AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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West Side Story
Director: Robert Wise (Dir)
Release Date:   1961
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 18 Oct 1961; Los Angeles premiere: 13 Dec 1961; Los Angeles opening: 14 Dec 1961
Production Date:   early Aug 1960--early Feb 1961 in New York City and Samuel Goldwyn Studios
Duration (in mins):   150, 153 or 155
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Cast:   Natalie Wood (Maria)  
    Richard Beymer (Tony)  
    Russ Tamblyn (Riff)  
    Rita Moreno (Anita)  
    George Chakiris (Bernardo)  
    Simon Oakland ([Lieutenant] Schrank)  
    Ned Glass (Doc)  
    William Bramley ([Officer] Krupke)  
    Tony Mordente (Action)  
  The Jets: Tucker Smith (Ice)  
    David Winters (A-rab)  
    Eliot Feld (Baby John)  
    Bert Michaels (Snowboy)  
    David Bean (Tiger)  
    Robert Banas (Joyboy)  
    Scooter Teague (Big Deal)  
    Havey Hohnecker (Mouthpiece)  
    Tommy Abbott (Gee-tar)  
  Their Girls: Susan Oakes (Anybodys)  
    Gina Trikonis (Graziella)  
    Carole D'Andrea (Velma)  
  The Sharks: Jose De Vega (Chino)  
    Jay Norman (Pepe)  
    Gus Trikonis (Indio)  
    Eddie Verso (Juano)  
    Jaime Rogers (Loco)  
    Larry Roquemore (Rocco)  
    Robert Thompson (Luis)  
    Nick Covacevich (Toro)  
    Rudy Del Campo (Del Campo)  
    Andre Tayir (Chile)  
  Their Girls: Yvonne Othon (Consuelo)  
    Suzie Kaye (Rosalia)  
    Joanne Miya (Francisca)  
  [And] John Astin (Glad Hand)  
    Penny Santon (Madam Lucia)  

Summary: In the slums of the upper West Side of Manhattan, New York, a gang of Polish-American teenagers called the Jets compete with a rival gang of recently immigrated Puerto Ricans, the Sharks, to “own” the neighborhood streets. The tension between them is marked by their bullying and tormenting of one another, and when a series of incidents erupts into a fistfight on a playground, two policemen, the bigoted Lt. Schrank and Officer Krupke, arrive in time to break it up. Afterward, Riff, the leader of the Jets, suggests to his companions that they settle their differences with the Sharks once and for all by challenging them to a “rumble,” which is their term for a street fight. Although Riff warns that the Sharks may choose to fight with zip guns or knives rather than fists, the Jets are enthusiastic about his idea. For support, Riff meets with Tony, a former member of the Jets who is like a brother and who now works in a candy store owned by good-hearted Doc. Riff asks Tony to attend a dance at the gym, an area considered neutral territory where Riff can present the challenge to Bernardo, the Shark’s leader. Tony, who has lost interest in promoting violence, reluctantly agrees to accompany him out of friendship. When Tony confides that he has been having premonitions that something special is about to happen to him, Riff suggests that it may be waiting for him at the dance. Meanwhile, Bernardo’s younger sister Maria and his girl friend, Anita, both of whom work at a bridal shop, are finishing a dress for Maria to wear to the dance, which will be her first since immigrating to America a month earlier. Although Bernardo has hopes of her marrying his comrade Chino, Maria tells Anita that she does not have special feelings for her brother’s friend. That evening, at the gym where the dance is held, Bernardo is introducing Maria to other Puerto Ricans, when several members of the Jets arrive. Both gangs are poised to fight, when Glad Hand, the social worker, and Krupke intervene. The dancing continues and soon becomes a competition between the rival gangs and their women, who refuse to intermingle. From opposite sides of the dance floor, Tony and Maria spot each other and, entranced, move toward each other and begin to dance. Seeing them together, Bernardo protectively pulls Maria away, telling her that Tony is only interested in sexual favors, and orders Chino to take her home. Before Bernardo leaves, he and Riff agree to meet later at Doc’s for a “war council,” where they will determine the time and place of the rumble. At his family’s apartment, Bernardo lectures Maria about the dangers in America, but Anita half-jokingly scolds him, saying that in their new country, women are free to see whom they wish. Anita and Bernardo meet with their friends on the rooftop, where they engage in a lively discussion about the pros and cons of living in America. Although the women tease the men that life in America is better than in their home country, the men complain that it is only better if you are white. Meanwhile, Tony walks the streets in a daze, bewitched by the thought of Maria. She is in her room, preparing for bed, when she hears Tony calling out her name from the alley below and climbs through the window to the fire escape to be with him. Believing that Maria is the fulfillment of his premonition, Tony is eager to