A Thunder of Drums (1961) Poster

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Richard Boone's interpretation compared with John Wayne
krc-17 December 2004
This movie is interesting, as the two central characters played by Richard Boone and George Hamilton are,in the story by James Warner Bellah, Capt. Nathan Brittles and Lt. Clint Cohill, who appear in the John Ford classic 'She Wore a Yellow Ribbon'. John Wayne's gruff but fatherly character contrasts with Boone's gruff but miserable martinet. We also know (or may infer) from 'Ribbon' that it is Cohill's father,General Cohill, who has blocked Brittles's promotion. Hence the 'attitude'. Boone's character could have been played more sympathetically, but he does come across as an experienced old hand who outwits his Apache foe and in the process teaches valuable lessons to his protege.
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It's not my advice, Mr, it's the rule of the game...
Spikeopath16 May 2011
..Bachelors make the best soldiers, all they have to lose is their loneliness.

A Thunder of Drums is directed by Joseph Newman and written by James Warner Bellah. It stars Richard Boone, George Hamilton, Luana Pattern, Arthur O'Connell, Charles Bronson, Richard Chamberlain, Duane Eddy and Slim Pickens. Out of MGM it's filmed on location at Old Tuscon & Sabino Canyon in Arizona, and also at Vasquez Rocks, California. It's filmed in CinemaScope and Metrocolor, with cinematography by William W. Spencer and music scored by Harry Sukman.

"There are three things a man can do to relieve the boredom of these lonely one troop posts: He can drink himself into a straight-jacket: He can get his throat cut chasing squaws: Or he can dedicate himself to the bleak monastic life of a soldier and become a great officer."

It's proved to be a divisive film amongst Western aficionados, and it's not hard to understand why. The film begins with a pre credit sequence of suggested savagery, a real attention grabber, then the credits role and the colour and vistas open up the story. From here we are placed into the lonely and fretful life at a cavalry fort in the Southwest. The company consists of tough grizzled Captain Maddocks (Boone) who carries around a burden from his past, his ire further inflamed by the arrival of greenhorn Lt. Curtis McQuade (Hamilton). He needs experienced men, not fresh faced kids, and McQuade isn't helping himself by being involved in a love triangle with Lt. Thomas Gresham's (James Douglas) lady, Tracey Hamilton (Patten). This coupled with the threat imposed by the Indians puts strain on all involved at Fort Canby. And there's the crux of the matter, the film is more interested with character dynamics than breaking out into an action packed B ranked Western.

Newcomers to the film should prepare for a talky picture, but it is a very good talky picture. Sure there's action, including a well staged battle in the final quarter (check out those Apache suddenly appearing from the rocks like ghosts!), but this is a film that is being propelled by dialogue, well written dialogue. There is no point in saying that it's well cast because it isn't, Boone is immense and intense and gets the best dialogue of all, but Hamilton is miscast and Patten totally unconvincing. Pickens is hardly in it and Bronson has a character that could be any number of things; someone who it's hard to know if we should dislike or cheer on. While Chamberlain and Eddy are in it to look nice and play the banjo respectively. Yet with the photography suitably keeping the landscape arid and harsh, and the mood around the base one of impending death or boredom (even the levity of a drunken sequence only enforces what little joy is around), the film has much going for it by way of psychology.

It's no "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" of course, and its problems are evident, but it does have merits, and if for nothing else it deserves a look for Boone's excellent performance. 7/10
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An inexperienced young calvary officer learns about fighting Indians in the Southwest from his veteran commanding officer.
snicewanger18 May 2014
A young lieutenant in the United States Calvary named Curtis McQuade is assigned to an out of the way Army post on the Southwestern frontier The post is understaffed and commanded by a career captain named Maddocks whose standing orders are to keep the peace with the limited resources that he has at his disposal. McQuade is also the son of an important army general in Washington and there is a suspicion among his fellow officers that he has gotten both his rank and his posting due to his fathers connections. In addition,McQuade discovers that a former lover of his is living on the post and is engaged to the lieutenant who second in command. It turns out that McQuade's father had commanded the post when McQuade was a boy and the Top Sargent of the troupe is a veteran named Karl Rodermill who had served under McQuade's father and remembers McQuade as a boy. Even before McQuades arrive , a war party of hostile braves has been causing havoc in the district. But are they Comanche or Apache? Captain Maddocks has to try to stamp out the threat of the hostile warriors while teaching McQuade how to be a soldier and a man.McQuade learns that Captain Maddocks has a secret in his past which involves McQuades father

