Destruct that ship, General!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "Keeper of the Purple Twilight" (12/05/1964)



“Keeper of the Purple Twilight”
Season 2, Episode 12 (44 overall)
Originally aired 12/05/1964


Fuzzy alien invasion plan? Check. Wacky rubber alien masks? Check. Tasty female morsel on hand to serve cocktails and faint on cue? Check. Fifty years ago tonight, these elements meshed to create the weird and often hysterically goofy “Keeper of the Purple Twilight.”


Professor Eric Plummer is on the verge of a breakdown trying to solve two equations that will make viable his matter disintegrator invention. After a warning from Karlin, his immediate superior, that his funding is in jeopardy due to his lack of results, Eric recklessly speeds home, clearly at his wits’ end. “You gain nothing by suicide,” advises a disembodied voice from the backseat, snapping him out of his dark reverie.
The disembodied voice belongs to Ikar, an alien who can turn invisible and/or assume human form, who has stowed away in Eric’s car. Back at Eric’s home office, Ikar explains that he is an advance scout from an invasion force planning to annex the Earth to handle their overflowing population. He offers a trade: he’ll give Eric the two equations he needs in exchange for his emotions, which Ikar will absorb and study to better understand humanity. The frustrated Eric eagerly agrees.

Possessing Eric’s emotions proves problematic for Ikar, who comes from a society of perfectionists akin to an ant colony. He is most stymied by his sudden attraction to Janet, Eric’s fiancée, who attempts to educate him on the finer points of human emotion in hopes that he’ll develop sympathy for her species. Eric, meanwhile, demonstrates his completed prototype to Karlin and Mr. Hunt, who oversees project funding, and is given the green light to construct a much larger version. Now that the disintegrator’s weaponry potential is evident, Karlin objects to the project moving forward. Hunt ignores him, so he appeals directly to Eric… and is nearly murdered by Ikar, whom Eric instructs to merely “take his mind.” Karlin collapses.

from left: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.



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This shot inspired Boy George to write the
Culture Club classic "I'll Tumble 4 Ya."
Y'now, probably.
Three hulking alien soldiers arrive, demanding that Ikar return home at once. He refuses, prompting them to accuse him of “breaking away from the planetary brain,” a crime punishable by death. They pursue him, but he manages to elude them and return to the lab. Now believing the invasion to be inevitable, Janet implores Ikar to return Eric’s emotions to him, so that the couple can die loving one another. He does… just as the soldiers materialize in the room. In the ensuing melee, Ikar and Eric manage to vaporize the soldiers using the matter disintegrator… but Ikar ends up vaporized as well. Finally realizing the horrific potential of the weapon he’s created, Eric smashes the disintegrator to bits.


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RANDOMONIUM

“Keeper of the Purple Twilight” was written by Stephen Lord (who also wrote season one’s “Specimen: Unknown” and, before that, “Kelly’s Place” on Stoney Burke), and his teleplay was heavily revised by Milton Krims (who will also adapt Jerry Sohl’s “Counterweight” next month). I don’t have access to either script, so I’m not sure who to blame…. but damn, this is not a shining example of what the second season crew was capable of. It’s hard to be impressed by the idea of a perfectionist insect-like society when we’ve already seen a perfectionist species that are actual insects (“The Zanti Misfits"), and it feels like a big step backwards to offer a generic alien invasion plot right after we’ve been treated to a near-transcendent upending of that particular sci-fi trope (“The Inheritors”). Maybe the idea of an emotionless alien was fascinating in 1964, but it’s not explored particularly effectively (this effort would be rendered more or less obsolete by the appearance of a certain Vulcan--- and Outer Limits veteran---- on rival network NBC just two years later).