acknowledge publicly his love for her, but Maria is aware that their families will not approve. After admitting their love for each other and marveling at how their lives have changed in one evening, they part, agreeing to meet the next day at the bridal shop after closing time. At Doc’s shop, the Jets are restlessly waiting for the Sharks to arrive, when the police drive up. Although Krupke is suspicious that the gang is up to mischief, he is called away and the boys then make fun of him, as well as social workers, judges, psychiatrists and all those who have failed to alleviate the poverty and violence in which they have been reared. When the Sharks arrive, the two gangs decide the time and location of the fight, but as they discuss weapons, Tony, who has by then returned to help close the shop for the evening, convinces them to have a “fair fight,” using nothing but fists. Schrank enters, prompting the two gangs to pretend to get along, and demands to know what they are planning. When no one will talk to him, he harasses the Puerto Ricans, ordering them out, and then tells the Jets that he wants his beat clear of the immigrants as much as they do. When the Jets still refuse to confide in him, he tauntingly refers to their family members as drug addicts and prostitutes. After everyone leaves the shop, Doc expresses his dismay at Schrank’s behavior, but Tony, who is buoyed by love, believes that everything will be all right. The next day, Maria’s co-workers notice her happiness and she admits that she feels “pretty.” Anita is still at the shop when Tony arrives, but grudgingly allows them time together. Although Tony has no plans to attend the fight, Maria urges him to go and stop it from happening. Then, they playfully pretend to have a wedding, with store mannequins in attendance. Later, in the evening, the Jets and the Sharks prepare for the rumble, while Anita prepares for a romantic interlude with Bernardo when he returns. While helping Doc, Tony can think of nothing but Maria, who is at home, waiting impatiently for the end of the evening, when she and Tony can be together. At the appointed place, the Sharks and the Jets meet, and the best fighter from each gang, Bernardo and Ice, respectively, prepare to fight as the others look on. When Tony arrives, his efforts to stop the fight inadvertently escalate the battle into a knife fight between Riff and Bernardo. When Bernardo unexpectedly kills Riff, Tony, in a fit of passion, takes the dead Riff’s knife and stabs Bernardo. Although Tony is immediately overcome with shame for killing Maria’s brother, the other gang members join the fight, but all flee when they hear the sound of a police siren. Waiting on the rooftop for Tony, Maria is surprised when Chino arrives to tell her that Tony killed Bernardo. Praying that he is lying, Maria runs to her room and finds Tony, who confesses. Although she wants to hate him, she finds she cannot and says that the problem is not with either of them, but everything around them. Together, they envision a place where they can go that is free of prejudices. Outside, the police cruise the streets, but the gang members evade them. The Jets meet, stunned, because they never expected anyone would be killed. When their anxiety leads to internal bickering, Ice, who is now their leader, tells them to be “cool.” When they learn from an eavesdropping tomboy, Anybodys, that Chino is carrying a gun and bent on revenge against Tony, they organize to protect him. Anita, who discovers that Maria has been with Tony, is offended that she would remain faithful to a boy who would kill her brother, but is soon won over by Maria’s love for Tony and warns her about Chino’s mission. Although Maria and Tony had planned to rendezvous at Doc’s and leave town together, when Schrank detains Maria to question her about Bernardo’s death, Anita agrees to tell Tony that she will soon be with him. However, when Anita enters the candy store, the Jets, suspicious of her motives, prevent her from finding Tony, then attempt to rape her. Doc enters in time to stop them, but, in anger, Anita says that Chino, jealous of Maria’s love for Tony, shot her dead. When Doc informs Tony, who is hiding in the cellar, of Maria’s presumed death, Tony goes out to the street, yelling for Chino to kill him, too. When he arrives at the playground, Tony sees Maria, alive, and runs toward her, but Chino steps out of the shadows and shoots him. Tony falls into Maria’s arms and as he dies, he and Maria talk about the place of which they had dreamed. Members of both gangs are gathering, and as they edge toward each other menacingly, Maria steps between them and takes the gun from Chino. Threatening both gangs with the gun, she accuses all of them of killing Tony, Riff and Bernardo. When Schrank and Krupke arrive, Maria kisses Tony and after she says “Te adoro, Anton,” members of the two gangs, united at least for a while, help to carry Tony’s body away. 

