, Thursday, September 18, 2014
WTOP Film Critic Jason Fraley counts down the best Hollywood romances of all time.
WTOP Film Critic Jason Fraley counts down the Top 50 Hollywood Romances guaranteed to put the spark back in your relationship.
Note that this list isn't based on overall movie quality, but on the power of the romance within that movie. For example, "American Hustle" is a better overall film than "Her," but the latter was more of a romance. Or, "Bonnie & Clyde" would rank higher than "Jerry Maguire" on an overall best list, but the latter ranks higher on a list of best romances.
In the end, these lists are so subjective, so rather than stress about the order, just treat this as a guide to the 50 romances you must see this Valentine's Day.
Nicholas Sparks has penned many a novel that's made it to the big screen, from "A Walk to Remember" (2002) to "Nights in Rodanthe" (2008), but "The Notebook" remains his most beloved.
Directed by Nick Cassavetes, the son of director John Cassavettes and actress Gena Rowlands, the film provided a key early stage for Rachel McAdams ("Wedding Crashers") and Ryan Gosling ("Drive").
Eight years before Richard Gere fell for Julia Roberts' prostitute in "Pretty Woman" (1990), he literally swept Debra Winger off her feet and carried her off into movie lore.
The film earned two Oscars, one for Louis Gossett Jr. for Best Supporting Actor and one for Best Original Song with "Up Where We Belong."
It's too soon to know whether "(500) Days of Summer" will go down as one of history's great romantic comedies. But as Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel rise Hollywood's ladder, I have a hunch this one will catch fire.
The film jumps around in time, shows split-screens of "expectations vs. reality" and inserts a Hall & Oates musical number. Still, the most telling scene is a debate over love's existence. Summer asks, "You don't believe in that do you?" Tom says, "It's love, not Santa Claus."
To this day, folks still freak out on wedding dance floors to "(I've Had) The Time of My Life." But few would dare to attempt Patrick Swayze's immortal lift of Jennifer Grey from "Dirty Dancing."
The plot leaves something to be desired, but the song was an easy Oscar winner and the script offered one of the AFI's Top 100 Movie Quotes: "Nobody puts baby in the corner."
We have a tie here at Number 46 between two David O. Russell flicks. The first is "Silver Linings Playbook," which opens much stronger than it closes. Perhaps it was Russell's intention to apply a bipolar tone to this tale of bipolar disorder.
The first half is daring and chaotic, while the second half settles into a "Dirty Dancing" rom com.
Whether you liked the tidy ending or not, Bradley Cooper scored his first Oscar nomination and Jennifer Lawrence won her first Oscar for Best Actress.
Tied with "Silver Linings" at Number 46 on our list is another David O. Russell gem. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence returned for supporting roles in "American Hustle," but the film is propelled by its two leads, Christian Bale and Amy Adams, as con-artists in love, hustling to survive.
The film is a tragicomedy more than it is a straight romance, but sensual moments permeate this Best Picture contender, be it falling in love to Duke Ellington, or kissing in the middle of a spinning clothes rack filled with stolen dry cleaner drop-offs.
Humphrey Bogart won the only Oscar of his career as the drunken sailor Charlie Allnut, who woos Katharine Hepburn's prim-and-proper Rose Sayer aboard The African Queen in this unforgettable adventure romance by John Huston ("The Maltese Falcon").
In "The Little Mermaid," Disney kissed the girl. In "Aladdin," Disney explored a whole new world. And in "The Lion King," Disney asked, "Can you feel the love tonight?"
But of all the animated films between 1989 and 1995, the greatest romance was "Beauty and the Beast."
It remains the only hand-drawn animated film ever nominated for Best Picture. It lost to "The Silence of the Lambs," but winning two Oscars for Best Score and Best Original Song for the title song, which is sung by Angela Lansbury to a crane shot down from a chandelier.
Everyone knew that Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman could act after "Trainspotting" (1996) and "Eyes Wide Shut" (1999), but no one knew they could sing this well.