This is a taut,fast moving story that benefits from a tight script and sound direction. George Hamilton portrays McQuade and at this point in his career, he was still trying to develop as an actor. The movie belongs to Richard Boone, however. He is is ideally cast as Captain Stephen Maddocks and brings a gruff, world weary dignity to the role and he is the main reason to watch the film. Arthur O'Connell is very good as the crusty Sgt. Rodermill who see's his principle duty as trying to keep his men as safe as possible and has little patience with McQuades constant griping. Charles Bronson has a key role and Richard Chamberlain, Slim Pickens, and James Douglas are also in the cast. Luana Patten is unfortunately forgettable in the female lead and her portrayal lacks conviction.Singer Duane Eddy has a role but the less said about him the better.

The script attempts to convey the boredom and lack of social stimulation at the desolate army post which leads to gossip, drinking, and personality conflict that can be deadly if they affect an officers judgment in the field.There are a few too many coincidences in the plot which weaken the story.

A Thunder of Drums is a tight, well drawn out western action thriller that will hold your interest. Richard Boone's superb performance alone makes it worth a watch.
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A Pretty Good Western Movie
Uriah4323 April 2014
Warning: Spoilers
About the same time a cavalry lieutenant by the name of "Curtis McQuade" (George Hamilton) arrives at his new post in the desert a band of renegade Indians begin terrorizing the inhabitants of the area. But nobody knows for sure if these Indians are Comanche or Apache and until that question is answered any solution to the problem cannot be undertaken. But that isn't the only problem at this fort as Lt. McQuade also runs into his former girlfriend, "Tracey Hamilton" (Luana Patten) who just happens to be engaged to a fellow officer named "Lt. Thomas Gresham" (James Douglas). To further complicate matters, the commanding officer "Captain Stephen Maddocks" (Richard Boone) doesn't particularly care for Lt. McQuade and lets him know it right away. Anyway, rather than disclose the story and risk spoiling the film for those who haven't seen it I will just say that this was a pretty good western movie which tended to depict life at a frontier post in a less than favorable light. Although a couple of the actors could have used more screen time I liked the addition of Charles Bronson (as "Trooper Hanna"), Richard Chamberlain ("Lt. Porter"), and Arthur O'Connell ("1Sgt Karl Rodermill") along with the aforementioned George Hamilton and Richard Boone. In any case, I enjoyed this movie and rate it as slightly above average.
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Bob-4515 July 1999
Indians attack settlers. Undermanned cavalry tracks Indians. Indians massacre cavalry. Cavalry massacres Indians.