Production Company: Beta Productions  
  The Mirisch Company, Inc.  
  Seven Arts Productions, Inc.  
  B & P Enterprises, Inc.  
Production Text: A Robert Wise Production
Distribution Company: United Artists Corp. (Transamerica Corp.)
Director: Robert Wise (Dir)
  Jerome Robbins (Dir)
  Robert E. Relyea (Asst dir)
  Jerome M. Siegel (2d asst dir)
Producer: Robert Wise (Prod)
  Saul Chaplin (Assoc prod)
Writer: Ernest Lehman (Scr)
Photography: Daniel L. Fapp (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Boris Leven (Prod des)
  M. Zuberano (Prod artist)
Film Editor: Thomas Stanford (Film ed)
  Marshall M. Borden (Asst ed)
Set Decoration: Victor Gangelin (Set dec)
  Sam Gordon (Prop)
Costumes: Irene Sharaff (Cost des)
  Bert Henrikson (Ward)
Music: Leonard Bernstein (Mus)
  Johnny Green (Mus cond)
  Richard Carruth (Mus ed)
  Sid Ramin (Orch)
  Irwin Kostal (Orch)
  Betty Walberg (Mus asst)
  Bobby Tucker (Vocal coach)
  Saul Chaplin (Mus supv)
  Johnny Green (Mus supv)
  Sid Ramin (Mus supv)
  Irwin Kostal (Mus supv)
Sound: Murray Spivack (Sd)
  Fred Lau (Sd)
  Vinton Vernon (Sd)
  Gilbert D. Marchant (Sd ed)
Special Effects: Linwood Dunn (Photog eff)
  Film Effects of Hollywood (Photog eff)
  Saul Bass (Titles & visual consultation)
Dance: Jerome Robbins (Choreog)
  Tommy Abbott (Dance asst)
  Margaret Banks (Dance asst)
  Howard Jeffrey (Dance asst)
  Tony Mordente (Dance asst)
Make Up: Emile La Vigne (Makeup)
  Alice Monte (Hairdresser)
Production Misc: Allen K. Wood (Prod mgr)
  Stanley K. Scheuer (Scr supv)
  Sam Gordon (Prop)
  Stalmaster-Lister Co. (Casting)
Stand In: Marni Nixon (Singing voice for Natalie Wood)
  Jimmy Bryant (Singing voice for Richard Beymer)
  Betty Wand (Singing voice for Rita Moreno)
Country: United States
Language: English

Music: "Prologue," "Dance at the Gym" and "The Rumble" by Leonard Bernstein.
Songs: "Jet Song," "Something's Coming," "Maria," "America," "Tonight," "One Hand, One Heart," "Gee, Officer Krupke!" "Quintet," "Cool," "I Feel Pretty," "Somewhere," "A Boy Like That" and "I Have a Love," music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
Composer: Leonard Bernstein
  Stephen Sondheim
Source Text: Based on the musical West Side Story , book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, conceived, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, produced by Robert E. Griffith and Harold S. Prince, by arrangement with Roger L. Stevens (New York, 26 Sep 1957).