“Keeper” is the third (out of a total four) episodes directed by Charles Haas. We already saw his work in “Cold Hands, Warm Heart” and “Cry of Silence,” he’ll be back in January for “The Brain of Colonel Barham” (he also directed “Forecast: Low Clouds and Coastal Fog” for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and “The Suburbia Affair” for The Man from U.N.C.L.E.). There’s nothing particularly memorable going on here; the few interesting visual flourishes are likely thanks to Director of Photography Kenneth Peach. The nighttime desert prologue is strangely serene; Ikar materializes softly from nowhere thanks to a simple superimposed fade in, versus appearing out of a lightning bolt (I’m looking at you, Mr. Zeno) or some other abrupt and loud entrance effect. Sadly, nothing else in the episode achieves this level of gentle, esoteric atmosphere. As goofy as Ikar and his alien soldiers are, they’re impossible not to love, for their sheer audacity if nothing else. We haven’t experienced this kind of in-your-face creature design since the Chromoite and the Box Demon.

“Keeper” exists in that same gee-whiz rocket-jock B-movie subgenre as “The Invisible Enemy,” only here the whole vibe is jacked up to eleven. It’s screwy and silly and it doesn’t give a single damn if you don’t like it. I have to respect it somewhat for that reason, and it’s certainly nowhere as awful as “Behold Eck!” (sorry, Bill) or “Expanding Human.” In its final produced form, “Keeper” is probably exactly what ABC wanted when they greenlit the series two years earlier, but never quite got from the Stevens-Stefano gang. Unfortunately, by this time the network was more or less ready to pull the plug, so they probably didn’t experience any late-in-the-game warmth toward Daystar for this effort.

“Keeper” brings us yet another stupid alien plot with no possible resolution but total failure. Is it really wise to give humans the necessary knowledge to build the matter disintegrator, and then have them build it for them? Seems unnecessarily reckless. And once Ikar and his Gang of Three are dispatched and the weapon prototype is destroyed, what’s to stop the aliens from simply trying again? Hell, why do they even need the weapon at all? They can simply teleport themselves to Earth en masse and easily take over using their squiggly lasers and powers of invisibility.

What’s with that funky metal mobile hanging in Eric’s office? It seems to exist solely for Ikar to demonstrate his telekinetic abilities, which he implies humanity will possess in another thousand years. This becomes a bit confusing after Ikar relieves Eric of his pesky emotions, at which point Eric seems to possess the same telekinesis. Has the removal of his emotions thrust him a thousand years further along in man’s evolution? Quick, somebody count this guy’s fingers.


The idea of Ikar teleporting the entirety of Eric’s emotions into his own head is ludicrous (too bad we don’t get an “Inheritors”-style push-in when he does it.). He knows nothing about human emotions, yet he somehow knows exactly where they reside in Eric’s Brain and has no difficulty whatsoever telepathically excising them. Even sillier, he’s able to incorporate them into his own brain, which isn’t human and most likely isn’t a neurochemical match with Eric’s. Yes, I’m nitpicking instead of just rolling with it and enjoying myself. I make this sacrifice for you, dear reader, so you can enjoy it without thinking too hard. You’re welcome.

We’ve already seen Ikar pass through solid objects (the fence in the prologue, various doorways, etc.), so why does he need to open the door to exit Eric’s car? He’ll use teleportation repeatedly throughout the episode, but for some unfathomable reason he doesn’t think to use this talent when the alien soldiers are chasing him. And why does he lift that big heavy matter disintegrator instead of simply moving it with his mind? 


We don’t see much of Ikar in his native form, which is a shame because it’s such a gorgeous alien design. Ikar is one of the more iconic creatures in the Outer Limits oeuvre, and rightfully so. I really dig those long, slender fingers (Star Wars fans will no doubt notice that bounty hunter Greedo has very similar hands) and his bulbous, oversized head. He’s a compelling mash-up of the super-evolved Gwyllm Griffiths from “The Sixth Finger” (head and fingers) and the “Chameleon” aliens (multi-gilled mouths and groovy disco jumpsuits)… but what the hell is up with the metal claws of the alien soldiers? Are they cybernetic attachments (they appear to have some kind of laser weapon built into them), or just really uncomfortable gloves? Or… are they born with them? In any case they’re clunky and silly-looking, which is unfortunate since the soldiers are otherwise well thought out: their bodies are larger and stronger, necessary for battle, and their heads are smaller, befitting of their (presumably) smaller brains. The facial features between Ikar and the soldiers are essentially the same, but they look nothing alike; it’s an effective illustration of how minor shifts in proportion can dramatically alter appearance.


