Dr. Christina J. Johns
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Dr. Christina J. Johns

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Book reviews, movie reviews, classic movie picks, classic actor picks, a discussion about all things arty. 

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Eight Iron Men (1952)

Posted on June 23, 2019 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)


While doing research on Burt Lancaster I ran across this story.


Soon after Lancaster returned from the war (where he had spent most of his time in Italy entertaining troops) he went, still dressed in his uniform, to see the girlfriend he had met when overseas. She worked for a radio company in New York.


Lancaster was so striking and impressive, a man who happened to be in the elevator asked if he was an actor. “A dumb actor,” Lancaster replied, using a term common in the circus world for a performer that doesn’t speak, like an acrobat, which Lancaster was. The man took it as a joke and followed Lancaster.


When he caught up with him, he asked Lancaster to try out for a play opening soon on Broadway. Lancaster had done some acting before the war and a lot of performing. He also needed a job. And, the play was about service men trapped in a bombed-out town in Italy. The character Burt was to play had a choice of whether to buck higher ups and risk the lives of his men to save a comrade who was trapped in enemy territory. It was a play that fit Lancaster like a glove. He had been a soldier, and one who didn’t always get along with the brass, and he had been in Italy. He accepted.


The play “The Sound of Hunting” (written by Harry Brown) opened on Broadway in 1945. Unfortunately, audiences weren’t quite ready for gritty war plays having just come through a war themselves. The play closed within a month. Lancaster’s performance, however, was favorably noted by the critics and it set him on the path of acting. It was on the basis of his performance in this play that Lancaster went to Hollywood.


Over ten years later, in 1957, Burt starred in a movie that centered around a prison and a story where most of the characters were men (Brute Force). In order to make that movie more appealing to women, they decided to write in episodes involving flashbacks of each man. The flashbacks were about the women who got the men into trouble. Originally, they were going to have the same actress play all the parts. Ava Gardner was tested to play the women. During the test, Gardner and Burt were extremely attracted to each other and had a one night stand. Later, the idea of using one actress to play all the women's parts, was abandoned and Gardner played just one instead of all the women.  Who knows if the one night stand had anything to do with the decision to demote Gardner, but it’s interesting to speculate.


Burt would later state that adding the vignettes about the women weakened the script considerably and was a mistake.


In 1952, Stanley Kramer decided to produce a film “Eight Iron Men” based on the play (by Harry Brown) Lancaster had starred in on Broadway. The film was directed by Edward Dmytryk and Lee Marvin played the part Lancaster had played years before. Kramer had gotten a commitment from Burt to play the part he had played on Broadway, but by the time a schooting date was arranged, Burt was involved in another project.  This led Kramer to using virtual unknowns in the movie.


Interestingly, the device of writing in vignettes of the women who lived in the men’s fantasies was used in "Eight Iron Men." In this film, they did and did not use the same actress to play all the women's parts. They used women who looked exactly like Rita Hayworth. The women look so much like Rita I thought it was her. I was convinced that IMDB was wrong when it listed other women in the film. 


It's impossible to know, but it's intersting to speculate whether this idea (of using the vignettes and the same woman) came from Lancaster in talks about the film. 






Mary Jane's Pa (1935)

Posted on June 18, 2019 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (0)

 

Mary Jane in this film is both the daughter of the two protagonists and their name for a printing press they used to put out a newspaper when they were first married. The printing press saves them and their town at the end of the film.


Guy Kibbe (1882-1956) and Aline MacMahon (1899-1991) play the two leads. Married with two daughters, Kibbe gets wanderlust and leaves. He stays gone so long his wife, MacMahon, is almost convinced he’s dead, and she is about ready to marry the town smooth character who is also running for political office.


That she is editor of the town newspaper comes in more than a little bit handy to this smooth operator with designs on political office and MacMahon.


Kibbe, after finding his wife and daughters in another town, tries to develop a relationship, but the closest he can get is to work as a housekeeper for them. He agrees to do so, and finds out that the prospective husband is a no good. He, of course, saves the day and the marriage.


The film is based on a novel by Norman Way and a play by Edith Ellis Furness. It’s not the best film you’ve ever seen, but it’s entertaining enough.

 

There are some truly obnoxious minor actors like the little girl who plays Kibbe’s youngest daughter (Betty Jean Hainey) whose voice is grating to say the least. There is also the cartoonish love interest of Kibe’s older daughter (Tom Brown), but all in all it’s worth watching.

 

It’s typical American fare – honest and loveable newspaperman and his strong wife save local community and their marriage from dishonest politician. Would that it worked the same way now.

 

Kibbe and MacMahon acted together in ten films. The two became such a familiar and lovebale couple to theatre audiences, they were billed “those loveable screenmates” in the trailer for this film. They were such a familiar and respected couple on stage they played the Babbits in the 1934 version of Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt.

 

MacMahon was nominated for an Academy Award nine years later for her supporting role in Dragon Seed (1944) with Katharine Hepburn. She went back and forth between the screen and the stage for her entire career. She played some serious theatre roles even though she was best known for wisecracking women in films. She was extremely versatile, playing in dramas and comedies.

 


Frederic Bazille

Posted on June 9, 2019 at 4:25 PM Comments comments (0)

FREDERIC BAZILLE (1841-1870)



 

Bazille was a French Impressionist painter. Many of his paintings are “figure paintings” in which he places the subject within a landscape painted en plein air. He begain painting after seeing the work of Eugene Delacroix. He moved to Paris in 1862 and met Pierre-Auguste Renior and Alfred Sisley. He failed the medical exam his parents made him take because they agreed to ifnance his art studies only if he studied medicine at the same time. His close friends included Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley and Edouard Manet. He often heped support his friends with his money. His best knows works were “The Pind Dress, Musee d’Orsay. His best knows painting is “Family Reunion. Bazille died on the battlefield in the Franco-Prussian War.