Authors: Stephen Sondheim
  Leonard Bernstein
  Arthur Laurents
  Robert E. Griffith
  Harold S. Prince
  Jerome Robbins
  Roger L. Stevens

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Beta Productions 18/10/1961 dd/mm/yyyy LP21934

PCA NO: 19949
Physical Properties: col: Technicolor
  Sd: Westrex
  gauge: 35mm & 70mm
  Widescreen/ratio: Panavision 70

 
Genre: Drama
  Musical
Sub-Genre: Teenage
 
 
Subjects (Major): Adolescents
  Gangs
  Loyalty
  New York City--West Side
  Racism
  Romance
  Urban life
 
Subjects (Minor): Attempted rape
  Brothers and sisters
  Confectioners and confectionaries
  Dances
  Death and dying
  Fistfights
  Gunshot wounds
  Immigrants
  Juvenile delinquents
  Playgrounds
  Police
  Polish Americans
  Puerto Ricans
  Revenge
  Seamstresses
  Slums
  Social workers
  Stabbings
  Switchblade knives
  Tomboys

Note: The film begins with a whistled phrase of three notes, which recurs throughout the score and is later revealed to be the Jets’ signal to one another. Many of the songs in the score are based on the musical intervals in this phrase. A four-and-a-half minute overture then plays against an abstract drawing of Manhattan skyscrapers, at the end of which the title appears. The drawing dissolves into aerial shots of New York City, showing locations from the Battery to the upper West Side, while repetitions of the whistled phrase, traffic noises, and bongo riffs are heard on the soundtrack.
       The camera moves into an urban, concrete playground, where members of the Jets are leaning against a fence, rhythmically snapping their fingers. They strut around, looking for trouble, and gradually begin to dance. When the Sharks appear, the conflict between the two gangs is represented by stylized dancing. The dance builds to a choreographed fistfight, which ends with the arrival of “Lt. Schrank” and “Officer Krupke,” after which the film's dialogue begins. An intermission occurs at approximately one hour and twenty minutes into the film. Many end credits appear to be handwritten on a wall, like graffiti. All cast members’ names are listed, followed by “as” and their respective character names. Although most reviews state that West Side Story ’s running time is 155 minutes, which is the approximate length of the print viewed, the film’s copyright record incorrectly lists the duration as 251 minutes.
       As noted in Filmfacts , the stage version of the musical play opened on Broadway on 26 Sep 1957 to critical and popular acclaim. The show ran for an initial 732 performances, followed by a successful national tour, another 249 performances in New York City and a two-year run in London. West Side Story was directed and choreographed by the innovative Jerome Robbins, who stated in an added feature presentation in the 2003 DVD release that he had been interested in creating a contemporary version of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet since the late 1940s and that Arthur Laurents, the show’s writer, and composer Leonard Bernstein added the gang theme to the story. The show marked the first Broadway success of composer Stephen Sondheim, who was the lyricist for West Side Story . The show was innovative on many levels, as it featured Robbins’ mixing of contemporary popular dance with classical styles and integrated the dance sequences seamlessly into the songs and action of the story. The gritty, urban tenement setting, the use of street language and the serious exploration of societal problems such as bigotry and juvenile delinquency were a marked change from the standard musical of the time. Several songs from the show (“Tonight,” “Maria,” “I Feel Pretty,” “America” and “Somewhere”) became standard repertoire for singers and other musicians, and the song “Quintet” was notable for its presentation of the points of view of five sets of characters.
       A Nov 1959 DV news item reported that producer-director Robert Wise planned to make the film as a joint venture of his B & P Productions, The Mirisch Company and Seven Arts Productions, for release by United Artists. A Dec 1960 HR news item announced that Robbins would co-direct with Wise. Although Robbins and Wise are listed as co-directors onscreen, Robbins was asked to leave the production early during the shooting. Filmfacts reported the rumor that Robbins was taking too much time with the dances, and that the two directors had disagreements. Providing a more diplomatic explanation, Wise stated in a Dec 1960 DV article that Jerome’s departure was not due to artistic differences or his co-director’s personal failings, but because it was taking too long to coordinate their respective ideas, and because Wise had been with the film project about a year longer than Robbins, it was he who remained. By the time Robbins left, he had completed choreographing all but two numbers, and several of his assistants, Margaret Banks, Tommy Abbott and Tony Mordente, remained with the production, assuring that Robbins’ basic choreography, which was mostly retained from the theater production, was executed correctly. Robbins also retained film editing rights, although the extent and length of time of his participation during post-produciton has not been determined.
