AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Man with the Golden Arm
Director: Otto Preminger (Dir)
Release Date:   Jan 1956
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 15 Dec 1955; Los Angeles opening: 26 Dec 1955; Chicago, IL opening: 28 Dec 1955
Production Date:   26 Sep--early Nov 1955 at RKO-Pathé Studios
Duration (in mins):   119 or 121
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Cast:   Frank Sinatra (Frankie Machine)  
    Eleanor Parker (Zosh)  
    Kim Novak (Molly Novotny)  
    Arnold Stang (Sparrow)  
    Darren McGavin (Nifty Louie Fomorowski)  
    Robert Strauss (Zero Schwiefka)  
    John Conte (Drunkie John)  
    Doro Merande (Vi)  
    George E. Stone (Markette)  
    George Mathews (Williams)  
    Leonid Kinskey (Dominowski)  
    Emile Meyer (Capt. "Record Head" Bednar)  
    Shorty Rogers (Himself)  
    Shelly Manne (Himself)  
    Frank Richards (Blind Piggy)  
    Will Wright (Harry Lane)  
    Tommy Hart ("Cousin" Kvorka)  
    Frank Marlowe (Antek)  
    Joe McTurk (Meter Reader)  
    Ralph Neff (Chester)  
    Ernest Raboff (Bird Dog)  
    Martha Wentworth (Vangie)  
    Jerry Barclay (Junkie in jail cell)  
    Leonard Bremen (Taxi driver)  
    Paul Burns (Suspenders)  
    Charles Seel (Landlord)  
    Mike, a dog (Rumdum)  

Summary: In the late 1940s, Frankie Majcinek, who is known as Frankie Machine, returns to Chicago’s South Side, which is mostly inhabited by Polish Americans, after serving a six-month sentence at a federal narcotics hospital. The denizens of Antek’s Tug ‘n’ Maul Tavern, Frankie’s favorite bar, are pleased to see Frankie, especially his best friend, “lost dog finder” Sparrow. Although Frankie’s former drug supplier, Nifty Louie Fomorowski, offers Frankie a free “fix,” Frankie refuses and vows to Sparrow that he has kicked narcotics for good and intends to become a drummer for a big-name band. Frankie proudly shows off the drums he was given at the hospital, and after sending Sparrow to find him some new clothes, goes to the roominghouse where he lives with his wheelchair-bound wife Zosh. The neurotic Zosh, determined to keep Frankie with her by whatever means necessary, has manipulated him for three years by playing on his guilt over causing the accident that injured her while he was driving drunk. Zosh is dubious about his plans to become a musician and urges him to return to dealing poker for Zero Schwiefka. Frankie’s consistent method of dealing has earned him a city-wide reputation as “the man with the golden arm,” but Frankie is determined to improve his life so that he is not tempted to return to drugs. Frankie calls Harry Lane, a musical agent referred to him by his doctor at the narcotics hospital, and makes an appointment to see him. After Sparrow returns with a “borrowed” suit for Frankie to wear, they stop at Antek’s for a drink and there run into Schwiefka. Frankie announces his intention to quit dealing, and the angry Schwiefka notifies “Cousin” Kvorka, a local beat policeman, that Frankie and Sparrow shoplifted a suit. Kvorka takes the pair to police captain “Record Head” Bednar, who wearily ignores Frankie’s protests that he has a job interview and insists that he be locked up. Schwiefka then offers to bail out Frankie and Sparrow if Frankie returns to deal for him, and Frankie is forced to accept. Disturbed by a jailed junkie’s tormented plea for a fix, Frankie returns home, where Zosh is pleased that he is going back to dealing cards. That night, Louie’s taunts about Frankie’s shaking hand unnerve the dealer and he leaves to visit the Safari Club, a nearby strip bar where Frankie’s former sweetheart, Molly Novotny, works as a b-girl. Although Molly and Frankie are still in love, Frankie’s guilt over causing Zosh’s paralysis have kept them apart. Frankie tries to tell Molly that she should leave her current boyfriend, the chiseling, alcoholic Drunkie John, but Molly states that she needs someone to stave off her deep-seated loneliness. Soon after, Frankie has an interview with Lane, who promises to call him with an audition for a band, but warns him that if he backslides even once, Lane will no longer sponsor him. Despite Frankie’s happiness, Zosh nags at him that he is being unrealistic in striving for a better life. A