This lurid, routine programmer, would be entirely forgettable, except for two extraordinary performances. Richard Boone portrays the Cavalry Commander, with the kind dignity, sensitivity and intensity which only Richard Boone could give. Charles Bronson plays a dirty minded, foul mouthed, but surprisingly noble corporal. For these two performances alone, see the movie.
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A Thunder of Drums
mhrabovsky69127 July 2009
This is a very good and mostly forgotten western that made the rounds in 1961. In 1960 MGM paired Luana Patten and a young George Hamilton in the feature film with Robert Mitchum, "Home from the Hill"....figuring on cashing in on the teenage and young adult crowd director Joseph Newman paired them again in this top notch western. Story concerns a desolate, poorly supplied western fort somewhere in the southwest trying to fend off Indian attacks on unsuspecting settlers...The post is ran by Captain Maddocks (Richard Boone), a crusty, worn out, cantankerous old bird whose military career has passed him by and put him in charge of this desolate hole....by coincidence, a fresh young officer (Lt. McQuade) played by George Hamilton arrives at the fort attempting to make a name for himself...problem is he does not have any practical experience like serving at a fort fighting Indians....he has been put in Provost and office jobs by his father, a General.....oddly enough, the very General who basically ended Maddock's career for an oversight. Maddocks immediately runs roughshod over McQuade and makes his life generally miserable since he is considered a greenhorn officer on a fort that needs reliable veterans who know how to fight and outfox Indians. To complicate matters more, McQuade's former girlfriend is ensconced on the fort and engaged to another officer while still loving McQuade (Hamilton)......she is played by the lovely Luana Patten. Tensions get worse between Patten, McQuade's fellow officers at the fort and Captain Maddocks. McQuade is torn between his duty, his hatred of Captain Maddocks, and his hidden passion for Patten. Fireworks explode when Hamilton is seen embracing Patten by her fiancé. Oddly enough things start to work out for Hamilton as Maddocks is forced to send him out on patrol.....McQuade shows his mettle and leadership and impresses most of the soldiers. Charles Bronson plays a meddling, snaky private who tries to show up Hamilton's affair with the lovely Tracy. A big fight erupts and Hamilton holds his own.... In the end Hamilton becomes Maddock's favorite officer and a strange friendship starts to bloom. Patten, realizing that her love for Hamilton will never work out soon departs the fort and leaves for good. A top notch cast, including Arthur O'Connell, Charles Bronson, Richard Chamberlin, Boone and Hamilton.....a mute girl in the film is played by Tammi Marihugh. It is hard to figure out why this film has never been released on DVD or rarely seen on television.....it is one of the top westerns of the 60s, but not given much recognition. Richard Boone was perfectly cast as the cantankerous Captain Maddocks....this is a western you would want to see.
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Fine MGM Western
williwaw6 April 2011
Very fine western from the days when MGM ruled Hollywood. It was the premier studio in Hollywood with a great staff of technical professionals and a group of young contract players all of whom would reach stardom, some super stardom: George Peppard, Paula Prentiss, Richard Chamberlain, Yvette Mimieux, George Hamilton, Linda Evans. Jim Hutton, Dolores Hart ( who would become a cloistered nun!) and Luana Patten. et al MGM also had the best and biggest back lot in the Industry and instead of making it a money making venture as Universal did with its back lot, MGM sold the back lot to real estate developers!

George Hamilton and Luana Patten of the MGM stock company join Richard Boone in this great tough western. Richard Chamberlain has a small pivotal role but soon would become very famous as Dr. Kildare and reap in more fan mail per week -15,000 letters-than Clark Gable did at his peak at MGM! Richard Chamberlain for a few years was MGM's biggest star.

See this movie and enjoy a scenic western with a fine cast.
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REES-112 July 2003
Has anyone noticed that almost every World War II movie had a triangle of two service men competing for the affection of one girl, with the world at war playing a minor role, usually to showcase the courage and nobility of our boys at war? Hollywood trotted out this formula once again for this movie, ruining an otherwise fine tale of soldiers on a far frontier battling a clever and determined enemy in a nasty little war, with no quarter asked or given. In the 60's there was no way a book was going to be brought faithfully to the screen. It had to be dumbed down, it had to devote an inordinate amount of time on the love interest, it had to be the equivilant of a "G" rating. A Thunder of Drums was an ass-kicking book, which failed as a film because although it managed to depart from romantic notions of war, still was unable to conceive of a story lacking romance. Even relatively recently, The Last of the Mohicans managed to have our frontiersman hero and a British officer competing for the affections of a girl. I am not saying there is no place for romance, but I am suggesting that some films would be better off without it, like A Thunder of Drums.
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A hard frontier school
bkoganbing8 August 2016
It's usually a bad sign for a western when a title is given that has nothing to do with the story. There's no thunder and no Indian war drums. But A Thunder Of Drums is a nice combination of soap opera and horse opera.

