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Rendezvous (1935)

It seems no matter what role he plays, William Powell has a hard time avoiding crime-solving. He played a detective in a variety of movies and film series and apparently just had the cool, suited sleuth thing pegged. In Rendezvous, Powell’s character is a want-to-be front-line soldier who instead is ordered to work in code cracking. Although this sounds like a miserable desk job to the character, it will nevertheless have Powell collecting evidence in the field, just not the field he wanted to be on.

Two days before boarding a train from England to France to fight in WWII, Powell’s Lt. Gordon meets the lovely Joel Carter (Rosalind Russell) and tricks her into kissing him goodbye. Joel has an uncle in the cryptology sect of the military, but Gordon does not know that when he reveals that he wrote a very popular code-cracking book under a pseudonym and has been sought by the military ever since. Just as he is about to board the train, he is given orders to report to this Assistant Secretary of War John Carter (Samuel S. Hinds).

Gordon is miserable spending his days and nights trying to solve complex codes intercepted from the Germans and knows Joel is the one who put him there. Once he breaks a code, however, he is promoted to a fancier desk. By this point, Major Brennan (Lionel Atwill) has been murdered by his mistress (a spy), and Gordon casually interrogates this Olivia, played by Binnie Barnes. His work leads him to have dinner with the young woman, making Joel frivolously jealous. During his dinner, another American soldier and Joel’s ex-beau, Col. Nieterstein (Cesar Romero), is “given up” by the gang of spies to which Olivia belongs.

Gordon will eventually nail all the spies to the wall and save a U.S. battleship from enemy destruction, but not before Joel is kidnapped and he fends off flying bullets. He might also get a chance to finally go the battlefield, but not if his love interest can help it.

Rendezvous was an amusing flick that at least diversified Powell’s detective character from others he has played. He naturally, however, plays the same man we always see in these movies: too cool to admit he loves the woman, too cool to really let that villainous lady get the best of him, and too cool to let “being nabbed” by the enemy take him off guard.

Russell, however, brings all sorts of zany fun to the story. She makes an utter fool of herself once she has fallen for Powell’s character, but it is always fun to see her comedic side. This was her first star billing in a film in a part that was originally intended for Powell’s often partner Myrna Loy. The ending of the film was also tinkered with during production to come up with a satisfying end, and Russell’s great work led to one that more prominently featured her part. I cannot imagine Loy in this role as her performance could not have been as goofy as Russell’s. It was certainly a great cast in the end.

Source: TCM.com

Wife vs. Secretary

Ring a Ding Ding

Wife vs. Secretary (1936)

     Based on the title, I was expecting a very different movie starring Clark Gable, a man whose characters are not particularly known for fidelity. I also expected a different battle in Wife vs. Secretary between such disparate actresses as Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow.

     I am sure you can guess who plays wife to Gable’s Van Stanhope: Myrna Loy as Linda. Van is a bigshot magazine executive who is super devoted and in love with his wife but has an awfully handy and attractive secretary in “Whitey” (Harlow). The latter relationship appears to be plutonic, although Whitey is certainly more devoted to her boss than her weasly boyfriend, played by Jimmy Stewart

     Linda does not think anything of her husband’s working relationship until she is warned by Van’s mother (May Robson) and a business visit by the secretary during a party sparks whispers among the guests. Now everything her husband does seems suspicious, especially a convention trip to Havana at which Whitey arrives the next day and answers Van’s phone at 2 a.m. 

     As toward as this might seem, everything between Van and Whitey is on the level. He had summoned her south to help write up a contract for a last-minute deal to buy a competing magazine. The two stayed up all one night finalizing the papers and partied the next after the sale. Both worse for the wear, we see a moment when the dull-faced boss and subordinate sit on the bed and potentially contemplate something more, but Whitey declares their drunkenness is reason enough for her to leave. Before she can exit, however, the phone rings. Being a secretary, White answers it and all parties soon know what Linda must think.

     Linda pursues a divorce and Whitey tells the woman she has every intention of landing Van once it is finalized. Her motives are not terribly sinister, however, as she essentially encourages a reconciliation.