week passes without word from Lane, and Frankie sinks into depression, until one afternoon, Frankie runs into Louie and, succumbing to temptation, accompanies Louie to his apartment for a fix. Louie gleefully tells Frankie that “the monkey never dies” as he injects him with the drug, and Frankie is hooked again. Later, after yet another quarrel with Zosh, Frankie storms down to Antek’s. There he meets Molly, who encourages him to call Lane, telling him that Lane probably lost his phone number. Molly proves to be correct, and Lane arranges for Frankie to audition for Shorty Rogers’ band on the coming Monday. Frankie then pleads with Molly to let him practice playing his drums in her room, as the spiteful Zosh has forbidden him to do so in their room. Although she is reluctant to encourage Frankie’s hopes of building a future for the two of them, Molly agrees, and when she comes home early the next morning, he happily greets her. After bragging that he has quit Schwiefka and joined the musicians’ union, Frankie promises Molly that he is going to kick drugs again, and that after he has made some money and can send Zosh to a clinic, they will be together. Meanwhile, Schwiefka and Louie search for Frankie, as they have used Frankie’s reputation to lure two big-time gamblers, Markette and Williams, to play in Schwiefka’s poker game. After Zosh urges Frankie to deal the big game and tears up his musicians’ union card, Frankie seeks refuge at Antek’s, where Louie offers him some of the profits if he will deal for Markette and Williams. Desperately needing the money, Frankie agrees, and again gives in when Louie tempts him with another fix. Frankie then goes to the Safari Club, where a disappointed Molly berates him for getting high. When Frankie gets in a fight with John, Molly hurriedly leaves the neighborhood without telling Frankie where she is going. Later, Frankie deals the game for Markette and Williams, and his skill easily enables the house to win. After dealing all night, an exhausted Frankie insists on leaving, but when he arrives home, he is suddenly overwhelmed by the need for a fix and rushes back to Schwiefka’s. Louie refuses to give Frankie any drugs unless he resumes dealing, because Markette and Williams have begun to win. As the hours pass, the game continues, and soon it is early Monday morning. Louie promises Frankie that if he cheats and wins, he will give him a fix, but Frankie, weary from his long hours of dealing, becomes careless, and Williams spots his card-palming and beats him. After Louie then refuses to give Frankie any drugs, Frankie knocks him out and searches his apartment, to no avail. Frankie then goes to his audition but cannot play competently due to his withdrawal symptoms. Meanwhile, Louie regains consciousness and goes to the roominghouse to exact his revenge upon Frankie. Instead, Louie accidentally enters the room as Zosh is walking and deduces that she has been pretending to be paralyzed. When Louie threatens to reveal her secret, the hysterical Zosh pushes him down the stairwell to his death. Frankie, not knowing of Louie’s death but fearing that he is after him, runs away and finds Molly, whom he begs for help. While Bednar is questioning Zosh, Molly learns from John that Frankie is Bednar’s main suspect. Molly then agrees to help Frankie quit drugs cold turkey, so that he can go to the police sober and withstand questioning to prove his innocence. After an agonizing few days, during which Frankie suffers great torment, he is free of his craving. John sees Frankie in Molly’s apartment, however, and alerts Bednar. Frankie leaves before Bednar arrives, and Molly takes the police captain to Zosh’s, where Frankie is telling her that he is going away with Molly. Just as a terrified Zosh gets up from her wheelchair to chase after Frankie, Bednar and Molly arrive, and they all realize that Zosh must have killed Louie. Before Bednar can arrest her, Zosh runs out to the fire escape and falls to street below. Frankie rushes to the street, where Zosh lays dying, and holds her as she tells him she loves him. After Zosh dies, Frankie and Molly slowly walk off together, leaving their old life behind. 

Production Company: Carlyle Productions, Inc.  
Distribution Company: United Artists Corp.  
