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Sound Vitality Infratonic 9 Sound Wave Device to Reduce and Eliminate Chronic Pain, a Review

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Sound Healing

Sound healing is not new. Tibetan Singing Bowls, chanting, humming, lullabies — they’re all forms of sound that have been used throughout history for soothing, healing, or meditation. I’ve had a Tibetan Singing Bowl for almost two decades now. I meditate with it and use it to reduce anxiety during a panic attack. Unfortunately, the Singing Bowl doesn’t reduce the pain or duration of a migraine, whether it is with aura or without, nor does the Singing Bowl reduce the excruciating pain of atypical trigeminal neuralgia, from which I’ve suffered for the last two years. Because my medical massage therapist had actually used a Sound Vitality Infratonic sound wave device on some of my childhood injuries to reduce recurrent inflammation and pain, I decided to use that specific device on my head in the summer of 2018 after a three-month migraine showed no sign of ending.

My therapist was afraid to use her Infratonic device on my head: I have hemiplegic migraine that can cause seizures, and my therapist feared that the sound waves might trigger a migraine-induced seizure. In June 2018, she let me borrow her Infratonic 8000 (an older version) to use at home, cautioning me to make sure I was lying down in bed before using it on the migraine pain so that, if the sound waves did trigger a seizure, I would already be in a safe environment.

When I first put the Infratonic 8000 on my head, directly over the migraine pain, the pain increased slightly. Almost immediately, however, the pain changed in a way that’s difficult to describe. Before I’d even removed the Infratonic 8000 from my head to change its settings, the pain began to reduce in intensity. (I wrote an article detailing the treatment of that particular migraine, and another with placement suggestions for anyone else treating migraine pain with Infratonic sound wave devices.) Using the Infratonic 8000 never triggered a migraine-seizure, and because the Infratonic 8000 so noticeably reduced the pain, I started researching the science behind the sound wave device as well as how I could acquire an Infratonic of my own.

How Sound Vitality Sound Devices Work
Sound Vitality makes no claims that their sound wave devices heal you. Instead, their devices reduce pain and inflammation with infrasonic sound waves (less than 20 Hz or cycles per second, which is below the threshold of most humans’ ability to hear), allowing your own body to begin to heal itself. The patented Infratonic is 501(k) listed by the FDA as medical massage device, though it doesn’t really “massage” your tissue. The earlier units, which plug in, vibrate a bit, but it’s not actual massage. The Infratonic 9 does not vibrate.

Infratonic 9 in my hand. Photo © Alexandria

The newest version of the Infratonic sound wave device is a dramatic improvement over the earlier devices, which were rather large and cumbersome, and which needed to be plugged in to operate. To use the Infratonic 8000, you had to literally be within a foot or two of the device’s base. The Infratonic 8000 is no longer available for sale because the company now offers a new version: the Infratonic 9, or I-9 for short. Not only is the Infratonic 9 smaller than the previous versions of Sound Vitality’s devices, it is portable and rechargeable. The I-9 is approximately 3.5″ wide, 6.5″ long, and slightly over 1.5″ deep. It weighs 14 ounces (i.e., much less than the hardcover Lord of the Rings in one volume). The I-9 comes with its own non-padded, vinyl carrying case and AC adapter/charger.

I was delighted to learn that you do not have to have a medical massage license to purchase Sound Vitality’s Infratonic 9. You do not need your physician’s recommendation or a prescription to buy one, and you most certainly do not need the permission of an insurance company to buy the I-9 to treat your own pain.

After using the Infratonic 8000 periodically for a few years in my medical massage therapist’s office, using the Infratonic 8000 daily for a month to treat an intractable migraine, and using the Infratonic 9 virtually 24 hours a day for the last 7 months, I can now comfortably review both the product and the company.

Sound Vitality’s Infratonic 9

How to Operate the Infratonic
There are three sound wave settings on the I-9 for reducing pain and promoting healing, on the right side of the On/Off button, operated by the Signal button after you turn the I-9 on. Each setting has its own frequency of sound waves.

  • Balance (which some medical massage therapists call “body”): soundwaves at 8-17 Hz
  • Acute (which some call “body and mind”): soundwaves at 8-50 Hz
  • Deep Calm (which some call “spirit”): soundwaves 8-800 Hz

Infratonic 9 (I-9) controls. Photo © Alexandria

To the left of the On / Off  button is the Timer button: the I-9 has two pre-set timers, for 10 or 20 minutes each, which also operate with an electronic alarm (which sounds just like the device when you turn it on). The timed settings, with or without alarm, shut the device off automatically after designated 10 or 20 minutes.

Infratonic 9 Timed Settings and Alarm. Photo © Alexandria

To run the device on any setting — Balance, Acute, or Deep Calm — continuously, press the Timer button until all the lights on the left side of the control panel are off. The device will run continuously until you manually turn it off with the On / Off button in the center bottom.

The I-9 has a rechargeable battery (life expectancy = 3 years) and a plug-in adapter/charger. It took 45 minutes to charge it the first time (their site says it takes 90 minutes).  You can safely use the I-9 while it is charging, but don’t put it under a pillow when it’s plugged in and charging as the I-9 gets hot to the touch when plugged in and under a pillow. Sound Vitality estimates 60-65 hours of continuous usage from one battery charge: I’ve gotten as much as 2.5 days of continuous use before the unit alerted me, with a noise and the battery light, that it needed to be recharged.

The Battery light in the center of the control panel only operates when it needs to be charged, in which case it will glow red, or when it is charging, also red. The Battery light turns green when it is fully charged and goes off when you unplug the unit.

The sound waves are emitted from the underside of the I-9, which looks like the grill of a fan. No air comes out. The I-9 has a patented Chaos system that makes the sound waves come out in a “chaotic pattern” so that your brain and body cells cannot accustom themselves to the sound waves. If your cells can find the pattern, they can replicate it, which allows the damaged cells to remain damaged.