       Although none of the leads from the Broadway show were re-cast in the film, William Bramley (“Officer Krupke”) and Abbott (“Gee-tar”) reprised their Broadway roles in the film, and Mordente (“Action”) and David Winters (“A-rab”) had appeared in the Broadway production in other roles. George Chakiris, who played “Bernardo” in the film, had portrayed “Riff” in the London production. According to the Dec 1960 DV article, eleven members of the film's cast had appeared in one of the stage productions, while several others had never acted professionally before being cast in the film. Irene Sharaff served as costume designer for both the film and the Broadway production, and Mordente, Abbott and Howard Jeffrey served as dance assistants for both versions. According to a Dec 1991 Var article, actress Stefanie Powers, who was then going by the name of Taffy Paul, was hired as a dancer for the film, but soon dropped out, as she was underage and by law required on-set tutoring and a shortened shooting schedule. According to a Feb 1961 LAMirror article, the only school-aged cast member in the film was Susan Oakes, who portrayed the tomboy “Anybodys.” Modern sources add Christopher Culkin, Elaine Joyce, Lee Theodore and Lou Ruggerio to the cast.
       As noted in Filmfacts and the Var review, Jimmy Bryant and Marni Nixon dubbed the singing voices of the leads, Richard Beymer (“Tony”) and Natalie Wood (“Maria”). According to a featurette about the film on the 2003 DVD release, Tucker Smith, who portrayed “Ice” in the film, also served as a singing double for Russ Tamblyn for at least one song. Feb 1963 LAT and LAHE news items reported that professional ghost singer Betty Wand filed a $60,000 damage suit against B & P Enterprises, Inc., the producers and the Columbia Broadcast System, claiming that she had provided the singing voice for Rita Moreno (“Anita”) on two songs, “A Boy Like That” and “I Have a Love,” on an emergency basis and that, without her knowledge, her voice was used in the soundtrack album. A cross suit filed by CBS asked that B & P be held liable for any damages on the grounds that the company released the soundtrack album believing that Moreno sang the songs. According to the LAHE news item, Wand’s suit was settled out of court, although the amount of the settlement was not reported.
       As noted in the Dec 1960 DV article, only a few changes were made to the theatrical script. Among them, the prologue was lengthened from four-and-one-half minutes to eight minutes. In the song “America,” which originally was sung only by the Puerto Rican women, the men’s point of view was added. Two numbers, “Cool” and “Gee, Officer Krupke,” were moved to other positions within the story; some of the lyrics of “Krupke” were altered slightly; and the character of Krupke is not seen onscreen during the song, as he was in the staged version.
       According to the studio production notes, when the film began production in Aug 1960, the women were rehearsing in Hollywood at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios, while twenty-two actors were taken to New York City to film the prologue in the areas of 68th Street, which was demolished shortly after filming to build Lincoln Center, and 110th Street in the Puerto Rican district. According to a Sep 1960 LAT article, the troupe shot on the New York streets for five weeks. The article reported that Robbins felt that the film necessitated more realistic sets than the stage production's stylized sets, and that he adapted his stage choreography to match the more realistic settings in the picture. In the DVD release’s additional material, cast members reminisced that Robbins, for whom they had fond memories, worked them very hard, and described injuries from dancing on the street pavements. They also recalled that Eliot Feld, who portrayed “Baby John,” caught pneumonia after they returned to shoot the rest of the film at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios.
       According to the Var review, the film cost $6,000,000 to produce. An Oct 1961 HR news item reported that, because of the film’s extraordinary box office and critical success at its New York opening at the Rivoli Theatre, there was discussion about moving forward the film’s domestic and foreign release. Most reviewers praised the film with superlative descriptions, such as “a cinematic masterpiece” ( NYT ), “a milestone in movie musicals”( HR ) and “a triumphant work of art” ( SatRev ), and Senator Clair Engle, according to a Jul 1962 HR news item, lauded the film for its American flavor “in type, character and spirit.” A Mar 1962 DV news item stated that the film was proving itself to be the strongest box office hit in many areas overseas in United Artists’ history. May 1966 HR and DV news items reported that the film ran for four years at Paris’ George V Theatre, the longest run in French motion picture history at that time.