     Gable was fantastic in Wife vs. Secretary. He displays such passion with Loy, scooping her into his arms and smootching her to death on numerous occasions. That was something I was not expecting from this movie, as the title seemed to suggest a cold wife and a more appealing secretary who perhaps truly battle for the man. Gable’s relationship with Harlow can be described as nothing but cute. He treats her with the respect of a man but does not deny her femininity.

     Harlow is also quite different in this picture compared to the others she made with Gable. Her hair is a duller blonde, which serves to tame her sex appeal/vixen tendencies. She plays the role as a totally fun-loving gal, leaving us no reason to hate her. Loy also is charming and only becomes unsavory after she leaves Van on incorrect presumptions.  Wife vs. Secretary was loads of fun, full of humor and good intentions.

The Ex-Mrs. Bradford


The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936)

     My favorite women are those beautiful stars who make me laugh. These actresses seemed to be drawn to co-starring with the enduringly funny William Powell just as much as I am drawn to them. Myrna Loy made an endless number of features opposite Powell and Carole Lombard starred with and married the man. The Ex-Mrs. Bradford is my latest find in humorous Powell pairings, this time with the fantastic comedienne Jean Arthur.

     Powell falls back into his reluctant detective role for The Ex-Mrs. Bradford in playing doctor/surgeon Lawrence Bradford. Arthur is his ex-wife Paula who is a murder mystery novelist and often got her husband mixed into real-life murders. Despite being divorced, she again ropes him into an adventure to solve the case of a dead jockey.
     This jockey died during a race and was thought to have been killed from the throw from his horse, yet he suffered no broken bones suggesting he was dead when he hit the ground. Bradford performs an autopsy and finds only a strange substance that Paula later has identified as gelatin. After discussions with horse trainer Mike North (Frank M. Thomas) and some strange phone calls and a villain in his apartment, Lawrence finds himself in deeper than he intended. Things get worse when a dead Mike North rings his doorbell just before the police arrive.
     Bradford goes somewhat on the lam as he tries to track down the necessary clues to solve both murders and absolve himself. What he finds are half a dozen suspects, another corpse and a complex plot involving horse gambling.
     The Ex-Mrs. Bradford is one of those mysteries that is nearly impossible to follow because there are far too many names being flung about and too few faces to go with them. Bradford himself does not even know the actual murderer until we do as he uses a typical device of inviting all the suspects to an exclusive party at his home. And like many mysteries, it does not matter so much who the murderer is as we are more interested in how the crime was committed and why.
     Like Loy before her, Arthur makes a great companion for a sleuth because she is not frightened by the grizzly details that accompany murder cases. As her husband twice struggles on the ground with a culprit, she lends her support by hurling a vase at the bad guy’s head only to miss and take out her beloved instead. The blonde is full of pep and smarts in addition to being delightful arm candy for the hero. The actual ex-wife aspect of the plot is essentially unnecessary in the grand scheme of things as we see from the start how well suited the duo are for one another and assume they will reunite. Perhaps this device works well as a title for the film and differentiated it from the Thin Man  movies Powell had already popularized, one of which was also released in 1936.
     Arthur was only at the start of her rise to grand stardom having appeared in her smash hit Mr. Deeds Goes to Town earlier that year. She had appeared in supporting roles alongside Powell and he was impressed with her, leading to his agreement to be loaned out for this collaboration. The film was highly successful as is no surprise given the great chemistry between the couple.

Above Suspicion


Above Suspicion (1943)

     At first blush, Above Suspicion seems to be a spy comedy of sorts, given its star of Fred MacMurray and original casting of William Powell and Myrna Loy. As the plot progresses, however, the audience finds itself steeped in the treacherous landscape of Nazi espionage. 

     The picture starts out on a light-hearted note as MacMurray, nearly always a funny guy, walks out of an Oxford chapel with Joan Crawford on his arm. The newly married couple have their honeymoon interrupted almost immediately by an assignment to essentially act as spies during their Germany honeymoon and track down a missing agent. Crawford’s character’s response to the proposition is one of sheer delight at the prospect of spy life, but that jolly approach will not last too long.

     MacMurray is Oxford professor Richard Myles and Crawford is his bride Frances. Their first honeymoon stop is France where the two attend a cafe –with Frances in a rose-adorned hat– and spill their drink. They next utter a code line to signal their contact to meet them later. The next stop is a restaurant where their contact does not speak to the couple but leaves a map of Southern Germany filled with clues in Richard’s coat pocket. The young couple revel at translating the dots and holes into an indication of their next step.