The underside of the Infratonic 9. Photo © Alexandria

If you hold the I-9 to your ear, you might hear the sound of the Chaos-mechanism whirring slightly, but you have to have exceptional hearing, i.e., beyond the usual human range, to hear the sound waves themselves. Horses and dogs can hear the sound waves. I think my cats can, too. I hear something beyond the Chaos mechanism on both the Acute and Deep Calm settings, but most people hear no sound when they put the I-9 up to their ear.

You can place the Infratonic directly on bare skin: it will not burn you or heat up. You do not need any gels or lotions for the sound waves to pass through your tissue and bone; further, I wouldn’t advise putting the I-9 on top of gels or lotions since those might damage the machine by getting inside. You do not have to take breaks from using the I-9: I’ve used it the entire 9 months that I’ve had the migraine that is being triggered by the trigeminal neuralgia, including when I sleep, and I’ve been using the I-9 specifically for the atypical trigeminal neuralgia for over six months, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

I-9 with adapter/charger and case. Photo © Alexandria

What’s In the Box
• the Infrantonic 9
• a non-padded, vinyl, zippered carrying case
• plug-in adapter for recharging the battery
• a handbook of testimonials from customers

Infratonic 9 carrying case. Photo © Alexandria

For such an expensive device, the carrying case is pretty cheap and flimsy. It is not padded in any way. To carry the fully charged Infratonic device with me in my purse or backpack, I put it into a sturdier, fully lined, padded leather pouch.

Infratonic 9 in my own leather pouch. Photo © Alexandria

Since the AC-adapter/charger doesn’t have retractable prongs and doesn’t fit in either the original carrying case nor in my leather pouch, I’d put the Infratonic 9 in my padded, suede, iPad-mini case if I were traveling, if only because that case has a separate zipped outer compartment where I could safely store the adapter/charger.

My padded, suede, iPad-mini cover, with 2 zipped compartments, for travel. Photo © Alexandria

The adapter could have been improved by having retractable prongs, but it would have been even better to have a USB adapter and a separate plug (with retractable prongs). A USB-adapter/charger cord would easily fit into the vinyl carrying case that comes with the device as well as into the smaller leather case I have. A USB-adapter/charger would not scratch the I-9 itself as the attached-plug charger could if it were forced into a case with the device. This type of adapter/charger would also allow the device to be charged at home and at work, for instance, without requiring you to carry around the bulky plug.

Warranty and Customer Service
The Infratonic 9 has a 30-day Unconditional Return Guarantee and 1-Year Warranty on Parts & Labor from Sound Vitality itself. Mine behaved strangely the first few days: it kept sounding the alarm and shutting itself off randomly. Sound Vitality paid my return shipping, replaced the circuit board and battery, and shipped the repaired I-9 to me, all free of charge. After it was returned to me, I’ve used it over 6 months, virtually continuously, and it’s worked perfectly.

At the end of the seventh month of constant usage, the light indicating that the battery needed to be charged on my I-9 began coming on in less than 24 hours — far shorter than the 48-60 hour charge time I’d been used to — and the unit began turning off and on and off again, by itself, but without the customary warning beeps. When I contacted Sound Vitality’s customer service about buying a new battery, they informed me that the battery should last 3 years. They talked me through some trouble-shooting tips to reset the device, and mailed me a replacement battery free-of-charge. After the trouble-shooting, which I was easily able to do myself, the device stopped randomly turning itself on and off. Once I installed the replacement battery, the device returned to its original 48-60 hours of operation before needing to be charged.

Sound Vitality has outstanding customer service, and someone is available to answer questions by phone or online chat to help you with your device.


Sound Vitality Sources of Infratonic Information

If you have questions about the I-9 itself, the customer service department at Sound Vitality is happy to answer you via online chat or by phone at their toll-free number. They have a former website at Chi Institute, which has several articles on the 30-year history of the Infratonic, on how infrasonic sound waves work healing injured horses, on how the Infratonic reduces pain and cellular trauma, and how the Infratonic device accelerates recovery. The Hospital Protocol pages lists some of the types of injuries and tissue damage for which the Infratonic may be used. Sound Vitality also has testimonials on its site about the type of conditions the Infratonic machines have been used to treat.

Their older website has some diagrams about using the Infratonic (all versions), but I actually found it more effective when I just put the Infratonic (whether the older 8000 model or the latest model I-9) on the pain itself, as well as on any areas that might be contributing to the pain. The Infratonic Therapy User’s Guide for the I-9  is 110 pages of testimonials from customers who have used it on themselves or their animals, for injuries, surgeries, etc. You can read the entire guide online.

Sound Vitality has a video on the I-9 settings and timer, a brief video tip on using the I-9 for sleep, a very brief video mentioning the I-9 for headache and migraine, and a 48-minute webinar on treating various injuries and illnesses with the I-9, but there are no detailed instructions on how to specifically use the I-9 to treat specific injuries beyond “put it where it hurts” and “chase the pain.

I had to figure out where to use the Infratonic for migraine pain myself. That’s why I wrote my first I-9 article: I would have loved to have found such a detailed article when I was researching ways to reduce migraine pain with sound waves, and I wanted to share what worked (and what didn’t) with others suffering from migraine.

Final Evaluation of Sound Vitality’s
Infratonic 9 Sound Wave Device

My main purpose in using the Infratonic 9 sound wave device is to reduce and eliminate chronic and acute (sometimes excruciating) pain: the I-9 scores extremely high in that area. It reduces both chronic and acute pain almost immediately. I have been using Sound Vitality’s Infratonic sound wave devices continuously since Jun 2018, for migraine without aura, hemiplegic migraine, and atypical trigeminal neuralgia. Since August 2018, I have been using the Infratonic 9 constantly for the atypical trigeminal neuralgia. I even made a pocket for the device out of a sport’s headband, and I pin the device-in-the-pocket to another sports headband, and wear the I-9 all day long, over the area of the damaged trigeminal nerve. At night, I sleep with the I-9 under my pillow, vent side turned upward.