Director: Otto Preminger (Dir)
  Horace Hough (Asst dir)
  James Engle (Asst dir)
  Nat Holt, Jr. (2d asst dir)
Producer: Otto Preminger (Pres)
  Otto Preminger (Prod)
Writer: Walter Newman (Scr)
  Lewis Meltzer (Scr)
Photography: Sam Leavitt (Dir of photog)
  Albert Myers (Cam op)
  James Almond (Lighting tech)
  Morris Rosen (Head grip)
  Gene Kornman (Stills)
Art Direction: Joe Wright (Prod des)
  John Mansbridge (Asst prod des)
Film Editor: Louis R. Loeffler (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Darrell Silvera (Set dec)
  Stan Detlie (Props)
Costumes: Mary Ann Nyberg (Cost supv)
  Joe King (Men's ward)
  Adele Parmenter (Women's ward)
Music: Elmer Bernstein (Mus)
  Leon Birnbaum (Mus ed)
  Shorty Rogers & his Giants (Jazz seq played by)
  Shelly Manne (With)
Sound: Jack Solomon (Sd eng)
Special Effects: Saul Bass (Titles des)
  George Brown (Spec eff)
Make Up: Jack Stone (Makeup)
  Bernard Ponedel (Makeup)
  Ben Lane (Makeup)
  Helene Parrish (Hair styling)
  Hazel Keats (Hair styling)
Production Misc: Maximilian Slater (Asst to prod)
  Jack McEdward (Prod mgr)
  Kathleen Fagan (Scr supv)
  Shelly Manne (Tech adv)
  Charles E. Miller (Tech adv)
  Jack Entratter (Tech adv)
  Tom Bailey (Tech adv)
  Frank Weatherwax (Dog trainer)
  Rudd Weatherwax (Dog trainer)
Country: United States
Language: English

Music:
Songs:
Source Text: Based on the novel The Man with the Golden Arm by Nelson Algren (Garden City, NY, 1949).
Authors: Nelson Algren

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Carlyle Productions, Inc. 15/12/1955 dd/mm/yyyy LP5844

PCA NO: 20011
Physical Properties: Sd: RCA System
  b&w:
  Widescreen/ratio: 1.85:1

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Social
 
Subjects (Major): Chicago (IL)
  Drug addicts
  Guilt
  Handicapped
  Love affairs
  Regeneration
 
Subjects (Minor): Alcoholics
  Arrests
  Auditions
  B-girls
  Bars
  Dogs
  Drug dealers
  Drug withdrawal symptoms
  Drums and drummers
  Extortion
  Falls from heights
  Loneliness
  Marriage
  Mental illness
  Murder
  Poker (Game)
  Police
  Polish Americans
  Quacks and quackery
  Boardinghouses
  Talent agents
  Thieves
  Threats
  Whistles

Note: The film’s opening title credits, designed by Saul Bass, feature white lines breaking up a black background. The lines form a crooked arm over the last credit, that of producer-director Otto Preminger. The crooked arm became the film’s symbol and was used extensively in its advertising. According to a 3 Nov 1949 HR news item, the screen rights to Nelson Algren’s best-selling novel, which was the first book to win the National Book Award, were purchased by producer Bob Roberts as a starring vehicle for John Garfield. Information in the film’s file in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library reveals that Paul Trivers was to write the screenplay for Roberts, with Robert Aldrich scheduled to direct. Roberts first submitted a screenplay to the PCA in Feb 1950, and in Mar 1950, was told by PCA director Joseph I. Breen that the basic story was “unacceptable under the provisions of the Production Code” because of the Code’s prohibition against showing drug addiction and illegal drug traffic. Breen further stated: “In view of the fact that this dope addiction problem is basic to this story, we suggest you dismiss any further consideration of this material for a motion picture to be made within the Code.”
       Roberts continued to consult with the PCA in hopes of preparing an acceptable script, but was repeatedly discouraged by the Breen office, which warned him that not only would the subject fail to receive PCA approval, it would also receive condemnation from the National Catholic Legion of Decency, the U.S. Treasury Dept., the Bureau of Narcotics and “state and municipal censor boards, both in this country and abroad.” In late Mar 1950, Pandro S. Berman, then a producer at M-G-M, expressed interest in making a film based on the novel, and was also told by the PCA that it would be impossible for the picture to receive a Production Code seal, without which many movie theaters of the time refused to exhibit films.