     The first top in Germany is a book store where a man tells them where to find their next contact. Instead, the suspicious hotel staff point the Myles toward a concert where a German officer is shot by their hotelmate Thornley (Bruce Lester), who was also once engaged in similar spy work and had is fiancée tortured to death in the process. The couple next move on to a remote mountain village where they track down a chess collector who happens to be the man they are looking for. Unfortunately, another man is masquerading as the professor they seek and has the spy tied up. The Myles’ manage to escape, return for the Professor Mespullbrun (Reginald Owen) and make another clean escape. Their work is far from finished, however, and the most difficult tasks have yet to come with Conrad Veidt‘s Seidel to help them along.

     Never before have I seen Crawford so cheery as in Above Suspicion. She is in the height of her career and yet her character’s persona has a young energy to it that makes her highly appealing as a wife character and protagonist. It is worth noting, however, that in a scene where Frances is meant to have been beaten about the face, a close up of the actress provides favorable lighting that makes her appear more beautiful than at other moments in the film. Crawford was good at getting her way on aspects like this. Even when her characters were meant to appear worn down, she made efforts to look beautiful (see Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and the makeup and false breasts she uses to amp up her appeal).

     As mentioned, this picture was originally meant for a Powell-Loy repairing to get them out of the Thin Man setting that had become their mainstay together. It was Loy’s departure from MGM, however, that resulted in the recasting of the Above Suspicion. Speaking of cast members, Veidt makes his final screen performance here before dying from a heart attack later in 1943. The German film star, who like many of his contemporaries fled the country upon Hitler’s rise to power only to be cast as Nazis in American films, nicely rounds out his career by playing a German working for the good guys. His character begins rather ambiguously, and like many other aspects of this movie, one has trouble discerning whether he is sinister or an ally. Veidt made fewer than 30 films during the 50 years of his life, but left an indelible mark on cinema history.

Source: Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine, TCM.com

Feature: Classic Movie Gossip – Remakes

So I’m not terribly up on what movies are being considered for production in Hollywood these days, but I have caught wind of a couple remakes of classic movies on the forefront.

I just learned from a post by Angela at The Hollywood Revue that Johnny Depp is for certain set to play Nick Charles in a redo of The Thin Man. You’ll know from reading my post on that/those films that I love them and the fabulous performances by William Powell and Myna Loy, one of the greatest movie teams in cinema history. It sounds like only Depp has been cast so far and that the movie will be based on the book by Dashiell Hammett. Although I think Depp lacks the ability to play sophistication with the same ease as Powell, I am even more concerned with the role of Nora Charles. Loy plays such an off-beat woman. Although she is constantly pleading her husband to stay away from the detective work of his past, she is a tough broad who might be even funnier than Powell. In one scene in the first flick in the series, Powell socks her in the jaw to prevent her from being shot. She wakes up to complain she wanted to see her hubby take out the hoodlum.

I also heard a couple months ago about a proposed remake of A Star is Born starring … wait for it … Beyoncé! It would be directed by Clint Eastwood, which is even weirder. Now I concede that the Judy Garland version is itself a remake of an earlier Janet Gaynor version (and there was a 1976 version starring Barbra Streisand that I’ve heard no one mention), but the later movie far outshines the first and is a landmark in Garland’s career as it was a comeback after so many troubling times. The greatest problem I have with this proposal is obviously Beyoncé. I think we all remember how she was outshined by newcomer Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls. The chick is not exactly a great actress or starring role material, and she cannot expect to sing her way through that entire film.

I’m not certain I have ever knowingly seen a remake of a favorite classic film. I liked the recent 3:10 to Yuma but have no interest in the original even though I have heard it is better. Westerns, you know. Not my fave. I have watched original versions upon discovering their existence, but I have not hit the theater for a redo on purpose.

On a similar note, Martin Scorsese has a Frank Sinatra biopic scheduled for 2013 that has me concerned. I’m a big Sinatra fan, so I am pretty convinced I will not be satisfied with anyone in that role. I have also read at least five books on the guy, so I’m going to spot anything inaccurate. I think I’ve heard Leonardo DiCaprio’s name floated around for this part, which I think is all wrong.