The I-9 reduces the duration of hemiplegic migraine attacks and enables me to use less pain medication (though I still have to stay in bed). After 3 months of continuous usage, the Infratonic sound wave devices enabled me to differentiate the migraine without aura that was being triggered by the atypical trigeminal neuralgia, the hemiplegic migraine attacks, and the unremitting pain of the atypical trigeminal neuralgia. The I-9 also has reduced the frequency and the excruciating lightning-bolt pain of the trigeminal neuralgia. For the last week, I have had several days when I was relatively pain-free for several hours at a time: when I tried not wearing the I-9 a couple mornings this past week, I had severe pressure in my face from the atypical trigeminal neuralgia and some excruciating breakthrough pain, but nothing I couldn’t handle with several aspirin, herbal supplements, and brief usage of the I-9.

The Infratonic 9 has given me hope that I will one day be pain-free.

Having used the Infratonic 8000, which is most decidedly not portable, the newer I-9 scores high with its portability and light weight. Considering the fact that I’ve been able to actually get out of bed regularly the last few months, despite continuing pain, by literally wearing the I-9 (in the headband-sleeve, attached to another sports headband worn around my forehead), the smaller size, lighter weight, and portability of this newer device rate very high.

The I-9 was relatively easy for me to use, but I may be more familiar with all types of electronic devices than some people. Considering the fact that there are I-9 videos which demonstrate how to actually use the I-9, there are obviously some people who don’t understand its working mechanism. Sound Vitality would do well to have an instruction sheet on the device’s basic operation, especially if they wish to have people who are not medical massage therapists using the device on themselves.

More important that even a padded carrying case that would hold both the device and its adapter/charger, Sound Vitality needs to provide an owner’s manual that instructs us in how to treat chronic or acute pain with the I-9 sound wave device. Because I have been going to medical massage therapists for over two decades, and because I have purchased many medical textbooks to help me learn how to treat chronic pain, I was a little more informed about treatment areas for the pain of migraine and atypical trigeminal neuralgia. However, I had to basically teach myself how to treat the the damaged areas areas with the Infratonic 9. Some treatment areas worked and reduced the pain, some didn’t, and I would have greatly appreciated having an owner’s manual that gave me some rudimentary advice, at least, about I-9 placement (such as in my first article on the Infratonic 9).

Infratonic 9 Evaluation
• Ease of use: A-/B+
• Portability: A
• Reduction of pain, chronic and acute: A+

Accessories
• Carrying case: D-
• Adapter/charger: C
• Owner’s manual: F

Service
• Warranty: A
• Customer service: A+

Purchasing an Infratonic 9

I first had experience with an Infratonic 8000 in my medical massage therapist’s office, who told me that she had first used one on herself at the office of another medical massage therapist before she purchased an Infratonic for her office.

I realize that this is a rather expensive unit, and if I hadn’t used it in my medical massage therapist’s office for a recurring injury and its pain, I would have hesitated even longer about buying my own. My research into sound healing and Sound Vitality’s 30-day money-back guarantee convinced me to purchase my own I-9, and I was saving the money to buy it when I learned that Sound Vitality allows you to make a purchase via PayPal Installment.

You do not need a physician’s prescription or a medical massage license to purchase an Infratonic 9. I am not aware of any insurance companies’ covering the cost of the device, although you can purchase an I-9 with the funds in a Health Savings Account (HSA) if you have one.

If you have any questions about using the Infratonic 9 for pain relief, please feel free to ask me in Comments to this post, on Twitter or on Facebook, or in an email via the Contact page. I’ll do my best to help you figure out how to use the Infratonic 9 to help you reduce your pain.


My I-9 was purchased directly from Sound Vitality.
I received no compensation for this review.*

Sound Vitality I-9

I have not received any sort of compensation for this review, nor have I received any compensation for any of my other articles about my experience treating migraine and atypical trigeminal neuralgia with the Infratonic 9. I did all the research on sound healing, ultrasound, infrasound, and Chi-sound machines myself, before and after my Infratonic 9 was purchased. When I had some questions about the frequencies of the sound waves, I contacted Sound Vitality, and their Director told me the specific ranges of the sound waves, as well as why the Chaos mechanism was added to disrupt those sound waves for healing purposes. I learned everything else from my own research and my own experience with the Infratonic 8000 and the Infratonic 9, and that includes all the suggested placements for pain relief and treatment in the Related Posts (below).

The Infratonic 9 is made by Sound Vitality, and you can buy it directly from their site. After you have the item in your cart, you can choose Pay with PayPal if you wish to pay in installments. You will then be taken to PayPal’s site, where PayPal handles all the financial information and installment arrangements. Otherwise, you pay with a credit or debit card.

The Infratonic 9 it is also sold by Sound Vitality through Amazon, which lists the same device three different times (all with the same price): for sports injuries, abdominal pain, and menstrual cramps. They are all the same device, though the photos make the device look slightly different. If you buy the Infratonic 9 from Amazon, Sound Vitality will be sending you your device.


Related Posts

How I Dramatically Reduce
and Eliminate Migraine Pain

How to Knock Out a Migraine
with Infratonic 9 Sound Waves

* These ads are affiliate links: if you click through and purchase an I-9,
I may receive a small commission, at no additional cost to you.*

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Filed under chronic pain, Chronic Pain Treatment, healing, health, Infratonic 8000, Infratonic 9, Infratonic Sound Devices, migraine, migraine self-care, Migraine Treatment, Migraine with Aura, Migraine Without Aura, migraines, Review, Sound healing, trigeminal neuralgia

The Dark Is All Around Us: The Film Classic, The Lion in Winter

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Christmas, and all the family is gathered together for the holidays. There’s a massive tree, lots of presents, spiced wine, feasting, and rancor galore. All the past year’s resentments and disappointments come bubbling to the surface because Daddy — a great, roaring lion of a man — is getting older and needs to think of which of his sons will follow him as the leader of the pride. He’s made no secret of his favorite, and his choice displeases everyone else. Mommy has her favorite, you see, and is determined to see that her special boy gets to succeed.