       Aug 1961 Var and DV articles reported that a different style of subtitles were to be used for foreign bookings. The articles reported that song lyrics, which were usually left out due to “dubbing difficulties,” would probably appear in italics. A Mar 1962 HR news item reported that the United Artist exhibition contract carried a clause that required an extra monthly inspection of prints and equipment, to ensure that the reproduction of sight and sound in the theaters would maintain the same quality as when they were recorded. The news item quoted Wise as stating that United Artists hired a projection technician, Bill Betcher, to check the theaters. A Sep 1961 Var article reported that music arrangers, who had made similar complaints about Flower Drum Song (see above), criticized the film for not giving onscreen credits to arrangers and that committee members from the Music Branch of AMPAS had been petitioned to review the matter. According to a Sep 1961 HR news item, while West Side Story was still in its roadshow engagement, Columbia Records released its soundtrack album, which would later win a Grammy award. In addition, the news item reported that Capitol Records was producing a recording by the Stan Kenton Orchestra and by the dual piano team of Ferrante and Teicher, and that single records of the songs from the film were expected to be released.
       In early Dec 1961, according to a HR news item, Wood’s footprint was the 136th to be imprinted in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre. West Side Story won ten Academy Awards, the second highest number of Oscars received for an individual film at that time. Besides Best Motion Picture, the film also won Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Chakiris), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Moren0), Art Direction (Boris Leven and Victor A. Gengelin), Cinematography (Daniel L. Fapp), Costume Design (Sharaff), Best Director (Wise and Robbins), Best Film Editing (Thomas Stanford), Best Musical Score (Saul Chaplin, Johnny Green, Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal) and Best Sound. The film was also nominated for Best Screenplay (Ernest Lehman). West Side Story won Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy, Best Supporting Actor (Chakiris) and Best Supporting Actress (Moreno). Beymer was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor-Musical or Comedy, and Wise and Robbins were nominated for Best Director. Among the many other awards the film received were the Directors Guild of America Award (Wise, Robbins and assistant director Robert E. Relyea), the Writers Guild of America’s Best Written American Musical and the Newspaper Guild’s 1962 Page One Award in Motion Picture for the “vivid and eloquent picturing of a phase of [New York] city’s life.” According to a Jan 1962 Box article, West Side Story was on the top ten best movies of 1961 lists for the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics and seven other New York daily newspapers.
       According to a May 1966 DV news item, Mirisch rejected a record $3,000,000 offer from a television network to broadcast the film because the company had plans for a theatrical re-release within the next few years. An Aug 1968 Var news item reported that United Artists was reissuing the film that fall. An Oct 1979 Var article reported that United Artists was ordered to pay nearly $400,000 to the original authors of West Side Story as their share of $4,000,000 in U.S. network and foreign television packaging revenues. The ruling was made after an eighteen-month audit and a two-and-a-half years of arbitration by the American Arbitration Association.
       Several moments from West Side Story , as well as the songs and phrases from the song, have become iconic in other motion pictures, television shows and commercials. The fingers snapping of the defiant youths, the three-note signature phrase, the “rumble” and the love scene on the fire escape are a few of the moments from the film that have often been referred to or parodied in other works over the years. Many artists have recorded songs from West Side Story , and in 1961, Bernstein composed an orchestral work, “Symphonic Dances from West Side Story ", based on his film score. In Mar 2009, Laurents, by then ninety-one-years old, directed a bilingual libretto revival of the musical that featured some dialogue and songs translated into Spanish by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Critics praised the new production for revitalizing the original musical.
       In 2007, West Side Story was ranked 51st on AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, down from the 41st position it held on AFI's 1997 list. The film was also ranked 2nd on AFI’s list of the Greatest Movie Musicals, 3rd on AFI’s 100 Greatest Love Stories list, and the songs “Somewhere,” “America” and “ Tonight” were ranked 20th, 35th and 59th, respectively, of AFI’s 100 Top Movie Songs of All Time. 

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