       According to modern sources, Roberts was acting on Garfield’s behalf in purchasing the book’s screen rights from Algren, who purportedly thought that Garfield would be ideal to play “Frankie Machine,” and Garfield himself owned the rights. Garfield, who had been under great strain due to questioning by the House Un-American Activities Committee, died of a heart attack on 21 May 1952. Although Trivers and Algren himself worked on a screenplay for Garfield’s project, it is unlikely that they contributed to the Preminger film. In Mar 1955, NYT and HR reported that Preminger had purchased the rights to Algren’s book from Garfield’s estate and entered into a deal with United Artists to produce and distribute The Man with the Golden Arm . According to a Sep 1955 HR news item, a clause in the contract between Preminger and UA allowed UA to withdraw from distribution if the film did not receive a Code seal. At that time, Preminger, who had produced and directed The Moon Is Blue (see above), which failed to obtain a Code seal prior to its 1953 release, indicated that he would set up his own company to distribute The Man with the Golden Arm if necessary.
       A 24 Mar 1955 LAEx news item reported that Preminger was hoping to persuade William Holden to star in the picture, while modern sources add that Marlon Brando was considered for the role of Frankie. According to Jul 1955 HR news items, Barbara Bel-Geddes was under consideration for one of the female leads, but her participation in the project was contingent upon her being able to obtain a four-week leave from her role in the stage production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof . In Aug 1955, HR ’s “Rambling Reporter” column stated that Preminger was “torn” between casting either Ray Middleton or Raymond Burr as “Zero Schwiefka.” Eleanor Parker was borrowed from M-G-M for the production, and Kim Novak was borrowed from Columbia. HR news items include Arvle Miller, Jay Lawrence, Robert Paquin, Diane DeLayne, Ursula Fimbers, Libby Jones, Bene Marten, Jack Mulhall, Mahin Shahriver and David White, Frank Sinatra’s stand-in, in the cast, although their appearance in the finished picture has not been confirmed.
       In Aug 1955, HR noted that Preminger had contemplated shooting the picture in color and CinemaScope, but decided that black-and-white with a 1.85:1 ratio would be “more suitable.” According to a 29 Aug 1955 HR news item, background footage was shot on location in Chicago, IL. A 4 Oct 1955 HR news item noted that the dog “Rumdum” was played by “Mike,” a dog rescued from a pound by noted animal trainers Frank and Rudd Weatherwax. HR news items and the film’s pressbook noted that drummer Shelly Manne taught Sinatra how to play drums; magician Charles E. Miller served as the technical advisor on the poker sequences; Tom Bailey, a retired Los Angeles police officer, was the technical advisor on the jail scenes; Jack Entratter, a director of the Sands casino in Las Vegas, acted as a technical advisor; and an unnamed physician supervised narcotics sequences.
       Although the drug to which Frankie is addicted is never specified in the finished movie, most contemporary and modern sources assume that it is heroin. In the book, however, Frankie takes morphine, to which he became addicted during his military service in World War II. After being wounded while fighting in the South Pacific, Frankie began taking morphine and became addicted. In the film, only a very brief mention is made of Frankie’s wartime service, and no connection is made between it and his addiction. Other notable differences between the novel and the movie are that in the book, Frankie, not "Zosh," kills Louie, and Zosh is not feigning her paralysis, although it is partially psychosomatic. At the end of the book, Zosh is committed to an insane asylum, "Molly Novotny" is arrested by the police for harboring Frankie and Frankie, who has run from Molly’s apartment, commits suicide by hanging himself in a flophouse.
