighting is low-key; shadows abound, but not to the extent of German Expressionistic design of Fritz Lang’s “M.”  The bedside lamp with the hobnailed globe is an explosively quirky bit of lighting, casting flying teardrop bits of brightness amidst the noir gloom.

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Tracking shot in The Mask of Dimitrios reminds me of several low-angle shots cinematographer Gilbert Taylor employed in filming the 1977 Star Wars.  In order to make Dave Prowse appear taller and loom larger over the other characters, Taylor propped his camera low to the set floor and angled up at a very sharp angle. 

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The scene contains two dramatic entrances, one for each actor. How is each entrance different?

 

Other than opposite entrance spaces Greenstreet's character holds a gun. Both of them caught off guard but for different reasons.

 

What elements of the noir style did you notice in this scene, for example, in terms of camera movement or lighting?

 

 

Great looking low key lighting for the black and white film stock. The camera does not sit still for too long and holds a number of off kilter shots. The audience is unable to rest with the film noir techniques at work including placing our views in jarring angles and the kinetic cutting was something for the 40's but could be like slo-mo by today's fast cutting standards.

 

Compare this scene in The Mask of Dimitrios with scenes from The Maltese Falcon or Nobody Lives Forever. What are the similarities? What are the differences?

 

Warner Bros. stylistically could be compared however I have to see the other two films more closely to be fare in comparing. I'd say the differences are the stories and characters in each for certain.

 

Something I've noticed in allot of the films noir are the slick dissolves that blend so well, especially with the black and white transitional shots. Often cars moving to and from places indicating passage of time.

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The scene contains two dramatic entrances, one for each actor. How is each entrance different? What changes in the scene as they continue to interact after their entrances? 


Their two entrances from different ends of the frame are contrasted in tone, Lorre has a drunken charming playful tone, playing on his exoticism for sure but also by now playing on the audiences recognition of him and enjoyment of his startled slightly bullied persona. He walks obliviously into the scene.


Greenstreet comes in with menace, for all that Lorre in his warners movies is often an antagonist he can also seem harmless, while the verbally civilised and charming greenstreet is generally the one who carries the threat. Notice the way later in the scene when he is shot from a low angle and his bulk fills the entire screen.  Even so he looks quite comical being as large as he is and holding the pistol and Lorre calls him on his ridiculousness and lack of real danger. He like Lorre was a familiar anti heroic figure by this point. 


 


-- Compare this scene in The Mask of Dimitrios with scenes from The Maltese Falcon or Nobody Lives Forever. What are the similarities? What are the differences?


The scene plays on the love of the character actors engendered by the maltese falcon, all the talk of istanbul, all the threat masked in an exagerated american view of old world decadent manners is there to give the audience what they came for, even more so in this movie where Lorre and Greenstreet rather than bogart are the draw. It's a subtle shift from the Falcon that allows the actors to be typecast while actually serving a totally different narrative purpose.  All threat has been removed from Lorre as he doesn't even need to provide a challenge for a Bogart any more, instead he is neutered and a very unlikely audience surrogate in the scene, supposedly being menaced by Greenstreet but instead just playing out the same circling dance of manners in exotic locations they had by this point become known for. In the Maltese Falcon these actors are bringing some exotic spice to the roles of obstacle to the PI, like the detail about the Falcon's history they are in fact a macguffin designed to provide the opportunity to learn about the hero, there to contrast Bogart's straight talking American heterosexuality with something decadent, old world, riddle talking and in the book at least explicitly gay. They like King Charles of Spain are exotic scene setting background detail.


Here that has somehow been stretched to attempt to carry a movie without a central bogart figure. They are playing to the types the maltese falcon created for them but the ornamental detail has somehow become the central story so we get an outlandishly twisty but ultimately empty continental intrigue.


 


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I love the way Lorre and Greenstreet are so cavalier and almost graceful as they wave guns and have guns waved at them. They effortlessly exude a heavy dose of European charm, even as they engage in a deadly game of cat & mouse. They seem like they are worlds away from the gritty, hardboiled streets where Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe prowl in the night. The collision of these two worlds is usually a bit humorous, especially when a hardboiled detective like Spade gives these dapper gents a puzzled smirk. But the lighting, low-angle camerawork, and ominous score usually invite us to look beneath the charming surface of these Europeans and seek out the meanness and grit hidden in there somewhere.

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I love how unruffled Peter Lorre is by Sydney Greenstreet's intrusion. He treats it as a mildly vexing inconvenience, and even tries to go to bed while a gun is being held on him. Once the conversation turns to Dimitrios, Lorre leans back into an almost offensively relaxed pose and has a cigarette. There's a huge contrast with the way Greenstreet is shot from below, allowing him to fill the frame menacingly.

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14. MASK OF DIMITRIOS (WB): Fat Man and Little Boy.

Atomic performance by Lorre and Greenstreet. As Lorre becomes indignant, the camera angle accommodates him as gaining the upper hand but after the low angle and slow zoom in, wide angle shot making Greensteet even more imposing it's clear that he does.

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