Baz Luhrmann applies his lavish directorial style to create a most unique musical, including mash-ups of pop music hits from Paul McCartney to U2 to Whitney Houston, as well as original songs like "Come What May."
A year after scorching the screen in "Saturday Night Fever" (1978), John Travolta returned as Danny Zucko across Olive Newton John's Sandy in "Grease."
From "Summer Nights" to "Greased Lightning" to "You're the One that I Want," the film remains one of the most popular movie musicals ever done.
Writer/director Preston Sturges shot across our movie landscape like a meteor from 1940-1944, leaving a string of masterpieces from "Sullivan's Travels" (1941) to "The Palm Beach Story" (1942) to "Miracle on Morgan's Creek" (1944). But none was more romantic than "The Lady Eve."
Three years before her career role as the femme fatale in "Double Indemnity" (1944), Barbara Stanwyck shows a different side here in some of the steamiest scenes ever with the clumsy Henry Fonda.
Few performances are more iconic than Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," based on the novel by Truman Capote.
Hepburn's fashion sense may be more legendary than George Peppard's performance as her love interest, but director Blake Edwards benefits from the Oscar-winning music of Henry Mancini, who provided the AFI's No. 4 Movie Song of All Time in "Moon River."
The love story between robots WALL-E and EVE was so convincing that even kids forgot that the first half of the movie was practically silent.
Like the opening 10 minute montage of "Up" (2009), Pixar once again proved it understands the art of visual storytelling. "WALL-E" joins "Toy Story" (1995) and "Finding Nemo" (2003) as the Top 3 flicks Pixar ever made.
Few names are as synonymous with Hollywood romance as Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, who fell in love on the set of "Woman of the Year" (1942) and continued their on- and off-screen romance for 15 years until Tracy's death.
Tied for No. 38 on our list are the two greatest Hepburn-Tracy flicks, starting with "Adam's Rib" (1949), where Hepburn and Tracy play dueling lawyers in the case of a woman (Judy Holliday) who murdered her husband.
This script is gold, penned by husband-and-wife screenwriters Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon, who would go on to acting stardom in "Rosemary's Baby" (1968) and "Harold & Maude" (1971).
The other half of our Hepburn-Tracy tie at No. 38 on our list is their final picture together, Stanley Kramer's "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner."
The final tearjerker scene where Tracy details his love for Hepburn is made all the more touching by the fact that Tracy died before the film's release. Hepburn refused to watch it as a result.
Thankfully, the rest of us did, as the film's message helped America to accept interracial marriage thanks to the on-screen lovers of Sidney Poitier and Katharine Houghton.
Arthur Freed's greatest MGM musical was clearly "Singin' in the Rain" (1952), but just a year earlier he took Best Picture for "An American in Paris." The film features a number of fun musical numbers, namely "I Got Rhythm" with a group of kids.
But its most romantic moment comes as Gene Kelly dances with Leslie Caron along the Seine River to the legendary song "Our Love is Here to Stay."
While you might not initially think of "Bonnie & Clyde" as a romance, you won't find two more sensual on-screen presences than Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker and Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow.
Director Arthur Penn uses symbolic imagery to suggest Clyde's impotence, but has the duo shoot their guns through phallic "O" symbols while lustfully sipping bottles and biting matchsticks.
We as viewers fall for them as a couple so much that we are absolutely horrified when their beautiful bodies are pumped with bullets for the slow-motion finale.
Few romantic movie scenes are as iconic as Burt Lancaster smooching with Deborah Kerr on a beach as a wave crashes over them in "From Here to Eternity."
Fred Zinnemann's Pearl Harbor follow-up to "High Noon" won eight Oscars, including Best Picture, with a power cast that also included Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed.
"Her" turned the concept of HAL 9000 into a highly unique romance, as Joaquin Phoenix falls for a state-of-the-art computer operating system a la Siri (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).
The premise may seem bizarre, but the result is the most impossibly touching love story since "Harold and Maude" (1971), saying so much about where we are as a digital society losing face-to-face interaction.