I should note that, despite the physiological differences, both Ikar and his soldiers wear the same groovy semi-sparkly outfits and clawed metal boots….unless those are their actual feet. Fuck, I dunno. If they are boots, they look damned uncomfortable. These boys need some Uggs, and fast.

I love how Janet sets up the picnic right next to a giant ant hill; it’s as if she was planning that societal commentary on Ikar’s race all along. And after she’s lain unconscious for what must be several hours in the same spot, there’s not a single ant crawling on her when she finally wakes up. It seems the aliens and the ants have no use for her, which is just stupid. I mean, just look at her. She’s exquisite. If you’ve had a hard day at the lab and you’re feeling low, and you’ve got a dish like her serving you a martini when you walk in the door… well, life really ain’t that bad, is it? Eric needs to put a ring on that, and pronto.

Ikar’s attraction to Janet is neither developed nor explored, which is a shame. When he laments that he “doesn’t want to feel what’s happening to” him, we all know what’s really going on: he’s got his first boner, and the poor schmuck has no clue whatsoever what he's supposed to do with it. This story would no doubt be told very differently if remade for the new Outer Limits by those soft-core Showtime folks.



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AURAL PLEASURE

“Keeper” contains a fairly broad range of selections from Harry Lubin’s library of stock compositions. “Haunting Trautonium I and II” perfectly underline the mysterious prologue described above, while the raucous “Suicide Attempt” is used for both Eric’s reckless drive home in act one and the climactic showdown at the end of act four. Other cues used this week include the lovely “Floating Dream” and the bombastic “Evil Horror.”



The Trautonium is an electronic instrument (similar to the better-known Theremin), which is probably best known for producing the bird sounds in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 avian nightmare The Birds. The curious among you can learn more here.







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DRAMATIS PERSONAE


Wow, Warren Stevens and Gail Kobe don’t get credit at the top of the episode? Don’t get me wrong, Robert Webber is fine and all, but he sure as hell isn’t carrying the whole show.

Ahem. Webber first crossed paths with Daystar Productions when he appeared in the “Spin a Golden Web” episode of their pre-TOL series Stoney Burke (the guest cast of which also featured TOL alums Salome Jens and John Anderson). Other genre stints include The Fugitive (“The Garden House”), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“A True Account,” “Burglar Proof” and “First Class Honeymoon”), Boris Karloff’s Thriller (“Portrait without a Face”), and Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond (“The Captain’s Guests”). I know him best as Cybill Shepherd’s father on TV’s Moonlighting (1985-1989).


Genre fans should be quite familiar with Warren Stevens (Professor Eric Plummer). Like Webber, he appeared on Stoney Burke (“Bandwagon”), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“Premonition” and “Never Again”) and Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond (“The Riddle”); you can also spot him on both the original Twilight Zone (“Dead Man’s Shoes”) and its 80’s revival (“A Day in Beaumont”). Sci-fi fans probably know him best from Star Trek (“By Any Other Name”), and of course he was Lieutenant “Doc” Ostrow in 1956’s Forbidden Planet. He’s also the first of two cast members this week to score the coveted Robert Culp connection for his appearance on I Spy (“The Time of the Knife”).


Gail Kobe is radiant and delightful as Janet Lane in her second Outer Limits trip (she played a different Janet in season one’s “Specimen: Unknown”). Like Webber and Stevens, she showed up on Stoney Burke (“Sidewinder”) and Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“Crack of Doom”); her other notable genre connections include three Twilight Zones (“A World of Difference,” “In His Image” and “The Self-Improvement of Salvador Ross”) and one Fugitive (“Ticket to Alaska," whose guest cast also featured TOL alums Geraldine Brooks and Tim O'Connor). And in case I haven’t been clear enough, she is absolutely, positively, doubtlessly, unequivocally a TOL Babe


Sigh.