       Preminger continued to have problems with the PCA throughout the film’s production, and he decided to release The Man with the Golden Arm without a Code seal. According to Nov 1955 trade paper and NYT news items, after viewing a rough cut of the picture, United Artists, which had also released The Moon Is Blue , decided to release The Man with the Golden Arm , even though the action could result in the company being fined $25,000 by the MPAA. UA president Arthur Krim called the film “one of the most important productions ever handled by the company” and expressed the hope that the PCA would reverse its decision because of the film’s “immense potential for public service.” A modern source states that UA invested $1,000,000 in the film’s production. A 13 Nov 1955 NYT article reported that the film’s release would mark “the first time that a company has made public its intention to go forward with the release of a controversial picture in advance of its submission for a Code seal.” The film also received several advance bookings in Nov and early Dec 1955, before the issue of the Code seal had been settled.
       Although numerous contemporary sources speculated that the PCA would make an exception for The Man with the Golden Arm , after the film was submitted for final approval in early Dec 1955, the PCA denied it a Code seal. Their decision was upheld by the appeals board of the MPAA on 6 Dec 1955 in a meeting in which the MPAA board also declined to revise PCA guidelines governing the depiction of drug use. In order to protest the censorship battle, UA resigned from the MPAA on 7 Dec 1956, although the company rejoined later in the 1950s. Even though the PCA refused to approve the film, the influential National Catholic Legion of Decency awarded it a “B,” or “morally objectionable in part for all,” rating. According to a 31 Dec 1955 Har news item, The Man with the Golden Arm marked the first time that the Legion did not give a “C,” or condemned, rating to a film not passed by the PCA. Several contemporary sources indicate that the schism between the Legion and PCA was one of the contributing factors to the revision of the Code.
       Controversy over the MPAA’s decision to uphold the PCA’s ban on the film forced MPAA president Eric Johnston to launch a four-man committee to investigate Production Code provisions and methods of appeal in Jan 1956. A 25 Jan 1956 NYT article about the investigation noted that one of the major reasons for the need to revise the Production Code was the “refusal, for the first time, of the Loew’s theatres and other large circuits to abide by a Production ban.” Loew’s and other large theater chains were then exhibiting The Man with the Golden Arm despite its lack of a Code seal. In Dec 1956, NYT announced that the committee’s recommendation to change several provisions of the Production Code had been accepted, and that “the film industry has revised and relaxed its code of morals and taboos for the first time since the code was adopted in 1930.” In addition to revising restrictions about the portrayals of prostitution, abortion, kidnapping and miscegenation, the MPAA eliminated the absolute prohibition of subjects having to do with narcotics. The first film to benefit from the PCA’s revisions about the depiction of drug addiction was the 1957 Twentieth Century-Fox release A Hatful of Rain (see above).
       The Man with the Golden Arm received mostly laudatory reviews upon its release, with many critics commenting on its success in dealing with the controversial subject matter. The Var reviewer declared: “Fortunately this is a gripping, fascinating film, expertly produced and directed by Preminger and performed with marked conviction by Frank Sinatra as the drug slave.” In conclusion, the Var critic stated: “It makes for a powerful condemnation of the use of narcotics merciless in its display of the cruelties of the habit. This is the kind of message that should be spread, not suppressed.” Several critics did complain about the film’s contrived happy ending, however, stating that it was both inaccurate and potentially harmful to show an addict recovering completely in such a short time period.
       As noted by NYT reviewer Bosley Crowther, in order to satisfy censor requirements, the sequence in which Frankie receives a "fix" from “Louie” was shortened, to prevent the details of Louie’s preparations of the drug from being shown. Crowther concluded, “either way, what you see or what you don’t see is not likely to create anything—outside of the hardened addicts—but a revulsion toward the habit of drugs.” According to a 14 Dec 1955 DV news item, the short sequence was deleted at the insistence of the New York State Censor Board, although Preminger deleted the footage from all prints of the film, not just those shown in New York.
       In Feb 1956, HR noted that censors in Maryland, Atlanta, GA and Milwaukee, WI threatened either to ban the film outright or demand cuts, but that Preminger was determined to fight them and allow the film to be shown in the same version that was then being distributed. In Jul 1956, Var reported that after several court decisions in its favor, United Artists was able to exhibit the film uncut throughout the world except in Spain, which had banned the picture. According to the news item, Spanish officials declared that they did not want the film to “give the people ideas” about narcotics use. According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection, the film received an “X” rating in Great Britain, which restricted admission to adults only.