From what I have read from other classic film bloggers, the feeling seems to be mutual when it comes to remakes of the classics we hold dear. My theory is one should only remake old films that were either obscure or did poorly but still had a good basis for a hit if it was done properly. If anyone can put a positive spin on the concept, I’d be glad to hear it.

What to Watch: New Year’s Eve

If you are like me and are fortunate enough to have New Years Eve day off, TCM has an impressive line up of great classic films to entertain you all day and night long. In essence, the day is comprised of Cary Grant and Marx Brothers marathons, which means Dec. 31 is loaded with laughs, romance and more laughs.

Bringing Up Baby (1938)

I am not sure I would advise anyone to get up early on the day you are supposed to stay up late, but if you’re out of bed by 6 a.m. ET, Bringing Up Baby will get you laughing early on. The cute and absurd tale is of Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and a trained leopard. The opposites incidentally attract plot is full of slapstick and antics that worked so well between the two pros. It, like most films shown Friday, is a requirement for all classic movie fans.

My Favorite Wife (1940)

Next Grnat is paired with the fabulously funny Irene Dunne in My Favorite Wife, airing at 8 a.m. ET. This movie really sold me on Dunne. She is the perfect goofy counterpart to comedic roles Grant played before turning gray, that is to say the more physically silly ones. In this scenario, Dunne returns from years lost at sea just after her husband marries another woman. Grant certainly loves Dunne more than the new broad, so he’s in a tricky situation that Dunne revels in making worse. It kind of has a similar ring to Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which chronicles a married couple who discover their union is not legal. Oh, how fun it is to see the propriety of days gone by face the fact that a duo already has intimate knowledge of each other.

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Another love triangle presents itself in The Philadelphia Story, set to air at 9:30 a.m. ET.  I have mentioned before that I am partial to the musical version of this story, High Society, but that does not preempt the importance of this movie, which re-teams Grant and Hepburn as ex-spouses and adds Jimmy Stewart as a reporter on scene to document Hepburn’s marriage to a new man. The film was written with Hepburn in mind and in effect reversed her Box Office Poison title. The story does a great job of making unpredicatble with whom the woman will end up, although it makes apparent that her fiance is not the winner. This film features the classic moment when Grant, standing outside Hepburn’s door, pushes her down by the face. I once heard someone say that if that move had been perpetrated by any other actor, the move would have been vicious. Grant, however, could get away with anything.

Arsenic & Old Lace (1944)

My favorite slapstick movie is probably Arsenic and Old Lace. At 1:45 p.m. ET Grant will go through a night of familial trauma just after being married to a girl who hardly shows her face in the picture. When Grant discovers his elder aunts have been poisoning lonely men and burying them in the basement, he goes just about as daffy as his uncle who fancies himself as Teddy Roosevelt. Add in criminals Raymond Massey and Peter Lorre and Grant finds himself in such a mess that one cannot but roll with laughter. This flick is pretty good example of Grant’s slapstick charm and a requirement for all of his fans.

The Bachelor & the Bobby-Soxer (1947)

It is probably logical given their comedic talents that Grant and Myrna Loy would be a great pairing. They come together in The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer at 3:45 p.m. ET. I have never been one to pursue Shirley Temple, but as a teenager, she really can be quite appealing. The story is teenager meets playboy meets judge. As both a person of law and older sister to Temple, Loy is none too pleased with her sibling’s infatuation with Grant. In order to cure the girl of her crush, Grant is required to “date” her but in the process falls in love with Loy. The movie is a really cute, sweet, funny time and offered great roles for the leads.

North By Northwest (1959)

I will admit that North By Northwest is not among my favorite Hitchcock movies, despite its popularity. Between the length of the film airing at 5:30 p.m. ET and the use of Eva Marie Saint — who has yet to impress me — as the female lead, it just does not call to me from the DVD shelf. The story, however, is pretty great. It utilizes the “wrong man” storyline Hitchcock used often. Grant is mistaken for a spy and essentially learns the ropes of such a profession as he tries to free himself from opposing forces. Saint’s role in the plot is fun as it slowly reveals itself, but the best entertainment might be what happens in the woman’s room on the train when Grant is hiding out. The macguffin in this one is a roll of microfilm, by the way.

