Gary Cooper and Audrey Hepburn find... Love in the Afternoon (1957)

One of my favorite Gary Cooper films, maybe even my absolute favorite, is Love in the Afternoon. It even ranks high in Audrey Hepburn and Billy Wilder's filmographies for me. It's a beautiful confection of a film -- funny, interesting, wonderfully photographed, and supremely romantic. And before anyone mentions it, yes, there is an age difference between the leading man and lady, but no, I will not be commiserating over it. I detest reducing good performances to that kind of thing, because that's not what I care about when watching something as lovely as Love in the Afternoon. On to the movie!

Private eye Claude Chavasse (Maurice Chevalier) loves his job, which is clear from the moment we meet him as he snaps photos of an obviously illicit affair going on in a hotel across the street. We see a man and a veiled woman kiss each other goodbye, helping Chavasse's case all the more. Satisfied with what he got, he heads home and greets his completely charming daughter, Ariane (Hepburn).
Ariane is a somewhat naive young woman, relegated to combing through her father's old files to experience the adventures that dear old Papa would like to spare her from. He would rather she stick to playing the cello and dating the milquetoast Michel (Van Doude), not reading about suicidal lovers, cheating spouses, and disastrous affairs. Unfortunately for Papa, his career captures Ariane's imagination, so much so that she eavesdrops when one of her father's clients arrives to get the scoop on his wife.

Mr. X (a hilarious John McGiver) is heartbroken to be told that his wife is carrying on a relationship with the American businessman Frank Flannagan (Cooper), a rather notorious playboy whose exploits Chavasse has been documenting for years. As he listens to Chavasse recount the clockwork precision of the rendezvouses -- room service sets up dinner and champagne, gypsy musicians play for a few hours and then are dismissed
at 10 pm so Flannagan and Madame X know -- Mr. X calmly loads a gun, surprising Chavasse, who begs him to spare his wife's life. "I will not shoot my wife! I love my wife!" He wants to shoot this Flannagan fellow! To Ariane's shock, her father doesn't interfere with Mr. X's plans, instead lamenting that the death of Flannagan will cost him a good deal of business. Gotta love dark comedy.

Ariane is desperate to save this Mr. Flannagan. Knowing that Mr. X is committing the crime at 10 o'clock that night once the musicians leave, she calls the police but since the murder hasn't happened, they're less than interested. Realizing she'll have to stop the shooting herself, Ariane heads to the Ritz and sneaks into Flannagan's room via his balcony.

The playboy is confused by the appearance of this random girl, but when he hears about the
gun-toting husband out in his hallway, the trio do some quick thinking. Flannagan dismisses the musicians right on time, letting Mr. X burst in once they're gone. He finds Flannagan and a veiled woman in each other's arms, but his anger turns to confusion when he lifts the woman's veil and finds Ariane; meanwhile, his wife is using the balcony to escape. Utterly embarrassed, Mr. X leaves the twosome after checking the rest of the suite.

Now it's Ariane's turn to be flummoxed -- how did she know about Mr. X? Better yet, how does she seem to know Flannagan's whole history of ex-lovers? Ariane stammers, but Flannagan doesn't really care because there's an instant attraction between the two. He wants to thank her by inviting her to come back to his suite tomorrow night, a prospect that floors Ariane.

A bundle of nerves, she says that she can't come in the
evening because the man she lives with would be suspicious. After all, the only time Ariane can be out of the apartment for a long amount of time without alarming Papa is during her studies at a music conservatory in the afternoon. But all Monsieur Flannagan knows is that she lives with a man, which only doubles his interest because he now believes they're two of a kind. Ariane hesitantly accepts his invitation, mainly so she can get back home before she literally melts under the man's gaze.

Obviously lovestruck, Ariane spends the next morning reading through Papa's file on Flannagan, cleverly shielding it with sheet music so it looks like she's practicing the cello instead of disobeying Papa again. It's a very humorous scene as Ariane learns more and more about this mysterious businessman, some of it endearing and some of it disconcerting. Audrey Hepburn is so delightful to watch here. Becoming absorbed in her reading material rather than playing the music correctly, Ariane hits sour notes or stays on the same one for too long, perplexing Papa as he eats breakfast in the next room. Once he leaves the apartment for a case, Ariane returns the file and decides to write Flannagan a letter explaining that they're just too different and she can't possibly see him. Feeling satisfied after the third draft, she burns the failed attempts... and then burns the last letter too, unwilling to forget Mr. Flannagan just yet.