Cher won an Oscar for her portrayal of Loretta, a Brooklyn bookkeeper who falls for the brother (Nicolas Cage) of the man she's supposed to marry.
Her line, "snap out of it," became the slap heard around the romance world.
The romance in "Forrest Gump" may have been a little one-sided, with Forrest insisting he and Jenny were like "peas and carrots," while Jenny preferred the lifestyle of a free bird.
But the two came together to hug in the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall, then give birth to Haley Joel Osment after Forrest put things in perspective, "I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is."
Lying on her death bed, Jenny heard all about how Forrest ate chocolates, broke leg-brace barriers, taught Elvis to dance, returned kickoffs for Bear Bryant, saved Vietnam troops, made ping-pong peace with China, mooned sitting presidents, exposed Watergate, stunned protest rallies, launched a bayou shrimpin' business, invested in a gazillion-dollar "fruit company" and traversed the country in his worn-out Nikes.
"I wish I could have been there with you," Jenny longingly says, to which Forrest replies, "You were."
George Stevens remains one of the most underrated directors of all time. "Shane" (1953) was a western masterpiece, while "Giant" (1956) explored race relations a full six years before "To Kill a Mockingbird."
Still, his most romantic movie was "A Place in the Sun," featuring a beautiful score by Franz Waxman and a killer love triangle between Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift and Shelly Winters. Don't miss it.
Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels. Together, they unleashed some of the fanciest footwork ever to hit the screen.
"Swing Time" (1936) may be the best of the Astaire-Rogers pictures, but "Top Hat" was their most romantic, featuring music by Irving Berlin, including the legendary "Cheek to Cheek." The song was homaged in both "The Purple Rose of Cairo" (1985) and "The Green Mile" (1999).
Few movie images are as iconic as John Cusack hoisting a boom box outside Ione Skye's bedroom window while blaring Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes."
Cameron Crowe wrote and directed an instant classic with "Say Anything," turning Cusack's Lloyd Dobler into one of the most lovable movie characters of all time.
Today, many of us think of Gregory Peck as a father figure, from "To Kill a Mockingbird" to "Cape Fear" to "The Omen." But he could also pull off romance, like in this William Wyler classic where he plays a journalist who tours Rome with Audrey Hepburn's princess in disguise.
The film introduced the world to Hepburn, who won an Oscar for Best Actress. The rest, as they say, is history.
"The Graduate" is a far better overall movie than many films on this list, but this is a list of best romances, and it's safe to say "The Graduate" offers one of the most bizarre love triangles ever filmed.
Dustin Hoffman's college graduate Benjamin Braddock begins an affair with the neighbor's middle-aged wife Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) before falling for her daughter Elaine (Katharine Ross).
Mike Nichols delivers one of the best displays of directing I've ever seen, all set to Simon & Garfunkel's groundbreaking soundtrack.
Meryl Streep was dynamite as the neglected housewife who strikes up a steamy affair with Clint Eastwood's traveling photographer. The shot of Eastwood hanging a necklace on his rearview mirror remains one of the most heartbreaking images in movie history.
The film was fittingly directed by Eastwood himself, who showed a soft side just two years after winning Best Picture for "Unforgiven" (1992).
Director John Ford is best known for his westerns, from "Stagecoach" (1939) to "The Searchers" (1956), but he proved he could also do romance in "The Quiet Man," where John Wayne plays an American boxer who returns to his hometown in Ireland and falls in love with Maureen O'Hara.
Their kiss was so powerful that it was later homaged by Steven Spielberg in "E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial" (1982), as the title alien watches "The Quiet Man" on television, while Elliot reenacts it with a female classmate.
While Richard Gere swept Debra Winger off her feet in "An Officer and a Gentleman" (1982) and Julia Roberts dazzled Hugh Grant in "Notting Hill" (1999), they were never better than when they were together as the businessman and prostitute in "Pretty Woman."