If Curt Conway (Franklin Karlin) looks familiar, it’s because we saw him get barbecued by angry Grippians in season one’s “Moonstone.” Like the trio of thespians above, he appeared on Stoney Burke (“The Mob Riders”), as well as The Twilight Zone (“He’s Alive”), The Fugitive (“Nicest Fella You’d Ever Want to Meet," whose guest cast included TOL alums Dabbs Greer, Read Morgan and Dabney Coleman), and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (“Terror at Northfield” and “Beast in View”).


Edward Platt (David Hunt) should be even more familiar, as we've seen him twice before (“The Man with the Power” and “The Special One,” both in season one). Platt’s other genre work includes roles on The Twilight Zone (“A Hundred Yards over the Rim”), Alfred Hitchcock Presents (“Museum Piece”; he also had a minor role in Hitch’s North by Northwest in 1959), Men into Space (“From another World”) and Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond (“The Burning Girl”).



Mike Lane is the guy inside the Ikar suit, and he’ll suit up again in two weeks as the Megasoid creature in “The Duplicate Man.” My (admittedly limited) research only turned up two other genre TV gigs: he played Daddy Long Legs on TV’s Batman in 1965 (“Black Widow Strikes Again”/”Caught in the Spider’s Den”) and Frank N. Stein in the short-lived Monster Squad series in 1976. On the big screen, he played the grizzled cipher Fats in the soft-core Penthouse thriller A Name for Evil (1973), a film whose score was composed by TOL musical legend Dominic Frontiere and whose cast was headed up by a very naked Robert Culp (!).



Ah, those wonderful alien soldiers! Hugh Langtry’s Hollywood career was short (1959-1967), and his two Outer Limits gigs were his only forays into sci-fi/fantasy/horror. Two? Why yes, kids: Langtry was also the guy in the Chromoite suit in season one’s “The Mice” (he also had a bit part as a beatnik in the 1960 Jerry Lewis vehicle Visit to a Small Planet, but I’m not inclined to call that legitimate sci-fi). Eugene "Gene" Wiley and LeRoy Ellis, meanwhile, weren’t actors at all… they were professional basketball players for the LA Lakers. Ellis is of particular interest to Oregonians like me because he also played for the Portland Trail Blazers during their very first season in existence (1971-1972). Ellis spent most of his later life in Oregon, particularly the little town of Scappoose, where he died of prostate cancer in 2012. Now, I joke a lot about All Things Proctology in these pages, but seriously, guys… it’s no joke. Get checked!

From left: Chromo-Langtry, Gene Wiley, and Portland's own LeRoy Ellis.

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HOME VIDEO RELEASES




“Keeper of the Purple Twilight” was one of the first Outer Limits episodes released on home video, arriving in March 1988 in the third wave of VHS cassettes, along with “Demon with a Glass Hand” and season one’s “The Zanti Misfits.” These three volumes included a semi-cheesy promotional trailer, which I already shared once… but I’ll share it again here.

video

The episode was paired with the moody and literate “The Bellero Shield” for its Columbia House Collector’s Edition appearance… a fish-and-red-wine combination if there ever was one. They even had the unmitigated gall to put "Keeper," a loudmouthed brat by comparison, first on the tape!






“Keeper” subsequently showed up on LaserDisc in 1995 as part of the fourth and final collection in that big, beautiful niche format that never really took off... instead, it mutated into something that rendered both itself and VHS obsolete. You know it as…


 …DVD! “Keeper” arrived on this exciting new format in 2003, along with the rest of the second season, in one compact three-disc set (much more convenient than lugging 18 VHS tapes around, right?), which was later re-released as “Volume 3” in 2007. Finally, the entire series was released as one omnibus package in 2008. Obsessive collectors needn’t bother tracking down all three DVD iterations, unless packaging variations float your boat: the discs in all three sets are identical. No new content, no new transfers, no new special features, no new nothin’.