Arriving hours early for their date, Ariane tells Flannagan she just came to return Madame X's hat and to tell him that she won't be coming later. It's a rather weak excuse and one Flannagan sees through right away. He's able to charm Ariane into staying, mainly because it's his last night in Paris and she doesn't think she'll see him again. Their date goes as expected -- room service, glasses of champagne, the gypsy musicians, dancing -- and Ariane finds herself falling for Flannagan more and more. He enjoys spending time with her because he thinks they understand each other; they don't have to lie about their intentions or fear that the other will get clingy because they know exactly what this is, which is a plain and simple hook-up.

Ariane purposely doesn't help the situation by fueling his perception of her with stories of her various love affairs, which are really case details culled from her father's files. Flannagan doesn't even know her name, instead opting to call her "Thin Girl." Their time together comes to an end, with Flannagan wishing that he could give Ariane a gift for, you know, saving his life and stuff. Instead of Cartier, though, she just takes the flower from his lapel and wishes him farewell.

For months, Ariane follows Flannagan's globe-trotting escapades in the tabloids. One fateful night, she and Michel attend the opera. Spotting Flannagan from her balcony seat, Ariane is flustered as she watches him (and his date, Wilder's wife Audrey!) through her opera glasses. When the show breaks for intermission, Ariane and Flannagan reconnect in the lobby and ignoring her protests, he invites her to his hotel suite the next day. Once again dazed by the presence of Flannagan, Ariane returns home to find Papa with a beautiful white fur coat, the property of a client who wants Chavasse to keep it until he can get its sleeves shortened for his mistress. Intrigued by this story, Ariane decides to
wear the fur coat to her date and say it was a present from a paramour, a decision that becomes funny when you see how overwhelmed Hepburn is in the voluminous fur and when Flannagan points out that it's summertime. But this is where the Billy Wilder/I.A.L. Diamond magic comes in -- you see, for them an object is not just an object. It signifies something that contributes to character development and/or the overall story. The fur coat is one instance in Love in the Afternoon: it was a gift to a mistress, but then
became Ariane's way to act like the promiscuous girl Flannagan thinks she is, but then it inspires some humor that shows how ridiculous Ariane's charade is, and then it turns into her defense against Flannagan's advances. From the start of their date, the guy tries to get her to take off the coat, and she continues to sidestep the issue until finally she decides to stop resisting. The shot of her and Flannagan's feet as the coat falls to the floor and their feet dance away slyly suggests that after those gypsy musicians leave, more
                   clothes might be joining the coat.

Ariane's got some 'splaining to do, though, when she gets home. The client who owned the fur coat came to retrieve it and was furious to find it wasn't there. When Papa discovers that Ariane switched her cello with the coat, she lies that she took it to the conservatory to impress the other girls. Papa buys it and mentions that the client was now giving the coat to his wife because he found his mistress wearing an anklet, a sign of promiscuity. You can practically see the light bulb go off above Ariane's head as she takes a small
chain off of her cello case and eyes it.

We cut to another date with Flannagan, only this time they've moved out of the hotel room to enjoy a picnic by a lake. (Fabulous cinematography here by William Mellor. Really, the whole film looks just sumptuous and dreamy all throughout, lending a great mood of romance.) The gypsy musicians still accompany them, which is a hilarious touch as the film goes on.

Ariane is having a wonderful time as she munches on fried chicken in between kisses. But something's starting to affect Flannagan... could it be jealousy? Why yes, indeed. He casually asks Ariane about the different lovers she's had, but her answers make him more uncomfortable than before.

It doesn't help that when he goes in for a kiss, he notices Ariane's new "anklet," a gift from a Spanish
bullfighter he's told. He rips the anklet off and then apologizes, leading Ariane to say it doesn't mean anything as she flings it into the water. Later during a peaceful boat ride (complete with the gypsies on a separate boat behind them, bien sûr), Flannagan asks Ariane how many men she's been with and is simultaneously relieved and disturbed when she guesses twenty.