Garry Marshall's film remains one of the most charming romantic comedies ever done, particularly the scene where Gere shows Roberts a sparkling necklace, then closes the box just as she's about to touch it. That Roberts laugh is infectious.
Everyone knew David Lean could direct epic adventures, from "Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957) to "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) but he showed his romantic chops when he took on Boris Pasternak's novel of snow covered passions amid the Bolshevik Revolution.
The central relationship between a married doctor and poet (Omar Sharif) and a political activist's wife (Julie Christie) is one for the history books, inspiring many to follow, including Warren Beatty and Diane Keaton in "Reds" (1981).
"Lara's Theme" remains one of the greatest film scores ever done.
Marlon Brando took the world by storm as the brutish Stanley Kowalski in Elia Kazan's adaptation of this famous play by Tennessee Williams. No one will ever forget his anguished, animalistic cry "Hey, Stella!!" or Vivien Leigh's catatonic closing remark, "I've always depended on the kindness of strangers."
Tied for our Number 20 spot is "Sleepless in Seattle," which I contend is a better version of "An Affair to Remember." Let's not forget that "An Affair to Remember" was also a remake of "Love Affair" (1939), so this debate comes down to quality, not originality.
Writer/director Nora Ephron was still hot off "When Harry Met Sally" (1989) when she teamed Meg Ryan with Tom Hanks for this unforgettable classic about a woman who falls for a man's voice on a late-night radio show, then ultimately meets him atop the Empire State Building on Valentine's Day. The film ranked as one of the AFI's Top 10 Romantic Comedies.
Cary Grant did plenty of romances, including with Grace Kelly in "To Catch a Thief" (1955), as did Kerr, dancing with Yul Brynner in "The King & I" (1956). But put Grant and Kerr together with Vic Damone's title song and a rendezvous atop the Empire State Building, and it was magic.
A similar plot was later used by Nora Ephron in "Sleepless in Seattle" (1993), which includes a scene where Rita Wilson describes "An Affair to Remember" in a flood of tears, to which her real-life husband Tom Hanks quips, "That's a chick's movie."
Ernst Lubitsch practically invented the romantic comedy with the so-called "Lubitsch Touch" on classics like "Trouble in Paradise" (1932) and "Ninotchka" (1939). But my favorite of all his films remains "The Shop Around the Corner," which was remade as Nora Ephron's "You've Got Mail" (1998).
Instead of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan swapping emails, Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan drop handwritten letters in each other's mailboxes to become the most romantic pen pals in movie history. Look also for the great Frank Morgan, who followed his title role in "The Wizard of Oz" (1939) with this role as gift shop owner Mr. Matuschek.
Pottery bowls, ghostly embraces and "Unchained Melody."
Patrick Swayze brought his "Dirty Dancing" passion to the afterlife, solving his own murder while romancing Demi Moore with Whoopi Goldberg's conduit.
"I love you," Demi says, to which Patrick says, "Ditto."
Is love truly blind? That's the question explored by Charlie Chaplin's "City Lights," where Chaplin's signature Little Tramp courts a blind woman by pretending he's much wealthier than he actually is. Once her eyesight returns, we watch with teary eyes to see if her feelings for him remain.
Frank Capra's masterpiece is remembered as a holiday classic, but its central love story is the film's lifeblood. Few movie scenes are as romantic as Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey singing "Buffalo Gals" with Donna Reed's Mary Hatch and asking, "What do you want, Mary? Do you want the moon? Say the words and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down." "I'll take it."
As they throw rocks at an abandoned old house, Mary makes a silent wish that comes true when she and George have a low-budget honeymoon, as Bert the Cop and Ernie the Cabbie sing "I love you truly" outside the window.
While Ruth Gordon teamed with her husband to write "Adam's Rib," she acted as Maude in Hal Ashby's quirky masterpiece three years after winning an Oscar for "Rosemary's Baby" (1968).
Set to a Cat Stevens soundtrack, Ashby gives us the most bizarre pairing in movie history: 23-year-old Bud Cort and 75-year- old Ruth Gordon, proving that love is eternal and age is just a number.