As if that weren’t enough tension and conflict, there’s yet another son who can’t understand why nobody in the family ever thinks of him when they think of the next head of the family business. To make everyone more edgy, let’s toss in the leader of a rival family, who has his own agenda, which mostly involves making sure the lion of this family goes down hard. To complicate things even further and make everything even more dangerous, lets throw in some tapestries for hiding behind, as well as some sharp, shiny knives — metaphorical and literal ones — for everyone to use against everybody else.

Welcome to the Christmas court of England’s Henry II in 1183. Adapted from James Goldman’s Broadway play of the same name, the witty, brutal, and passionate holiday gathering in the Oscar-winning classic The Lion in Winter (1968) makes crime dramas like The Godfather seem downright tame.

Peter O’Toole as Henry II (right) and Katharine Hepburn as his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (left), The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Henry II (Peter O’Toole) is 50 this Christmas, and he lets his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn) out of prison for the holidays. It seems Eleanor has led quite a few civil wars against Henry, over the succession no doubt, and Henry has to keep her imprisoned in order to feel safe. He’s letting Eleanor out this holiday season so they can plan, i.e., plot, who will become the next king.

Anthony Hopkins as Richard, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Their first son, Henry, died, and while you might think that their next son, Richard (Anthony Hopkins, in his first starring role), should be the designated king, and Eleanor heartily approves of Richard as England’s next ruler, and not just because he’s her favorite. Richard, known later as Richard the Lionheart, is a great miliary leader and a proven warrior, and Queen Eleanor thinks that a necessary qualification for Henry’s successor, if only because France and England are still fighting over land.

(L-R) Nigel Terry as John, Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor, Anthony Hopkins as Richard, and John Castle as Geoffrey, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Henry is the King of England but also the Lord of Ireland, Count of Anjou (similar to the English Duke of York, which would make Henry second in line to the French throne), and Duke of both Normandy and Aquitaine (in France, through his marriage to Eleanor), and Henry II doesn’t want Richard as the future king of England. Henry has other ideas for his presumptive heir.

John Castle as Geoffrey (L), and Nigel Terry as John, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Henry wants his youngest son John (Nigel Terry) to succeed, not because he’d make a better king but simply because Henry loves John best.

Timothy Dalton as King Philip II of France (L), John Castle as Geoffrey (center), and Nigel Terry as John, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

None of this squabbling over Richard vs. John sits too well with brother Geoffrey (John Castle), who can’t understand why both Henry and Eleanor think their middle son would make a wonderful chancellor to the next king but never seem to think of Geoff as King Geoffrey, so he begins to plot against his father with both Richard and John as well as with one of Henry’s allies.

Jane Merrow as Alais, and Peter O’Toole as Henry II, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Young Princess Alais (Jane Merrow), who’s betrothed to marry the future King of England, doesn’t want any of Henry’s sons to be the future king. As Henry’s lover and long-time mistress, she want’s no one but Henry as king.

Timothy Dalton as King Philip II of France, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Alais’ brother, King Philip II of France (Timothy Dalton, in his film debut) wants the lovely Alais to be wed to the heir to the English throne right away. If that doesn’t happen during this Christmas visit, Philip wants his sister’s dowry back. Since Alais’ dowry is land in France, which both England and France claim at the time, Henry certainly doesn’t want to give back the dowry. Philip already knows this, so he’s plotting with Richard, Geoffrey, and John, and Philip is planning war with Henry, no matter whom he chooses as his successor.

Peter O’Toole as Henry II (L), and Timothy Dalton as King Philip II of France, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Henry’s fighting with his wife and all three of his sons, not only about who will be the next king, but who will get to marry Princess Alais. Henry doesn’t really want to give us Alais either: he’s madly in love with her.

Peter O’Toole as Henry II, and Jane Merrow as Alais (foreground), and Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

And Eleanor, despite inciting rebellion against her husband and king, still madly loves Henry herself, and she’s well aware that Alais just happens to be young enough to give Henry more sons.

The first 15-20 minutes of the film are a bit slow, probably because everyone was trying a little too hard to say, “Look: we’re making a film, not jusstage playplay,” and while we get to see some outdoor shots where we meet the members of the family, none of these initial scenes really adds to the forward movement of the story. Once everyone is gathered together, however, it becomes obvious why this film is a classic.

from L to R: Timothy Dalton, Peter O’Toole, Anthony Hopkins, Katharine Hepburn, John Castle, and (sitting in foreground, L to R) Nigel Terry, and Jane Merrow, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

The script is magnificent, the characters brutally fascinating, and the acting superb: O’Toole most definitely should have won an Oscar for his role as the anxious, angry, roaring Lion who feels his own winter coming on far too quickly and who is willing to do almost anything to prevent the destruction of his kingdom.

Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Peter O’Toole as Henry II of England, The Lion in Winter (1968) ©

Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Actor (O’Toole) and Best Costume Design (Margaret Furse), the film won three: Best Actress (Hepburn), Best Adapted Screenplay (James Goldman), and Best Music Score (John Barry). Lion in Winter also won BAFTAs for Hepburn and composer Barry, and won Golden Globes in Best Picture, and Best Actor for Peter O’Toole as the fiery Henry II.

Available for rent ($1.99-3.99) or purchase from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, GooglePlay, and Vudu.

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Filed under Actors, Classic Films, Film Videos, Films, Films/Movies, Historical Drama, History, Official Film Trailers, Official Movie Trailers, Official Trailers, Review, Review/No Spoilers

But This Isn’t a Detective Story: Agatha Christie’s Crooked House, the Film

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I’ve loved detective fiction since I was 6 and discovered the Nancy Drew mysteries in the bookmobile, preferring Nancy and her pals to the Hardy Boys and their adventures. Later, I dove into Edgar Allan Poe’s mystery stories without even realizing that Poe is credited with the invention of detective fiction in English, with his 1841 publication of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which appeared before the word “detective” even existed. Without even knowing that I was reading a specific genre, I tore through all the works of Wilkie Collins and Agatha Christie, loving the casts of strange and fascinating characters even more than I cared about “whodunnit.” Little did I realize that Agatha Christie was considered the star of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction (1920-1949) when the whodunnit was the primary genre of crime fiction. Nor did I realize that Christie was one of the bestselling novelists of all time: I just knew she wrote lots of books and the bookmobile seemed to have all of them. Most importantly, I liked her books very much.