You can also view the episode on Hulu. In fact, you can stick around and watch all 49 episodes of The Outer Limits while you’re at it, absolutely free of charge (note that their banner uses the same "Keeper" image as the cover of the third DVD volume from 2007). The only caveat, and it’s only slightly obnoxious, is that you’ll have to wait through randomly-placed commercials that you can’t skip. But hey, those lucky folks who saw the show in its original run, or discovered it later in syndication (like me), had to deal with the same minor annoyance. Call it a cross-generational karmic balancing and quit yer bitchin’.

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TRADING CARD CORNER

Topps released their near-legendary Monsters from Outer Limits trading cards in 1964, which focused exclusively on monsters and aliens found in the show’s first season… except for Ikar and his big beefy soldiers, which somehow made the cut. They can be found on cards 27-29, providing the second half of a six-card story arc that used the “Chameleon” aliens for the first half. Weird, right?



Behind Transmission Control’s David and Mark Holcomb created four additional (and quite apocryphal) cards in the Topps style, two of which we’ve already covered (The Man with the Powder from “Controlled Experiment” and The Spineless Ones from “The Guests”). I’m delighted to share the third card this week (note that they chose gold for the jumpsuits, which will make sense in just a minute)...


We’ll unveil the fourth and final Holcomb card in two weeks, when we dig into “The Duplicate Man.”

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MERCHANDISE SPOTLIGHT


Season two is woefully underrepresented in the collectibles realm; however, “Keeper of the Purple Twilight” has spawned a number of artifacts for your acquisition pleasure.  First and foremost, Sideshow Collectibles released a very attractive two-pack of 12” action figures (Ikar and Ikar’s Soldier) commemorating the episode back in 2002. Unlike their glorious Zantis or the Andro/Helosian two-pack, this set is extremely easy to track down cheap (I think I paid $30.00 for mine a year or so ago--- shipped and everything--- which was probably less than its original MSRP). Note that the color scheme evokes the Topps cards, but with gold jumpsuits...


The sculpts are pretty much dead on, and the detail is marvelous. I have two gripes---- the Soldier is way too short compared to Ikar (the bodies are actually the same height, but Ikar's big bulbous head makes him significantly taller). It's really only noticeable when they're standing side by side.... which is probably the way everybody would display them, in or out of the box. So I guess it's pretty damned noticeable, isn't it? Also, the matter disintegrator accessory is too heavy which, when coupled with Ikar's long slender non-articulated fingers, makes holding it difficult if not almost impossible.

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More recently (in the last few months), Japan's Medicom Toy Company released two versions of Ikar in 10” vinyl form: the “standard” version and the “gum card” variant, which mimics the wild color scheme used by Topps (see above). These will run you around $129.99 (plus shipping) each from online retailers like Entertainment Earth or Midtown Comics. They look a bit too cartoonish for my tastes, so I’m not biting. The Sideshow figures provide me with all the Ikar I’ll ever need.



For the model lovers out there, Dimensional Designs offers two separate 1/8-scale resin kits of Ikar (DD/OL/IK-15) and his cranky Alien Soldier (DD/OL/AS-09). Both are sculpted by Chris Choin, who is responsible for more of these kits than any other sculptor by far (he did a total of 15; his nearest competition is Takeshi Yoneda, who did 6). You'll pay $49.95 (plus shipping) each; you can go here and/or here to order your own. Have a look at completed specimens, courtesy of the illustrious Mr. Enamel...


Not to be outdone, Chinxy weighs in with his own take on Ikar:


I dunno, man. Their skin should be green... right? There's of course no way to know for sure, since it's a black and white show... and, as far as I know, no color stills exist. I personally find the green infinitely more appealing, and certainly more in line with the pulp nature of the story.


Artist extraordinaire and friend of this blog Woody Welch seems to agree. His lovely rendering utilizes the Sideshow color scheme, but changes it up a bit by making the jumpsuits a silvery, sparkly blue, which creates a sense of cosmopolitan elegance. I've seen many examples of his talent over the last couple of years, and I can state with absolute certainty that Woody simply cannot fuck up a painting.