"Philadelphia" (1993) opened the floodgates, "Happy Together" (1997) pushed the envelope and "Blue is the Warmest Color" (2013) ripped the envelope to shreds. But ask anyone on the street to name a movie romance about gay lovers and the automatic answer is "Brokeback Mountain."
While "Crash" (2004) won Best Picture by discussing racism in America -- essentially winning the Oscar that "Do The Right Thing" should have won a full 15 years earlier -- Ang Lee was ahead of the next social curve.
Lee won the Oscar for Best Director, Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger made convincing cowboy lovers, Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams made tragic wives learning the truth about their husbands, and the script entered a phrase into our vocabulary: "I wish I knew how to quit you."
Rumor has it that director Howard Hawks was fishing with Ernest Hemingway when he bet the author he could turn his worst book into a hit film.
No one could have expected the birth of one of the greatest movie couples in history: Bogie and Bacall.
Despite the age difference, Bacall wowed Bogart on, and off, screen, telling him in that raspy voice, "You do know how to whistle, don't you? You just put your lips together and blow."
While many view "Rocky" solely as an underdog sports movie, I insist it is first and foremost a love story.
Note how Rocky helps Adrian "escape the cage" of her pet shop existence. Note how he helps her stand up to her alcoholic brother Paulie. And I dare you to find a more unique first date than Rocky and Adrian's empty ice rink trip.
After Rocky goes the distance in his fight with boxing champ Apollo Creed, he doesn't care what the scorecard says. He looks beyond the reporters, screaming Adrian's name into the crowd, as she makes her way to the ring, calling his name back to him.
Need more proof? Look no further than the film's final line: "I love you."
Few films can claim to have one of the best actors of a generation. But George Cukor's "The Philadelphia Story" has three of the best actors of all-time.
The combination of Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart alone makes it a must-see romance. But add one of the greatest scripts ever written, and "The Philadelphia Story" becomes a timeless treat, opening with Grant face-palming Hepburn to the ground, continuing with Stewart and Hepburn giving hilarious drunken performances, and ending with one of the great wedding day switcharoos.
Few plots are sadder than Oliver losing Jennifer to cancer in "Love Story."
The tone may seem dated and melodramatic today, but Arthur Hill's clever direction and Francis Lai's Oscar- winning music made "Love Story" one of the highest grossing movies of the '70s.
The script offered the AFI's No. 13 Movie Quote of All Time: "Love means never having to say you're sorry."
A few years later, Ryan O'Neal mocked the line in Peter Bogdanovich's "What's Up Doc?" (1972), saying, "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard."
Barbra Streisand ("Funny Girl") and Robert Redford ("The Sting") were at the top of their respective games when they teamed with director Sydney Pollack, who later romanced Redford and Meryl Streep in "Out of Africa" (1985).
Katie and Hubbell's competing political views ultimately pulled them apart, but their journey led to a classic final final embrace, with Streisand rubbing Redford's cheek.
The film's Oscar-winning title song is magic, composed by the late Marvin Hamlisch and sung by Streisand herself:
"What's too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget. But it's the laughter, we will remember, whenever we remember, the way we were."
Cameron Crowe gave us a classic romantic comedy image with John Cusack hoisting a boombox to Peter Gabriel in "Say Anything" (1989).
But he must have been on screenwriting crack when he penned this gem. Not only did he write macho sports lines like "Show me the money" and "Help me help you," he also gave us one of the best chick-flick climaxes in history.
As Tom Cruise bursts into a women's group to find Renee Zellweger, he pours out his heart, saying, "You complete me," before she cuts him off, saying, "Shut up. Just shut up. You had me at hello."
The perfect date movie with football for the guys and romance for the ladies.
To this day, "Annie Hall" remains one of the few comedies to ever win Best Picture. The film got its name from Woody Allen's real life nickname for then-girlfriend Diane Keaton.
Together, they were dynamite on screen, shattering storytelling conventions by showing competing split-screens, offering alternate subtitles for rooftop conversations and pulling experts in from outside the frame to settle disputes.