The next time we see them, they're back at the Ritz and Ariane is searching for one of her shoes, which she doesn't realize Flannagan has hidden in his robe pocket so she has to stay longer instead of dashing off at the same time she always does. She crawls on the floor and ends up underneath a small table, where she canoodles with Flannagan before they're interrupted by the telephone. It's a small moment, but one of my favorites as they flirt. When the phone rings, Ariane adorably says, "Mr. Flannagan, you're wanted upstairs."

All of this sweetness is cut short when the phone call turns out to be from some Swedish twins that Flannagan often has flings with. Upset, Ariane goes to look for her shoe in the bedroom, but then she spots the Dictaphone and realizes a way to get back at Flannagan. She leaves a memo for him, a detailed list of her past "lovers," numbers 1 through 20. She stops when she hears Flannagan enter the room and although he tries to convince her to stay, she discovers her shoe in his pocket and hits him on the head with it before leaving.

Preparing to meet with the twins, Flannagan starts getting ready for a bath when he notices the message light on his Dictaphone blinking. He plays it and laughs when he realizes what Ariane did. However, soon his amusement becomes major jealousy, especially when at the end of Ariane's message she says, "More to come." Flannagan replays the message over and over, sometimes listening to the same section three times before going on to the next tidbit. His bathwater runs over, but he doesn't notice. The champagne and the musicians come at their regular time, only they play as Flannagan keeps listening to his Dictaphone and gulping champagne. One of the best moments occurs when Flannagan and the gypsies start sending the alcohol cart back and forth to each other, with Flannagan filling their glasses and the cart coming back empty for more. It's all silent except for Ariane's recording, and it's just brilliant.

Feeling more depressed by the minute, Flannagan takes the musicians with him to a steam room to try and clear his head. In a clever twist, he runs into Mr. X in the sauna, who recognizes that Flannagan's mood comes from girl trouble. Exasperated, the playboy admits that he knows absolutely nothing about Ariane and it's driving him crazy. Mr. X has just the solution -- M. Chavasse, the private eye!

With a business card from Mr. X in hand, Flannagan arrives at Ariane's apartment the exact moment she has her head in the sink to wash her hair for that night's date. Chavasse is thrilled to see the irony of Flannagan's situation ("Hit-and-run lover -- got run over himself!"), but he doesn't have much to go on. The girl's name starts with an "A" and she's had various affairs, all of which Chavasse recognizes from his case files. He quickly puts two and two together and realizes that Ariane is the girl, but before he says anything to Flannagan, he asks if he's in love. Flannagan's response? "Love? Who said anything about love? I said I was interested. I have many interests."

Before Ariane can arrive, Chavasse goes to the Ritz and tells Flannagan that his mystery woman's past fits on just one piece of paper, in contrast to Flannagan's own monumental file. Flannagan is tickled to find out that Ariane was lying, but then Chavasse reveals she is his daughter and he knows that given his track record, Flannagan will only break her heart: "She's just a little fish. Throw her back in the water." Flannagan sees that he's right and decides to leave Paris right away. Ariane is crushed to discover him packing, and she asks if
she can see him off at the train station. There, the twosome have the longest, most excruciating walk to his train car. Both of them try to keep up their fronts, but Ariane's teary eyes and assurances that she'll be all right get to Flannagan and he sweeps her into the moving train with him. The girl is even more surprised when he calls her "Ariane" and they share a kiss, not knowing that a happy Papa was watching them. The film concludes with a voiceover from Papa reporting that "the case of Frank Flannagan and Ariane Chavasse came up before the Superior Judge in Cannes. They are now married, serving a life sentence in New York, state of New York, USA."

Thanks to the censors, Chevalier's voiceover at the end was tacked on in order to confirm that Ariane and Flannagan don't stay unmarried lovers. In Europe, though, the voiceover wasn't included so audiences weren't sure of the ultimate fate of the leads. Although I don't think what Chevalier says is completely necessary, I do appreciate that there is a voiceover like in the beginning of the movie, creating nice little bookends. Speaking of Chevalier, he is just so superb in this film. He still has that winsome little twinkle in his eye and although he became relegated to character parts by this point in his career, he more than holds his own against the megawatt charm of Hepburn and Cooper.