Gillian Anderson as Magda, and Julian Sands as Philip, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

I wasn’t as interested in Christie’s plots as much as I was in her flawed but vitally interesting characters. I often guessed whodunnit and was unimpressed with many of the detectives, not realizing that the amateur or inept investigator is one of the tropes. Gosh, I didn’t even know what a “trope” was, let alone that genre authors used recurring types of characters, themes, or plot devices in their books. And I certainly didn’t realize that many of the detective stories I read had “several classic features,” such as a large, rambling country estate where a group of equally suspect characters distracted the sometimes amateur investigator (and readers) while the least suspicious character continued to commit the murders. I did, however, learn to ignore “red herrings” before I realized there was a term for it, if only because I concentrated instead on the characters themselves, little caring who had actually committed the crime. It wasn’t the murder or the initial victim that I was interested in. I liked all the people involuntarily pushed together after the crime, where they flailed and fought against their lives, against fate, and against each other.

Crooked House, First British Edition, 1949 ©

I still read mystery fiction, though these days I prefer the hard-boiled or noir genres. Again, it’s the characters that interest me, not the crimes or even the process of solving the murder. So it was with great surprise that I saw a 2017 film version of one of Agatha Christie’s classics, Crooked House, which she herself listed as one of the favorites of her own works. I’d heard of the book, and have it on my TBR list, but I hadn’t heard of the film, and I tend to notice films that are adapted from books pretty quickly, especially when the screenwriter is Julien Fellowes, of Downton Abbey fame since I so love his work. With a cast of excellent actors playing atrociously selfish and seriously flawed characters, Crooked House is one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Perhaps because I had not read the Agatha Christie novel of the same name on which it is based, I came for the actors and stayed for the characters, watching it again immediately afterward to see all the delightful ways the author — and the screenwriter — give clues, scatter red herrings, and create the kind of ambivalent characters that I adore.

Stefanie Martini as Sophia Leonides, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Dark and moody, the film begins with the detective’s office, where an unnamed lady is waiting, without an appointment, and where viewers immediately learn that she and the private investigator have some prior relationship. Beautiful, young, vastly wealthy Sophia Leonides (Stefanie Martini) requests that her former lover Charles Hayward (Max Irons) come to her family’s estate because she believes her grandfather’s recent death may have been murder. Further, she is afraid that the murderer is still in the house.

Max Irons as Investigator Charles Hayward, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Because the investigating business is not going so well and he needs the money, because Charles doesn’t want to work at Scotland Yard in the shadow of his own famous father’s career nor under the eye of his father’s colleague, Chief Inspector Taverner (Terence Stamp),

Terence Stamp as Chief Inspector Taverner, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

who constantly reminds Charles of how his father sat, leaned forward, looked, acted; and perhaps because he’s never gotten over being summarily and without explanation abandoned by the lovely Sophia, Charles goes to the house — the big and gorgeous country estate house — to talk to the Leonides family members.

What a group! Charles immediately meets the family matriarch, Aunt Edith aka Lady Edith de Haviland (Glenn Close) who wields s shotgun like a pro and laughs at Charles’ delusions that he “saved Sophia” when the two were in Cairo.

Glenn Close as Lady Edith, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Aunt Edith came to the Leonides’ English estate years ago, from America, to nurse her dying sister. After her sister’s death, Edith stayed on to run the household, and raise the murdered man’s two sons, Philip and Roger.

All grown up, with wives and children, the boys still live at their father’s home, on their father’s money, though each has his own reasons for doing so.

Julian Sands as oldest son Philip Leonides, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Sophia’s father Philip (Julian Sands) is an author and a playwright, who had some minor financial troubles that forced him to return home and live under his father’s controlling and manipulative domination.

Gillian Anderson as Philip’s wife Magda, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Philip’s wife — Sophia’s mother — Magda (Gillian Anderson) is a once-glamorous, heavy-drinking, stage actor who has delusions of grandeur and talent. She’s convinced she could become a film star if only her father-in-law would give them the funds to produce her husband’s brilliant screenplay, written specifically for her as the lead. Now that her father-in-law is dead, however, she fears that she will continue to wither away in relative obscurity on the estate, albeit in the company of her husband Philip, her eldest daughter Sophia, her disgruntled and angry teenage son Eustace (Preston Nyman, below), and her youngest daughter Josephine.

Glenn Close as Lady Edith, and Preston Nyman as Eustace Leonides, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Twelve-year-old Josephine (Honor Kneafsey), who loves ballet and wanted to become a dancer, welcomes Charles to the estate because she loves to read detective fiction almost as much as she loves to spy on family members via a telescope from her treehouse.

Honor Kneafsey as Josephine, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Because she then writes everything down in a journal that she never shows to anyone, her family is convinced that she is writing down their secrets.

Christian McKay as younger brother Roger Leonides, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Youngest brother Roger (Christian McKay) also lives at his father’s home, ostensibly because it is he, rather than his older brother Philip, who runs his father’s business.

Amanda Abbington as Roger’s wife Clemency, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Roger is an angry young man, and though his prickly wife Clemency (Amanda Abbington) attempts without success to keep her husband’s outbursts under control, it is soon clear that both of them resent their father’s new wife more than anything else.

Christina Hendricks as the new, much younger wife, Brenda, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Of course, the new, much younger wife is everything you’d expect in a story like this. A former Las Vegas showgirl, Brenda (Christina Hendricks) is naïve, voluptuous, and rumored to be having an affair with Laurence (John Heffernan),

John Heffernan as the tutor, Laurence, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

the tutor of Philip’s children Eustace and Josephine, as well as the ghost-writer of the deceased patriarch’s memoir, the only copy of which seems to have been stolen.