From 8 p.m. through to 7 a.m. or so New Year’s Day, The Marx Brothers will take over the screen. As the recent review would indicate, I have only seen Duck Soup, but I have the rest of them set to record so I can pace myself while discovering more masterpieces. Among the line up are:

  • Animal Crackers (1930) at 8:00 p.m. ET
  • Monkey Business (1931) at 9:45 p.m. ET 
  • Horse Feathers (1932) at 11:15 p.m. ET 
  • Duck Soup (1933) at 12:30 a.m. ET 
  • A Night at the Opera (1935) at 1:45 a.m. ET
  • A Day At The Races (1937) at 3:30 a.m. ET
  • Go West (1940) at 5:30 a.m. ET

Manhattan Melodrama


Manhattan Melodrama (1934)

     Somewhat surprisingly, William Powell and Myrna Loy‘s performances together were not always in the comedic genre that suited them so well. Both were quite competent dramatic actors and Manhattan Melodrama is a great example of that. It also happened to be their first pairing, although you cannot tell because they seem so comfortable together.

     The film opens on one tragedy after another for young boys Blackie (played by Mickey Rooney) and Jim. A boat catches fire resulting in the death of both their mothers and a friend. When the friend’s father takes the boys in, he is shortly thereafter trampled in a riot. The boys are raised by Father Joe and while Blackie perfects his gambling and grifting talents, Jim studies to become a lawyer. Jump to 1930s New York as Jim is elected District Attorney and Blackie is running a successful illegal gambling joint with the police tucked neatly in his pocket. It was pretty easy to predict between Clark Gable and Powell which would play the racketeer and which the upstanding politician. No casting against type here, except maybe initially for Loy. Her Eleanor character begins as the gal on Blackie’s arm, but after meeting Jim on election night, she decides she would prefer a legitimate life and relationship and later hooks up with the DA, quickly becoming his wife. Frankly, it was obvious she was better suited for Powell’s type of man anyway. Loy has never really given the hoodlum’s dame sort of impression.

     The boyhood friendship between Jim and Blackie persists but the two do not see each other often and both are fully aware of the other’s morals. Unfortunately, the breakup with Eleanor has led Blackie to take up murder and Jim must take the case as his first as DA. Although “everyone” knows Blackie is the culprit, the hood provides his lawyer friend with a false piece of evidence that convinces Jim his pal could not be the killer. Matters are further complicated when Jim’s colleague threatens to let loose some “scandalous” information about the now gubernatorial candidate just before yet another Election Day. Blackie involves himself and kills the man but leaves a witness. Still-DA Jim prosecutes the case and sends his best friend toward the electric chair. Once he becomes mayor, he is given the opportunity to commute Blackie’s sentence to life’s imprisonment and so begins an overwhelming struggle.

     I love the premise of Manhattan Melodrama. The concept of two friends growing up in different directions is not a new one, but the set-up between the good and evil roles allows for complicated circumstances. This easily could have been a story about the corruption of a once-honest politician in an effort to protect his shady friend, but instead Jim is presented as possibly the most honest individual that ever lived. He takes his duty as prosecutor and governor above his personal feelings. Even when Eleanor tells him she will leave if he does not offer Blackie clemency, he does not immediately resign to that course. In fact once he learns why Blackie killed the blackmailer, he is even more convinced his pal must die because “the state now has the motive” for the murder, further proving the man’s guilt. Jim’s morals go to extremes at the very conclusion of the film that I do not think would ever be seen in politics today, but I won’t give away the story.

     I gave Manhattan Melodrama the middle-of-the-road rating because although the story is an interesting one, the performances did not overwhelm me and I would not go running to see it again. Powell’s character says at the end of the movie that he will try a new career. Perhaps he meant the couple should change their names to Nick and Nora Charles and pursue some detective work…but I’m just supposing.

  • Manhattan Melodrama is set for 9:30 a.m. ET Feb. 1 on TCM.

Love Crazy


Love Crazy (1941)

     Welcome to part two of the accidental trilogy of marriage movie reviews. I managed to watch three movies over two days that all portrayed life after marriage. The first, No More Ladies, was a drama that makes lover-boys rethink their extramarital affairs. Today’s Love Crazy review and tomorrow’s The Palm Beach Story, were made a year apart and take a comedic, albeit sloppy, approach to legalized romance. Coincidentally, all three films get the same mediocre review.