I must admit, when I see a warm father-daughter relationship on the screen, I practically melt in my seat. I have a great relationship with my dad and seeing the same thing depicted so accurately and so sweetly is enough to get this ol' cynic a little tear or two in her eyes. Love in the Afternoon has one of my favorite cinematic father-daughter duos. They adore each other and try to protect the other from "unseemly" doings, but in the end happiness is all that matters.

The best scene between them is when Ariane is secretly reading Flannagan's file and Papa comes in to tell her goodbye before leaving for another case. When Ariane lies that she's going to the conservatory that evening with Michel, Papa reveals that he may have investigated Michel's family a while ago just to be on the safe side. He then charmingly tells his daughter, "If I were an Indian potentate, I'd shower you with diamonds. If I were a cobbler, I'd sole your shoes. But since I'm only a detective, all I can offer you is a detailed dossier." Ariane is touched: "Papa, I love you very much." "I love you more." Doesn't it just give you all the feels?

This scene is just one of many throughout Love in the Afternoon that exemplify great characterizations. I mean, this is a Wilder and Diamond script after all. Part of why I love Billy Wilder so much is because he always creates these great moments that show off really well-rounded characters, even if they may only be onscreen for a short amount of time.

Take Michel for instance. We know he's a musician like Ariane; they've been friends for a while; and he clearly has a crush on her that she doesn't return. He tries to keep her from doing spontaneous things, like frantically calling the police to warn them about Mr. X or racing to the Ritz to save Flannagan (admittedly, he doesn't quite know what's going on). Then we arrive at the opera sequence. Michel concentrates fiercely on the music as he waves his hand around in mock conduction, telling us that he must want to be a conductor someday.
Ariane is somewhat bored and looks around, noticing that Michel has a loose strand on his shirt sleeve. She pulls it to try to help him, but winds up accidentally ripping his whole sleeve off. They look at each other in shock, then they try to suppress giggles as Ariane brainstorms and tucks the sleeve into his jacket to make it look like a pocket square. Michel looks at her with adoration, which she returns with a smile until Michel realizes the music is still going on and he's a few pages behind in the sheet music.

It's a cute moment, maybe less than two minutes, but it tells you a lot. Michel loves being around Ariane and she enjoys his company, yet you get the feeling that music means more to him at this time. His suit isn't of the best quality, which means he's probably frugal. It also reinforces what a quick-thinker Ariane is -- a torn sleeve as a pocket square? Genius!

A great deal of people mention cynicism when they talk about Wilder, which I always agreed with until I read Cameron Crowe's book of interviews with the director, Conversations with Wilder. Wilder didn't believe he was a cynic and it seemed to perplex him a little why he was constantly labeled as such. At first this made me laugh, but then I considered all of his movies that I've seen and I had to reconsider my stance. Yes, I think there's a dash of cynicism here and there, but overall Wilder's films are about optimism, whether it is earned or delusional.

Most of all, though, I think Wilder was a huge romantic and it very clearly shows. Relationships thought to be impossible are achieved, and when they're not, they become part of the film's tragedy. Like Sabrina three years earlier, Love in the Afternoon is all for celebrating romance and the transformations it enables. It takes a sardonic playboy and makes him realize he needs to grow up, while it matures the innocent Ariane.

Audrey Hepburn is the heart and soul of this film, as she so often was in her career. Her sparkling presence brings such humor and grace to the script. We feel every high and low of Ariane's as if it were our own, and we root for her happy ending without hesitating. It helps that Hepburn and Wilder were such sensational collaborators. He always knew what best suited her, and she always gave him profoundly vulnerable, wildly endearing performances.

In Conversations with Wilder, the director claimed that Cooper and Frank Flannagan were one and the same -- the actor was just as sophisticated, well-dressed, and appealing as his playboy character, with Wilder crediting Coop's ability to listen for why he bewitched women. Although he was no stranger to affairs with his leading ladies, Hepburn and he never took their romance off the screen, although they do have terrific chemistry. According to TCM, audiences and critics at the time weren't really perturbed with the age difference of the stars because things were kept very tasteful. The relationship's physicality is minimal, but if you read between the lines in a few scenes, you could certainly infer some things. I mean, I never thought anything of it when Ariane is searching for her
shoe in the hotel suite, until one day it hit me that maybe the script is saying that they just had sex -- I mean, Flannagan's got his robe on, he's smoking, Ariane had her shoes off, wink wink, nudge nudge. It's all done with a light touch, something that Wilder inherited from his idol, Ernst Lubitsch. Many say that Love in the Afternoon is Wilder's biggest love letter to Lubitsch (an idea helped by the presence of Maurice Chevalier), and I have to agree.