Roger Ashton-Griffith as the family attorney, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

Now, just for fun, throw in a bumbling family attorney (Roger Ashton-Griffiths, who’s no doubt best known as the bumbling Mace Tyrell in Game of Thrones, who suddenly realizes that, inexplicably, the Old Man Leonides’ will most recent will, where everyone in the family was equitably and reasonably provided for, was never actually signed. That means everything — the estate, the businesses, the vast fortune — goes to the widow. That American, that dance-hall trollop, that Brenda, who probably — insists virtually everyone in the family — knew all about the unsigned will and so had the most motive of anyone to commit the murder in the first place.

Jenny Galloway as Nanny, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

And for even more fun and intrigue, stir in old Nanny (Jenny Galloway), who fears that she’s soon to lose her comfortable job and home because the widow, who is without children, won’t need a nanny, and because Nanny’s youngest charge, Josephine, is now too old to have a nanny anyway. Now make Nanny obsessed with getting that nasty journal away from Josephine because… well, just because… it’s a nasty, dirty book. And Nanny hasn’t even read it.

The family dinner, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

By the time Charles’ third-hand car won’t start and he has to stay the night and we get to the family dinner — the first time we actually see all the family members in the same room actually interacting with each other — this party is roaring dangerously, combustibly hot.

Glenn Close as Lady Edith de Haviland, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

When Lady Edith asks Charles to tell them what a murderer is really like, he rather smugly lists a murderer’s traits as “vanity, distorted morality, a lack of empathy, and a tendency to believe they’re above the rules that govern others.” The rest of the family’s rather bored expressions, along with Lady Edith’s boisterous laughter as she quips “that description fits every member of this family,” are no surprise. After all, no one knows villains so well as their fellow villains.

A few critics felt that the cast of accomplished actors in Crooked House  “promised… more than it could deliver” or that the the film was “flawed” though a “top-notch period piece.” Emily Yoshida of Vulture described the the film as “directed with slightly sleepy, but entertainingly morbid style” and said that, ultimately, Crooked House knew what its job was and did it: “to set up a tangled web of colorful characters, throw in a few red herrings, set off its dynamite, and make its exit while the smoke is still in the air.”

Stefanie Martini as Sophia, Julian Sands as her father Philip, and Gillian Anderson as her mother Magda, Crooked House © Sony Pictures

From the bumbling, naïve, inept investigator to the thoroughly despised former-showgirl young wife, from the two bickering, resentful, completely spoiled brothers to their angry or utterly vain yet bewildered wives, it is this tangled web of deliciously twisted characters that makes Crooked House worth watching. If you haven’t read the novel on which it was based, even better: then everyone in the film can surprise you.

Like me, you may find that you don’t actually care who committed the murders. Yes, murders, because, as detective-fiction fan Josephine points out, there’s always another murder. If you haven’t read the book, you’ll be both delighted and horrified when you finally learn who, actually, done it all. And while the younger stars are certainly talented, it is Glenn Close, as Lady Edith, and Gillian Anderson, as Magda, who shine as hot and bright as their characters’ falling stars.

Unfortunately, although this film is free to watch for Amazon Prime members, it is not yet available via rental, only purchase ($14.99) from Amazon, YouTube,and GooglePlay. If you do buy it, you won’t regret it.

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Maybe It Was the Heat of the Sun, Maybe It Was Something Much Hotter: Hombre, the Film

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If you’re not a fan of Elmore Leonard, you should be. He’s one of the best storytellers around, renowned for his gritty realism, his succinct and highly memorable dialogue, his intense characters, and conflicts that turn audience expectations upside-down and backward before rolling those expectations down a steep hill. Twenty-six of Leonard’s stories and novels have been turned into films or television series, and you can always pick out the original dialogue because, as he memorably quipped, “if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it” and “I try to leave out the parts that readers skip” (Ten Rules of Writing).

Whether you’re a fan of his early Westerns or his later crime fiction, you can never go wrong reading one of Elmore Leonard’s pieces of fiction or watching one of the dramatic adaptations of his work. “Edgy” and “unexpected” are probably two of the best adjectives to describe his fiction, although he’d no doubt object to my using so many adjectives, since he was famous for describing his characters as little as possible, letting their dialogue and their actions reveal all that was essential in their natures.

Paul Newman as John Russell, Diane Cilento as Jessie, and Margaret Blye as Doris, Hombe ©

Based on the novel of the same name by Elmore Leonard, Hombre (1967), the film is everything you’d expect from Elmore Leonard, but nothing you’d typically expect from Hollywood, espcially in the 1960s. If you were to see the advertisement, you’d think it was just another white man raised by Indians trying to return to white society where nobody wants him kind of movie. “Ah, yes,” wrote Roger Ebert in his original review of the film, “we know the characters well from a thousand other Westerns”:

The good but indecisive Mexican, the decisive but bad Mexican, the thieving Indian agent, his cultured wife, the desperado, the lady boarding house operator with a heart of gold, and the Kid.

While those are, indeed, some of characters in this story, Hombre goes far beyond the Western tropes and clichés to become an examination of morality, human nature, and the struggle to survive.

Some critics call Hombre a “revisionist Western” because it shows Indians — or, at least, a white man who was raised by Indians — in a way that’s different from the shrieking savages riding circles around burning covered wagons that Hollywood typically portrayed. But the film is not really interested in the conflict between the races, although racism certainly is a significant part of the characters’ natures and contributes to many of the film’s conflicts. Instead, Hombre is about human conflict, no matter the race, the gender, or the age of the character. And that’s what makes this film a classic.

Paul Newman as John Russell, Hombre ©

Hombre opens with a blue-eyed Indian (Paul Newman) and a band of fellow Apaches patiently waiting for a group of horses to come down to a waterhole, which they have fenced off in order to capture them.

Peter Lazer as the Kid, Hombre ©

A Kid (Peter Lazer) comes down and tells the blue-eyed Indian, whose adopted name is John Russell, that Henry Mendez wants to see him about an important matter.