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THE WRAP-UP

“Keeper of the Purple Twilight” is dumb and goofy, but undeniably fun. The script is a bit soapy and hole-ridden, but the creature design is frankly unforgettable--- this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a second-rate story draped over a first-rate monster (and it won’t be the last; I’m looking at you, “Counterweight”). It’s got B-movie written all over it…. not that there’s anything wrong with that.




There was no episode broadcast the week of December 12, 1964, which means there’s nothing to cover next week. We’ll reconvene on 12/19 and commence digging into the final five. That’s right, boys and ghouls… you can count the remaining episodes on one (glass) hand.

6 comments:

  1. What do you get when you combine two of The Outer Limits' worst writers with its worst director? Somehow, you get an episode that's more entertaining than it has any right to be.

    Some more little details I liked:

    • The very end of the teaser. It's just a shot of human Ikar writing Eric's equation, accompanied by eerie but quiet music. The teasers usually didn't end so subtly.

    • After Ikar speaks, it takes Eric a moment to realize that there's someone in the car with him. "I'm tired. Too tired. I can't..." And he thinks it's a hallucination at first.

    • When Ikar shows up in his lab, Eric has a similar reaction: "Of all the stupid, senseless...!" Suddenly he's channeling Oliver Wendell Douglas!

    • Ikar's line "I don't live to be liked or disliked."

    And one unintentionally silly moment: When Ikar and Eric start debating the merits of life with and without emotion. "Accomplishment." "Without satisfaction?" "Knowledge." "Without pleasure?" "Conquest." "Without hate?" I expected them to break into song.

    One last thing: I'm not sure if it's Eric who telekinetically reassembles the mobile or Ikar, who's still hanging around invisibly.

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  2. Thanks for pulling together all the crazy reasons why this kooky episode is one of the ones I love the most. It's always hard for me to be rational when it comes to The Outer Limits, and my affection for this one proves it! My favorite line, quite strange of course, comes from Janet: "Now, all good people are asleep and dreaming." Sadly, the rest of Season 2 is all downhill after this!

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  3. There's enough of a meandering story in "Keepers of the Purple Twilight" to keep you interested when the awesome aliens aren't around. But those aliens...Wow! You've got Ikar and the three gigantic "police" aliens; it's almost too much of a good thing. There are so many iconic alien creations in this series, but this along with "The Sixth Finger" and "The Architects of Fear" contain my favorites (but Turdo, the Zantis, and the Chromoite are also great...aaaaauuuuugggghhhh!!!! I don't know which to pick!!!!)

    I love the scene when the three police aliens are looking for Ikar (in his human form) out in the brush. It's ridiculous but so watchable. Robert Webber is good here as the emotionless, robot-like human form of Ikar. Warren Stevens and his short-sleeved shirt are a weakness of the episode. His rejection of Janet (Gail Kobe) is impossible to understand. Screw science! Where's Janet at?!?!

    This is a favorite of mine regardless of whether we are talking Season One or Two. I can't get enough of the great alien action.

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  4. This is one of those frustrating episodes where you say "if only they had done this...". It started off so well then I think it took a wrong turn with Ikar taking emotions from Eric and "love" at that. Ugh. Wish they would have chosen another plot device.
    That disintegration device didn't look all that large. Why couldn't they fit that on the ship? Didn't seem like something they needed earthlings to build.

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  5. Ed Platt, the actor who played David Hunt, was most famous in the 60's for playing "The Chief" character on Get Smart. Get Smart was a James Bond parody comedy show during the 1965-1970 seasons on NBC. The Chief character was the boss of Don Adams spy character. Just sayin....

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  6. Another lame season 2 episode. I DO like the basic look of the aliens however. And it has a good and cryptic title at least. But boy, is the basic writing and storyline LAME. There ARE some decent season 2 shows of course, but this is hardly one of them. And it certainly ain't the worst of the season 2's either. That's how I feel about it.....

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