A perfect antidote to today's drudgery of unbearable romantic comedies, this irresistible film is more than enough to remind you that fantastic writing, gorgeous cinematography, charismatic performers, and the sure hand of a master director are sorely lacking in modern cinema. Love in the Afternoon is a real gem, and one that all involved should have been proud to make. It's certainly one that I'm proud to call one of my favorites.


I'm very happy to say that this is my contribution to Audrey at 90: The Salute to Audrey Hepburn Blogathon, sponsored by Sister Celluloid. Please celebrate the heavenly Ms. Hepburn by checking out the other entries here. Happy 90th, Audrey!

To further honor the birthday girl, please consider making a donation to UNICEF here.


  1. Love in the Afternoon sounds very amusing and fairly sweet. I don't know how I have missed it all these years, but this about to change.

    1. You're in for such a treat, Paddy! Audrey alone is worth the price of admission, but Chevalier and Cooper are terrific, too.

  2. Wonderful and super interesting article Michaela! I actually think Love in the Afternoon is my favourite Audrey Hepburn's film! It's so lovely and I've never minded the age difference between Audrey and Coop ;) Your admiration for this film shines through this article!

    1. Thanks, Virginie! I've never understood why this film is considered one of Wilder's lesser works. Some people blame the age difference, I know, but I find that a weak excuse since the rest of the film is so strong.

    2. I completely agree with you, Michaela!

  3. I have to admit that I thought Cooper was the wrong actor for the movie. Wilder's fist choices, Yul Brynner and Cary Grant, would have been much better. But it doesn't bother me too much. I think it is a lovely film, and Hepburn and Chevalier are fantastic!

    1. I'm glad you could see beyond Cooper to enjoy the movie. Not everyone can, haha.

      I will always lament that Cary Grant and Billy Wilder didn't make a film together. They were just so perfect for each other!

  4. Maurice Chevalier playing Audrey Hepburn's father is enough to make this film worth watching. I really like Gary Cooper too. He's not gruff like Humphrey Bogart who sometimes made me wonder how Sabrina Fairchild fell for him. Cooper's got suave. Really great article!

    1. Thanks, Victor! I cannot say enough good things about Chevalier in this film. He is just sublime.

  5. Your obvious love for this movie has me wanting to go back and re-watch it with your observations in mind.

    1. This is one film that I fall in love with again on every viewing. It's just filled with so much warmth and sweetness -- and humor!

      Thanks for reading!

  6. I remember JOHN MCGIVER from MR. HOBBS TAKES A VACATION with JIMMY STEWART & MAUREEN OHARA. John played a businessman whose wife was played by blonde MARIE WILSON. Also THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE with FRANK SINATRA & ANGELA LANSBURY.

  7. I meant to add that John played a senator, the father-in-law of RAYMOND(LAURENCE HARVEY) whose mother is played by Miss Lansbury. JAMES GREGORY plays the stepfather of Raymond and blonde beauty LESLIE PARRISH plays the wife of Raymond. Also JANET LEIGH is in the movie . Her character falls for the character played by Sinatra. CLASSIC TV FAN

    1. Love The Manchurian Candidate! The fate of McGiver's character in that film absolutely shocked me on my first viewing.

  8. Love in the Afternoon is such a nice movie! Like in Charade, it's not an older man predating on a young woman, but a consensual relationship. The film is funny and charming, and has the best of Wilder's "touch". I'm happy you mentioned the gypsy band, they were my favorite!
    Thanks for the kind comment!

    1. You're very welcome, Le!

      The gypsy band cracks me up. I love it when they follow Flannagan to the steam room. It's such a Wilder/Diamond move. And you make a great point about the relationship being pursued on both sides. It would certainly be a different movie if it was just Flannagan chasing after Ariane the whole time.