Their chance meeting in the lobby of a tennis facility is a classic, with Keaton inspiring a fashion craze while speaking a classic line of awkward flirtation, "La-dee-da, la-dee-da."
Name any romantic comedy you like and it owes credit to "It Happened One Night." Frank Capra's classic invented countless rom com conventions, as Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert debated doughnut-dunking techniques, hitched a ride by lifting a skirt and broke down the "Walls of Jericho."
The film's plot of a newspaper man falling for an undercover heiress was copied by Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in "Roman Holiday" (1953).
It also remains one of just three films ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "The Silence of the Lambs") to win the big five Oscars: best picture, director, actor, actress and screenplay.
Everyone knows Alfred Hitchcock was the master of suspense, from "Rear Window" (1954) to "Psycho" (1960) to "The Birds" (1963). But he was also a master of romance. Those two strengths combined gloriously for his masterpiece "Vertigo," which global critics recently voted the greatest film of all time.
Jimmy Stewart offers the best portrait of lost love, tailing icy blonde Kim Novak, who believes she is possessed by the ghost of her ancestor, Carlotta Valdez. As the two embrace in a spinning camera under neon green light and Bernard Herrman's soaring violins, Hitchcock achieves history's single greatest movie kiss.
Robert Wise's 20th century take on Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" replaced the Montagues and Capulets with the Sharks and the Jets.
The feuding New York groups of Italian and Puerto Rican descent had no love lost for each other, but beneath all the switchblades and snapping fingers was a powerful love story.
Tony and Maria swear "there's a place for us, somewhere a place for us," vow to find true love "tonight, tonight" and relish the name Maria: "Say it loud and it's music playing! Say it soft and it's almost like praying."
Upon its release, "Titanic" was both the highest grossing movie of all time and the most acclaimed with a record 11 Oscars. You don't win such approval without a killer love story, which James Cameron found in Jack and Rose.
The relationship between Kate Winslet's corset socialite and Leonardo DiCaprio's starving artist was a commentary of the 99 percent versus 1 percent and a tragedy of star- crossed lovers.
The film launched two of this generation's brightest stars, and Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" was voted the AFI's No. 14 Movie Song ahead of Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek."
Love it or hate it, "Titanic" is unsinkable.
James Cameron's "Avatar" may be the highest grossing movie of all time in sheer dollars, but bread also used to cost a nickel. When you adjust for inflation, "Gone With the Wind" is history's top grosser, and it all has to do with the volatile relationship between Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara.
Clark Gable was the ultimate macho man, lifting his mustache to say, "You should be kissed often, and by someone who knows how," while Vivien Leigh was an Oscar-winning brat who vowed, "I'll never go hungry again."
Like many of the best romances, the two lovers can't wind up together, as Rhett grows tired of Scarlett after four hours of abuse, descending those red steps and giving the best exit line in movie history: "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." Even so, the resilient Scarlett believed that "tomorrow is another day."
Wannabe writers should study "When Harry Met Sally" in the art of romantic comedy greatness. Nora Ephron's script inspired many a "Seinfeld" episode on sex ruining friendships, while Rob Reiner's mother delivered a classic response to a public orgasm: "I'll have what she's having."
Still, the best part is watching Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan go to work: "I love that you get cold when it's 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour-and-a-half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it's not because I'm lonely, and it's not because it's New Year's Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible."
As much as I love "When Harry Met Sally," even its main characters lie in bed watching the king of all Hollywood romances, "Casablanca."
The stakes couldn't be any higher as Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman must choose between their hearts and saving the world from a Nazi takeover.
The WGA voted it the greatest script of all time, thanks to such romantic staples as, "We'll always have Paris," "Play it, Sam" and "Here's looking at you, kid."
The film's beautifully haunting piano tune explains exactly why we keep returning to "Casablanca" after all these years:
"It's still the same old story, a fight for love and glory, a case of do or die. The world will always welcome lovers, as time goes by."
28 / 65
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