Richard Boone is one bitter commander of a forgotten frontier outpost in post Civil War Texas and has George Hamilton a new young lieutenant from the east assigned when he wanted someone with a little frontier experience. But there seems to be more than that in his hostility toward Hamilton.

As for Hamilton he doesn't help his own cause by immediately taking up with Luana Patten who is the fiancé of James Douglas another lieutenant on the post. Hamilton has history with Patten and he's looking to write a few new chapters.

But in the last 45 minutes of the film it's all cavalry business as Boone seeks to destroy a band of hostiles in the area and try to make sure the right tribe is blamed for some recent raids. It's a bitter school for his young officers Hamilton, Douglas and Richard Chamberlain.

A Thunder Of Drums is based on a story from western writer James Warner Bellah who was the source of the famous John Ford classic cavalry western Fort Apache. Some similarities in some of the characters are present here. They're not romanticized though in the way John Ford would do.

Such people as Arthur O'Connell as the first sergeant and troopers Slim Pickens and Charles Bronson have some small parts. Bronson who does not last long as Hamilton's orderly tries to tempt him in small ways. Definitely he's not a John Ford type character.

A Thunder Of Drums is a gritty western with good performances from the ensemble cast.
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salvaged by Richard Boone
RoughneckPaycheck13 January 2011
I have a soft spot for b-movies and random westerns. This one is a run-of-the-mill cavalry vs. Indians job that suffers from uneven pacing, a miscast lead role, and over-reliance on formula plot elements. But there are a few interesting points that make it worth watching.

One of its chief virtues is the excellent job it does of capturing the day to day flavor of life in a remote cavalry outpost in 1870s southwest. The military manners, habits, and routines are portrayed with convincing detail. The class stratification between enlisted men and officers is utterly real. An early scene with dead soldiers being transported on horseback is played to grim, nauseating effect, with enlisted men displaying hardened indifference and black humor about the situation. All of this gives the film some weight and veracity.

On the other hand, it suffers from generic Hollywood artificiality, relying unthinkingly on shoot 'em up conventions of faceless Indians, and sporting a formulaic romantic triangle subplot. Another major problem is George Hamilton's performance. The character he plays is not particularly sympathetic or likable, and he does nothing to bring depth to it. He's unappealingly flat and cocky. A better actor in this key role would've gone a long way toward breathing some life into the film, especially in its flabby, tedious midsection.