Martin Balsam as Mendez, and Paul Newman as John Russell, Hombre ©

When John Russell goes to see Mendez (Martin Balsam), a half-Mexican, half-white stage driver, he tells Russell that his adopted father has died and left him a boarding house that actually makes money. Mendez encourages Russell to “accept” his own half-white heritage and take ownership of the boarding house, which would make his life easier. Mendez also encourages Russell to cut his hair so that other whites will accept him more easily.

Paul Newman as John Russell, Hombre ©

Meanwhile, at the boarding house, the woman who has been running it for years is nervously anticipating the new owner’s arrival.

Diane Cilento as Jessie, Hombre ©

Jessie (Diane Cilento) even tosses her sheriff-boyfriend Frank (Cameron Mitchell) out of her bed, sending him back to his own room in the boarding house, since she isn’t sure how the new owner will take such “immoral” relations. She gets the house ready for John Russell’s arrival, even polishing the silver, causing Mendez to laugh, telling her that Russell “eats with his fingers,” so she’s going through a lot of work for nothing.

Cameron Mitchell as Sheriff Frank, Hombre ©

Russell doesn’t want the silver because he doesn’t even want the boarding house. He intends to sell it, leaving Jessie out of a place to live and of an income. After she attempts to convince her boyfriend — Sheriff Frank — to marry her, she decides it’s time to leave and start a new life somewhere else.

Margaret Blye as Doris, and Peter Lazer as the Kid (Billy), Hombre ©

At the station, two other boarding house residents are also waiting to leave so they can start a new life: the Kid, whose name is Billy, and his wife Doris (Margaret Blye), who apparently married Billy to escape a brutal, unhappy life with her father, only to have an equally unhappy life with her new husband. She believes if they start their life somewhere else, their relations will improve, and Billy hasn’t much choice except to go along with her.

Barbara Rush as Audra Favor, and Fredric March as Reverend Dr. Alex Favor, Hombre ©

While this group is waiting for the stage’s departure, an obviously wealthy woman (Barbara Rush) and her older husband (Fredric March) come into the station. When Mendez informs them that they cannot hire the stage to get to their destination in three days, Mrs Favor buys the stage, horses and all, to ensure that she and Favor are able to make their trip.

Richard Boone as the Bad Guy, Hombre ©

Later that night, the Bad Guy (Richard Boone) comes into the station and insists on taking one of the passengers’ places on the stage. After he intimidates an army officer into giving up his seat, he joins the rest of the passengers on a journey that, rather than being merely the trope of strangers on a journey in a stagecoach who are forced to form a community, albeit a temporary one, becomes, instead, a journey that will show the racial, cultural, and economic tensions that divide everyone in the group.

All the gang in Hombre ©

When the stage driver Mendez attempts to go a different route to avoid three strangers that he fears are highwaymen who want to rob the passengers, the group is attacked by some people they never expected to fear. Stranded in the desert with the money the outlaws want, they attempt to return to the town they left. The outlaws, who have a hostage and some of the water, follow the group, willing to kill any and all of them for the fortune they stole from the stage.

Paul Newman as John Russell, Hombre ©

As if an abundant stolen fortune and a serious lack of water in the desert weren’t enough for a group of clashing personalities to deal with, the group members turn on each other for every reason imaginable, revealing the greed, misogyny, racism, and elitism that makes this Western more than a cowboys vs. Indians, white men vs. non-white men, good vs. evil tale. Virtually everyone in this story is selfish and ugly, everyone wants something he can’t have without hurting someone else, and everyone seems ready to betray everyone else in order to survive.

Hombre is an “excellent example of how violence is more effective the less it’s used,” and the emotional and cultural violence is more important to the story than any of the physical violence, most of which, including the murders, is not graphic. With outstanding performances by Newman (John Russell/Hombre), Boone (Bad Guy), and Cilento (Jessie),  Hombre‘s messages are far more brutal than its shootouts.

Available for rent ($2.99-3.99 SD/HD) from Amazon (free with a 7-day trial of Starz), GooglePlay, YouTube (not available for iOS), and Vudu. Always free for Starz or DirecTV subscribers.

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Walking Around in Someone Else’s Skin: The Classic Film, To Kill A Mockingbird

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Usually considered to have originated with Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto (1764), which was subtitled “A Gothic Story,” Gothic fiction is literature that attempts to combine elements of romance, mystery, and horror — without becoming either too fantastic or too realistic. Initially featuring decaying castles, curses, ghosts or other supernatural creatures and events, madness, murder, and “oft-fainting heroines,” Gothic fiction was hugely popular entertainment.

About a generation after Walpole, Ann Radcliffe introduced the brooding Gothic villain in her novel A Sicilian Romance: a tempestuous, moody, sometimes secretive, and extremely passionate male who usually encounters a heroine that completely upsets his life. Later this type of “villain” would be called the Romantic era’s “Byronic hero.” Radcliffe also introduced more independent heroines to Gothic fiction with her bestselling The Mysteries of Udolpho. Though Radcliffe’s heroines are still pretty helpless and faint far more than anyone I’ve ever encountered, they inspired “gothic feminism” which critics claim the author herself expressed as “female power through pretended and staged weakness.” Further, Radcliffe changed the infant genre of Gothic fiction by introducing the “explained supernatural,” where all the apparently supernatural events, from ghosts and moving furniture to strange knocks and cries in the dark, turn out, eventually, to have perfectly reasonable, natural explanations.

Gothic fiction and its various, evolving components spread into the literature of the Romantic era, appearing in the poetry of Keats, Shelley, Coleridge, Byron, and Poe. In the Victorian era, Gothic elements were more prominent in fiction, and are found in the work Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol), Bram Stoker (Dracula), Robert Louis Stevenson (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein), Emily Brontë (Wuthering Heights), and Charlotte Brontë (Jane Eyre).

Many of these Victorian authors added strong moral elements to their Gothic fiction, producing novels that questioned everything from man’s relationship with newly developing technologies and medical advances to man’s responsibility for feeding and educating the poor. Gothic literature became more than entertainment to pass the long hours of a dark and rainy night: it explored the meaning of life, morality, social responsibility, and man’s relationship to the Divine.