     I always love a William Powell-Myrna Loy movie because the pair have such great comedic chemistry that I do not think I have seen in any other on-screen recurring couple. Unfortunately for Love Crazy, the plot is as harebrained as Powell’s character becomes. After a number of mishaps interrupt Steve and Susan Ireland’s fourth anniversary plans, Powell’s Steve decides to hit the town with neighbor and former girlfriend Isobel (played by Gail Patrick, who also played a mistress in No More Ladies). Loy’s Susan finds out and in a case of mistaken identity lands in the arms of neighbor Ward Willoughby (Jack Carson). Thinking Steve’s interaction with Isobel was confined to the woman’s apartment, Susan leaves and plans a divorce. Steve hatches a plan to behave insane, which will prevent Susan from ending their marriage, but a series of moves by both parties lands Powell in an asylum.

     The movie is marked by plenty of fun Powell moments, such as his hanging by the head from an elevator door and his “freeing” of top hats into a fountain, but the nonsense escalates to the point that one’s head goes spinning. If I were to describe the entire plot it would consume twice as much space as I have already. Love Crazy is more a showcase of Powell and Loy’s comedic genius than of any coherent story line. Ultimately all misunderstandings and Susan’s adamant divorce plans are easily cleared up with a single line from Susan’s mother, which allows for the duration of the flick to spin out of control but being brought back to balance for a quick, easy ending.

     Of the three marriage movies I am reviewing, this one paints the most pleasant picture of wedlock, at least before things get out of control. Susan and Steve clearly love each other even if Susan’s feelings can be easily reversed over unclear circumstances. Love Crazy also serves to illustrate that once a person is declared insane, it is very difficult to prove that one’s actions, even those made in jest, are not more evidence of an ill state of mind. The movie is an entertaining one for its gags but not one that conveys any strong romantic feeling.

The Thin Man

The Thin Man (1934)


     I first noticed The Thin Man movies when I was working at a retail movie store in college. We had a box set of the collection valued at something like $100. The box itself did not make the movies look like much — some old, boring black-and-white flicks, I figured. On one occasion I had a group of middle-aged folk come in and ask if we had any of the films. I offered them the box set as our only copies and thought there was no chance they would drop the full $100 to get the set, but boy was I surprised. After that sale my interest was certainly peaked, but it was not until more than two years ago when I spotted the first one airing on TCM. I rewatched it last night with Ryan in an attempt to entice him to watch the full series, which I now own in box-set form.

     The Thin Man is the first in a series of films with similar titles but the only one I’ve watched so far for which the title actually makes sense. “The thin man” is not the lead character of William Powell‘s Nick Charles, but of a suspect hunted throughout the entire film and to which is referred as a “thin man” only once, I believe. I’m sure the series continued with the name merely to connect all the films back to the first, which, once you see it, you’ll understand must have been a tremendous hit.

     The Thin Man has the advantage of being a murder-mystery, action, drama and comedy, which as I mentioned on Charade is pretty much my favorite combination. Powell’s retired detective character spends about half the movie trying not to be brought in on the case of a missing man/murder … times three. The mystery is very complex and is impossible for the viewer to disseminate on his own, which is why we rely on Powell to lay the whole story down at the end of the movie.

     The crowning jewel to The Thin Man movies is the Charles family. Myrna Loy plays the wife, Nora, and the comedic chemistry between the two actors truly comes to light. The pair did several other movies with each other, but they are probably at their best in The Thin Man. Nora is a woman “with hair on her chest” who can joke just as thoroughly as her husband. In one instance, to save Nora from being shot, Nick socks her in the jaw before tackling the gunman. Upon revival, the woman says:

Did you have to knock me out? I knew you could take him, but I wanted to see you do it.”

Joining the family is their dog, Asta, a character that adds to the comedy and helps solve the mystery, of course.

     The Thin Man is the perfect picture for anyone’s preference in movies. It works as a family film because it’s as clean as most movies from that era, and it has the excitement and humor for any discerning taste. I must warn, however, that once you see the first, you’re likely to look for the next and might end up buying a box set, as was my fate.

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