But the real reason to watch this film is Richard Boone. I've liked him in just about everything I've seen him in, but here he is completely riveting. He plays the tough, smart, experienced commander of the undermanned outpost. He's a lonely man, who feels keenly the burden of his job. Late in the film there's a scene where he discovers a scene of carnage, with a number of his men dead, and his controlled rage is very moving. He brings the only real gravitas and feeling to the movie, effectively communicating the weight of life & death decisions and consequences. He's absolutely terrific.
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What drums?
Poseidon-33 August 2002
The title of this film might lead one to believe that there will be some tension between cavalry and Indians including the suspenseful, psychologically torturous use of drums. It doesn't happen. Instead, after a pretty vivid opening sequence, the audience is treated to an hour of talk, talk, TALK. The script isn't bad, but needed occasional action interludes to keep the threat of the Indians alive. As the film opens, Indians have raped and killed two women and a surviving little girl is taken to an undermanned fort. Here, crusty Boone is trying to beat privileged Hamilton into shape as an officer. Future stars Bronson and especially Chamberlain have little to do. People keep coming into and back to the fort to report on action that has happened OFFscreen! When the soldiers FINALLY are shown going out for battle, it's an endless array of shots of them trekking through the desert. Eventually there is a fairly tense skirmish, but the Indians are shown mostly from a distance and there is limited drama in the presentation of the battle. And never any drums... Boone gives a decent performance as a weary, haggard, embittered officer. Hamilton is miscast and less effective. The actor commits a cardinal sin as he's introducing himself to Boone. He refers to himself as a member of the "calvary", not cavalry!! Amazing that this wasn't caught in the editing... Patten turns up as the fiancé of a fellow officer who has a history with Hamilton. She's given very little to do but look decorative. Marihugh, so effective in "The Last Voyage", says nary a word and was "retired" shortly after this film. Eddy joins the long list of performers who started with "and introducing" before their name and were scarcely seen (onscreen) again. Long-term "As the World Turns" fans will appreciate seeing Douglas (though he rarely lets the light hit his eyes and looks like a raccoon half the time!) Anyway...a few good scenes, but an ill-advised title.
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Good Drumbeat
Richie-67-48585214 October 2017
Richard Boone can carry a movie and here he is a major treat to behold. His character is course, wise and clear with just about everything making you instantly pay attention to everything he says and does. That's good acting and he pulls it off. Lots of familiar faces in this movie and you get a glimpse of what it was like in the start-up years of America out West. This point of view gives us the raw frontier, Indians, calvary, dust, death and some soap opera thrown-in which I had some trouble with along with the strong points of violence and sexual overtones. It opens right to the point with a scene that everyone can identify with which has an impact and sets the tone for the movie. Not a perfect story being told but it does capture the attention of the viewer all the way to the end. Another nice point of view presented very well is the difference between class room education and real life experience. There is a scene that can be read two different ways with one way being entirely wrong. The point made is that you don't get second chances out here and being wrong is not allowed if you want to survive. This point is drilled into everyone courtesy of Boones character. Good life lesson. I usually recommend eating while watching a movie. Here, a light snack is recommended with a tasty drink. Note: how this remote outpost is in the middle of nowhere but contains unto itself a complete snapshot of all the elements of human nature. Also, be aware that this movie has moral points made but shown by breaking them instead of preventing them which is probably why movie-goers rejected this when it first came out. The movie audience probably said: too much too soon and this movie went into the background. Forward HOOOOO
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Less Talk and More Action
beejer7 March 2000
A Thunder of Drums could have been a much better movie given the talent in the cast.

Richard Boone plays the grizzled captain of a remote fort in the middle of nowhere. He has little to do other than snarl at the young lieutenants and lament over that lost promotion. Pretty boy George Hamilton is woefully miscast as the new officer on the block. And speaking of miscasting, Arthur O'Connell as the top sergeant is a long way from "Picnic".

Charles Bronson appears as one of the soldiers who is either supposed to be comic relief or a slimey peeping Tom, we're never quite sure. The fight between Bronson and Hamilton is laughable considering the outcome.

Others in the cast include the bland Luana Patten as the heroine, a young Richard Chamberlain as one of the officers and veteran Slim Pickens who was hardly seen after the opening sequence. And yes, not to forget Duane Eddy as a guitar strumming private. The best that can be said about Eddy is that as an actor he makes a fine musician.

Most of the first 2/3 of the picture consists of the Boone character barking at his subordinates. The final third of the film contains most of the action and manages to salvage the picture.

I think that for this film could have done with less talk and more action.
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Visual style
thesimpsons22225 December 2006
Joey's comments above are spot on. And you should also notice the visual style of the film: scenes in the fort tend to be in tones of grey or blue, cavalry colours, but most scenes throughout the film have a detail picked out in bright red - clothing, books, drinks,and, finally blood. Compositions are also distinctive: two shots often have one figure closer to the camera, some medium shots have an over-the-shoulder angle. For those who like that kind of thing, there is an interesting Oedipal theme, and the film centres on the rite of passage of the central figure,played by George Hamilton, appropriately vain and self-regarding. Women are sacrificed and marginalised ruthlessly, and there is a further theme about children which I couldn't quite work out.

The cavalry/Indians structure is the peg on which a thoughtful narrative has been hung; even the killing scenes avoid the some of current excesses, and there are hints that the Indians have their own culture which the cavalry officers learn to recognise - and exploit. The inferior technology of the Indians is clearly a factor in their defeat.