       Even though Preminger claimed in several contemporary sources that the MPAA was exerting pressure on exhibitors not to play the film, UA stated in a 12 Feb 1961 NYT article that the film had been a “spectacular” success at the box office. The article concluded that the film’s achievements were partially due to the “considerable publicity” surrounding its censorship battles. The Man with the Golden Arm received Academy Award nominations for Best Art Direction (Black and White) and Best Music (Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture) and a BAFTA nomination for Best Film from Any Source. The film’s score, which was Elmer Bernstein’s first jazz score, became a best-selling soundtrack record and is considered by many sources to be one of the most important film scores of the 1950s. The McGuire Sisters released a vocal version of the distinctive main theme, called “Delilah Jones,” with lyrics by Sylvia Fine. A title song, written by Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen, was recorded by Sammy Davis, Jr., and their “Molly-O” was recorded by The Gaylords and The Naturals. According to a Nov 1955 HR news item, Sinatra himself was to record a version of the title song for Capitol Records. A Sinatra discography notes that Sinatra's version of the song was never officially released, but did appear on a bootleg album entitled "On the Town and Others."
       Sinatra, who received many positive reviews for his work in the film, was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award as well as a Best Foreign Actor BAFTA award. The SatRev critic stated that Sinatra gave “a truly virtuoso performance," and HR reviewer Jack Moffit proclaimed that he achieved “a tortured realistic masterpiece as the drug addict.” According to several biographies of Sinatra, the actor considered his performance in The Man with the Golden Arm to be his finest work.
       According to Nov 1955 DV and NYT reports, screenwriter Walter Newman protested the joint credit that he and writer Lewis Meltzer were to receive, claiming that he alone should be credited with the film’s screenplay. After the Writers Guild of America (WGA) denied his petition, Newman attempted to take his case to Los Angeles Superior Court, a first in WGA history. Newman’s attempt was denied by Judge Arnold Prager, according to the NYT article. In mid-Dec 1955, DV reported that the Screen Writers Branch of the WGA protested the print advertising of The Man with the Golden Arm , stating that the overly prominent emphasis on Preminger in the ads mistakenly led people to believe that he wrote as well as directed and produced the picture.
       In Apr 1956, Algren filed a lawsuit against Preminger, UA, Carlyle Productions and several other individuals and companies, according to a 24 Apr 1956 HR news item. Algren asked that profits from the picture be held in trust and that the profits from the distribution of the theme song be accounted for and held in trust, in addition to asking for an injuction “restraining Preminger, UA and others from ‘passing off’ the plaintiff’s work as that of Preminger.” According to Algren’s lawsuit, the agreement under which he had sold the screen rights to Roberts stipulated that he would receive a percentage of the film’s profits or a percentage of Roberts’ profits if he sold the rights, but the agreement had not been upheld. Algren also claimed that the title song was “not up to the literary and artistic standards set by the novel,” according to a May 1956 SatRev article. The disposition of the suit has not been determined.
       As reported by various contemporary sources, the film was granted a Production Code seal on 14 Jun 1961. According to a 31 Jul 1961 NYT article, UA applied for the seal in order to re-issue the film, along with The Moon Is Blue , which was also granted a seal, and to sell it for television broadcast. In Jan 1965, Preminger contracted with Allied Artists for The Man with the Golden Arm and The Moon Is Blue to be re-released theatrically as a double bill. [A Jul 1980 NYT article confirmed that the rights to both films had reverted to Preminger in 1965.] In Dec 1966, Preminger leased television broadcast rights to The Man with the Golden Arm to ABC. The network was to be allowed to show the film twice during the following two years, according to a 28 Dec 1966 NYT article, and Preminger had obtained the previously unheard-of concessions that the film was to be shown uncut in any way, and that he himself would be allowed to decide where the seven commercial breaks would be inserted. An 18 Jan 1967 Var item reported that Sinatra would receive a percentage of the fee Preminger received for the broadcast rights. Although a Jul 1986 HR news item announced that Preminger was agreeing to allow Hal Roach Studios to colorize the picture, along with three other of his works, the colorization was never completed. 

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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