  9. Regarding an older man/younger woman romance this reminds me of the prime time soap KNOTS LANDING. When NICOLLETE SHERIDAN joined the cast in its 8th year(1986) as PAIGE, the daughter of MACK(KEVIN DOBSON) there was no plan to pair her up with GREG SUMNER(WILLIAM DEVANE). Mack & Greg had gone to law school together. When the person or persons in charge saw the chemistry between SHERIDAN & DEVANE that's when the idea of their romance came about. They didn't want people to hate Greg for being interested in a girl half his age so the story was that Paige became interested in him and was the one who made the first move. (The show ran for 14 seasons. Greg was on the show the last 10 seasons and Paige the last 7 seasons. ) Classic TV Fan

  10. Have you seen SABRINA with AUDREY HEPBURN and BOGART & HOLDEN? If so which do you like best, this movie or SABRINA? There was also, of course, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS that Audrey did with GEORGE PEPPARD. Have you seen Audrey in very many movies? What about the movies of GARY COOPER?

  11. I just posted about AUDREY & her movie SABRINA. I forgot to put my handle-Classic TV Fan.

    1. Sabrina is my second favorite movie ever. I just love it to pieces. Breakfast at Tiffany's is also really great. I think I've seen the majority of Audrey's films, or at least I try to. Gary Cooper is one of my favorite actors, but I haven't seen as many of his films as I'd like. He has a huge filmography and I don't think he was always given the best material, so it can be difficult to get through his work like I have with Audrey.

  12. I saw Audrey in the western THE UNFORGIVEN with BURT LANCASTER, AUDIE MURPHY and the legendary MISS LILLIAN GISH. Have you seen that one? By the way, what IS your favorite movie? Classic TV FAN

    1. That's one I would love to see! I had the opportunity to see it on the big screen once, but something came up and I missed it.

      My #1 favorite has always been The Wizard of Oz, ever since I first saw it when I was a toddler. :)

  13. I remember I saw THE UNFORGIVEN on TBS around 1988. It also had CHARLES BICKFORD, JOHN SAXON & DOUG MCCLURE. I first saw THE WIZARD OF OZ probably when I was 9 or 10. One thing I find interesting is that LIZA MINNELLI(the daughter of JUDY GARLAND(DOROTHY) was once married to the son of JACK HALEY(THE TIN MAN). The son was JACK HALEY, JR.

  14. I just posted about The Unforgiven and The Wizard Of Oz. I forgot my handle AGAIN. Classic TV Fan

  15. Audrey in Paris !

    "The gentle breeze from her bright face
    moves with the sound of wise words
    making a sweet harmony where it blows,
    as if a gentle spirit from Paradise
    seems always to comfort me, in that air,
    so that my heart won't let me breathe elsewhere..."

  16. This was a great read. I haven't seen Love in the Afternoon, but now I know I will at some point. In a documentary I saw on Audrey that used her own words, later in her career she was interested in films that were about what happened after the 'happily ever after'. And films like Robin and Marian (one of her last films) are a treasure when you see them from her perspective. I think she enjoyed playing in the extremely varied complexities of the real life two people have after they get together. She was a true treasure--even the pictures in this article make me smile just seeing her. That's a true gift imo.

    1. Thank you! I couldn't agree more -- Audrey was a spectacular lady and a wonderful actress. I love that idea of exploring beyond the happy ending. I think she did a great job of it, too, especially in Two for the Road.

  17. Audrey ! Wonderful romantic sophisticated Paris ballet opera style !

  18. I just watched the movie for the first time on TCM and enjoyed it very much. BTW, when Cooper is in the apartment of Audrey's father, he dubs in the line "I can't get to first base with her." Evidently this was added in to show the censors that they weren't having sex during their afternoon dates.

    1. Glad to hear you liked the film! You just can't beat Billy Wilder and that cast. Thanks for reading!

  19. Love, love your detailed analysis of Love in the Afternoon. I just recently rewatched it twice. Its on Youtube. An absolute charmer with a level of sophistication pretty much long gone. Loved the flying bar table scene too. The funny little dog getting smacked. So many little visual jokes you could easily miss. A real treasure worth revisiting from time to time. I’ve been drawing Audrey, including Ariane. Quite a challenge. Thank you for this delightful post. Cheers, Parisbreakfast

    1. Thank you so much for commenting! "A level of sophistication pretty much long gone" -- absolutely! It's sad to say, but no one is making films quite like this anymore.

  20. Love in the Afternoon somehow the same as "Funny Face" ! Wonderful classic sophisticated Paris ballerina Hotel Ritz style from and with Audrey !


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