It will be a shocking day when the US Cavalry meet an indigenous population which is tactically and technologically their equal, won't it?
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A cookie cutter movie about indians & soldiers repeated
Bobby G.2 February 2000
It is interesting to see a young George Hamilton and a young Richard Chamberlin and how they looked and acted in their early years. In fact, it is quite pathetic. Richard Boone plays the post commander whom, you learn at the END as to why an old man is still a captain. Really, it was droll movie. Slow plot development, if any and a meaningless conclusion. I did like the color except for one scene where Hamilton opens the door and sees an obviously painted scene in daylight and then exits into the nightlight on the exterior.
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Cavalry v. Indians.
Robert J. Maxwell6 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
George Hamilton is an inexperienced lieutenant in the cavalry (!) newly assigned to a post under the command of the somewhat unkempt, but very savvy Captain Richard Boone. Hamilton was born in Comanche territory but is the son of a general and has spent some years in a comfortable post back East. He thinks he knows everything and is anxious to fight.

He discovers that his former love, Luana Patton, is about to marry another officer. There are intrigues, involving Hamilton's making out with Patton behind her fiancé's back, and an attempt at blackmail by the uncouth Private Charles Bronson. Others in this pretty good cast include Arthur O'Connell, Slim Pickens, a young Richard Chamberlain, and Casey Tibbs, who may need Googling by those who have never heard of rodeos.

There's a good deal of talk, interrupted by action episodes of some interest, and the dialog has the ring of authenticity. A cavalry patrol discovers two women raped and butchered by Indians, and an officer gives the order for "three married men" to dress the women for burial. When the three dismount they are ordered to hand the reins of their horses to the man to the right of them. That's a nicely observed detail. So is the fact that an unpleasant odor accompanies the transport of four dead bodies.

Richard Boone, as the commanding officer, knows his business but he's stern and distant too. Nobody really gets close to him without being addressed as "Mister" and formally reprimanded for some minor infraction. Is this beginning to sound a little familiar? One of the sayings attributed to Boone is "never apologize, it's a sign of weakness." Honest.

The similarities stem from the fact that the story was written by James Warner Bellah, a pulp writer who also produced the stories for John Ford's "Fort Apache," "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon," and "Rio Grande." James Warner Bellah was a neat writer, with a good deal of military experience behind him. His weakness as a writer was Manicheanism. The white cavalry, whatever its internal conflicts, is superior in every respect to the treacherous and faceless American Indians. It's really a retrograde assumption and has nothing to do with political correctness. The guy was a talented racist. On top of that, the officer corps is superior to the enlisted soldiers who live only to collect their pay and immediately get drunk and pass out.

It wouldn't have taken much skill to turn this story into an involving saga of life in a cavalry outpost, with all its tribulations and its little rewards, to show some affection for the community. John Ford was able to do it -- three times. But director Joseph M. Newman opts to forget about a balanced, adult approach and hew to Bellah's dry and severe outline. It's all rather carelessly executed. All the officers except Boone have carefully styled and gelled hair. George Hamilton removes his cavalry hat and his hair is STILL flawlessly laid out across his scalp!

The performances are all professional and the basic plot is interesting. It's too bad that so little imagination was invested in its execution. The absence of poetry is pretty nearly startling. What we wind up with is a talky picture about people we don't really care much about.
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Apaches stage Comanche raid
RanchoTuVu13 March 2016
After a vicious Indian attack on a ranch in which the women are raped and killed and a young girl is left in a state of shock, the scene shifts to Fort Canby, under the command of Richard Boone. Unfortunately, this is not one of Boone's better movies. A lot of the blame, almost all of it perhaps, goes to the lines the actors have to somehow make sound real. That task turns out to be virtually impossible. The best part is the debate over which Indians, the Apaches or the Comanches, actually carried out the raid. Luana Patton takes top honors as the center of George Hamilton's and James Douglas's attention. Douglas, the ranking junior officer leads a small squad of soldiers out to track the Indians, setting in motion the central action sequences which culminates in a borderline ridiculous cavalry-Indian fight, somewhat saved by the arrows falling on some of the soldiers. However, life in the fort turns out to be a bit more interesting than the action outside of the walls.
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