As Gothic fiction spread to authors in America, especially in the South, it became a sub-genre called Southern Gothic. Authors like Faulkner, Caldwell, McCullers, O’Connor, Capote, and Percy examined family relationships, sexuality, poverty, race, and the Southern myths of an idyllic antebellum past. Southern Gothic is filled with

deeply flawed, disturbing, or eccentric characters… ambivalent gender roles, decayed or derelict settings, grotesque situations, and other sinister events relating to or stemming from poverty, alienation, crime, or violence.

With its particular focus on the South’s history of slavery, Southern Gothic became a vehicle for fierce social critique.

Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic of both American fiction and Southern Gothic. A coming-of-age story set in the fictional “tired old town” of Maycomb, Alabama from 1933-1936, during the Great Depression, the novel examines everything from family relationships and mental health to societal responsibilities, poverty, violence, and crime. The 1962 film version, adapted from the novel by Horton Foote, eliminated some of the novel’s childhood adventures to concentrate on the aspects of its storyline that make To Kill a Mockingbird so important to American literature and film: the ugly and intractable racism between whites and blacks, a bigotry and intolerance that still exists over most of the country.

Mary Badham as Scout (forefront) with author Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

The film’s (unseen) narrator looks back on her six-year-old self and on the events that changed her from an innocent to a more mature child. In 1933, Scout (Mary Badham) and her brother Jem (Phillip Alford) live in Maycomb, Alabama with their widowed father Atticus (Gregory Peck).

Mary Badham as Scout, Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, and Phillip Alford as Jem, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Together with a visiting neighbor, Dill (John Megna, modeled after Harper Lee’s lifelong friend Truman Capote, who spent summers next door to the Lees with his aunts), Scout and Jem roam around the neighborhood and create their own adventures.

John Megna as Dill, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

One of their most exciting “games” is scaring each other with stories about the never-seen Boo Radley (Robert Duvall, in his film debut),

Robert Duvall as Boo Radley, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

who lives just a few doors down and who is rumored to be a crazed, scissors-wielding psychopath, once locked up in the courthouse basement jail.

Paul Fix as Judge Taylor, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Late one night, Judge Taylor (Paul Fix) comes over to request that Atticus serve as the appointed defense counsel for Tom Robinson (Brock Peters),

Gregory Peck as Atticus, and Brock Peters as Tom Robinson, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

a black man who has been accused of brutally beating and raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox).

Collin Wilcox as Mayella Ewell (foreground), and Paul Fix as Judge Taylor (background), To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Atticus agrees, but despite his attempts to shield his children from the consequences of his decision to represent a black man in a racially charged crime, Scout and Jem soon become involved in the racial “war” brewing around them.

Collin Wilcox as Mayella, and James Anderson as Bob Ewell (both, foreground), To Kill A Mockingbird ©

In particular, the father of the ostensible rape victim, Bob Ewell (James Anderson) tries several times to intimidate Atticus into quitting the case. When that doesn’t work, Ewell threatens violence against Atticus and his children.

Phillip Alford as Jem, and Mary Badham as Scout, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Though the children continue to find “gifts” in the hollow of a nearby tree, these gifts and their former adventures pale in significance to the events surrounding the crime concerning Tom Robinson and Mayella Ewell.

Gregory Peck as Atticus, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

By the time the trial starts, most of the town is divided and angry. Though Atticus warns his children to stay away from the courthouse completely, Jem refuses to be barred from the biggest event in the county, and Scout refuses to be left behind at home if Jem and Dill are going to the courthouse.

Phillip Alford as Jem, Mary Badham as Scout, and John Megna as Dill (L-R, foreground), with William Walker as Reverend Sykes (background, wearing suit and tie) To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Without Atticus’ knowledge or permission, Scout, Jem, and Dill sit in the gallery, in the “Negro section” of the court, and watch the entire trial.

William Windom as District Attorney (L), James Anderson as Bob Ewell (center), and Paul Fix as Judge Taylor (background R), To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Judge Taylor presides as the District Attorney (William Windom, in his film debut) badgers witnesses and makes his opinions about Tom Robinson’s guilt clear. Despite the fact that viewers can have no doubt whatsoever about the jury’s eventual verdict, the courtroom scenes are intensely riveting, especially when Atticus cross-examines Mayella herself.

Gregory Peck as Atticus, To Kill A Mockingbird ©

Though the verdict is not in question, Mayella’s father, angry at the Atticus’ not-so-subtle accusations of incest and child abuse, provokes Atticus repeatedly in an attempt to draw him into a physical confrontation. Then, he decides to provoke Atticus by going after his children.

Nominated for 8 Academy Awards, To Kill a Mockingbird won three Oscars:
Best Actor for Gregory Peck, Best Adapted Screenplay for Horton Foote, and Best Art Direction (set design, Black-and-White).

The film also won Golden Globes for Best Actor in a Drama (Gregory Peck), Best Original Score (Elmer Bernstein), and Best Film for Promoting International Understanding (to director Robert Mulligan).

When released, To Kill a Mockingbird was an overwhelming critical and popular success, earning more than 10 times its budget in 1962. To Kill a Mockingbird has gone on to become a classic, with the film listed 25th on the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time (2007 list) [#34 on the 1998 list], and taking the top spot in AFI’s Top 10 Courtroom Dramas. Gregory Peck’s character Atticus Finch reigns as AFI’s 100 Greatest Heroes.

Everyone should see this film, though children under 12 may need to be cautioned about the subject matter and the language as this film deals openly with rape, clearly suggests incest, and uses language appropriate to the time and place of its story.

Be sure to watch the black-and-white version of To Kill a Mockingbird, not the colorized one: those who colorized it obviously completely missed the symbolism behind the story’s being filmed in black-and-white instead of in color. Available for rent ($2.99-3.99 SD/HD) from Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, GooglePlay, and Vudu.

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