 

Man on Fire (1957)

Posted on June 6, 2019 at 5:20 PM Comments comments (0)

 

 

MAN ON FRE (1957)

 

A wealthy businessman, Earl Carleton (Bing Crosby), is bitter about a divorce and tries to keep his son from having a relationship with his former wife (May Fickett). The two parents, with assistance from the wife’s new husband () and Crosby’s law team (E. G. Marshall and Inger Stevens) fight it out and in typical Hollywood fashion everybody ends up happy.

 

This is the first film where the studio didn’t feel like it had to have Cosby sing at least one song to please his audience. Crosby was at this time and had been for decades an important popular singer. He was one of the top selling recording artists of all time. Crosby did finally end up, under protest, singing the theme song to the film – a strange choice since the lyrics are about a man in love being a man on fire. The script, however, is not about a man in love unless you interpret it to mean that he’s in love with his son.

 

Man on Fire is also one of the few serious dramatic roles played by Crosby in his career. Before this role, Crosby had played a correspondent searching or his son believed to have been killed in WWII (Little Boy Lost, 1953) and in 1954, a recovering alcoholic stage actor (Country Girl). Even in these films, he performed at least one song.

 

To Crosby’s credit, he insisted on leaving in the hard edges of his character even though it made him somewhat unpleasant and unsympathetic. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times said that it was a “difficult and unattractive role.” He described Crosby’s character as “a stubborn, self-pitying father who tries to monopolize his young son.” But “Variety” called it an “appealing and sensitive performance.”

 

The movie was not a hit at the box office, and it’s not difficult to understand why. There are few appealing characters in the film. The supporting characters of the lawyer, E. G. Marshall, and the lawyer’s assistant, Inger Stevens, come as close as you’re going to get. And, it’s not the type of role people expected from Bing Crosby. And, the studio made a decision to use two stage actresses for the major female roles (Inger Stevens and Mary Fickett). This was the first film for both.

 

The screenplay (written by the director, Ranald MacDougall) was based on a story which was dramatized on television in a 1955 episode of “The Alcoa Hour.” It probably would have worked better as a shorter piece. It’s hard to watch 90 minutes of people arguing over a custody dispute. But, the film brought Crosby some of the best reviews of his career.

 

At the beginning of filming, Stevens had an appendicitis attack. Crosby took to visiting her in the hospital and the two developed a close relationship. This eventually turned into an affair during the production. Crosby had also had an affair with Grace Kelly while he was filming with her. And, he was also (unbeknownst to Stevens) involved with a young starlet, Kathryn Grant, during the filming of “Man on Fire.” Crosby was 33 years older than Stevens.

 

Stevens was just out of a marriage to her agent, reportedly an abusive and intensely jealous man. She also had a habit of having relationships with people she worked with.

 

Stevens evidently wanted to be the second Mr. Crosby, but she wasn’t willing to convert to Catholicism for Crosby. Sometime after the filming of “Man on Fire” Stevens accepted a proposal from Crosby that she redecorate his home. She, it is said, assumed that he asked her because she would be living there as his next wife. But, while she was doing the redecorating, she found out that Crosby had married Grant.

 

Not long after, (January 1959) Stevens made another suicide attempt. She later died in 1970 from an overdose of alcohol and pills.

 

Crosby was left with four sons after his first wife died in 1952. Two of those sons reportedly committed suicide. One of those sons wrote a memoir “Going My Own Way,” in which he accuses Crosby of physical and psychological abuse. Grant wrote several books about her life with Bing.

 

For a detailed discussion of ‘stevens’ career see

 

http://www.classicimages.com/people/article_1e7f82c6-bac3-57e9-a1bb-2d301aee1af7.html

 

Books about Bing Crosby

 

Giddins, Gary (2018) Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star: the War Years, 940-1946.

Giddins, Gary (2002) BingCrosby: A Pocketful of Dreams – The early Years, 1903-1940.

Bing Crosby, Pete Martin, et. Al. (2001) Call Me Lucky: Bing Crosby’s Own Story.

Crosby, Kathryn (2002) My Last years with Bing.

Prigozy, Ruth (2007) Going My Way: Bing Crosby and American Culture.

 

Man on Fire (1957)

Posted on June 6, 2019 at 5:20 PM Comments comments (0)

 

 

MAN ON FRE (1957)

 

A wealthy businessman, Earl Carleton (Bing Crosby), is bitter about a divorce and tries to keep his son from having a relationship with his former wife (May Fickett). The two parents, with assistance from the wife’s new husband () and Crosby’s law team (E. G. Marshall and Inger Stevens) fight it out and in typical Hollywood fashion everybody ends up happy.

 

This is the first film where the studio didn’t feel like it had to have Cosby sing at least one song to please his audience. Crosby was at this time and had been for decades an important popular singer. He was one of the top selling recording artists of all time. Crosby did finally end up, under protest, singing the theme song to the film – a strange choice since the lyrics are about a man in love being a man on fire. The script, however, is not about a man in love unless you interpret it to mean that he’s in love with his son.

 

Man on Fire is also one of the few serious dramatic roles played by Crosby in his career. Before this role, Crosby had played a correspondent searching or his son believed to have been killed in WWII (Little Boy Lost, 1953) and in 1954, a recovering alcoholic stage actor (Country Girl). Even in these films, he performed at least one song.

 

To Crosby’s credit, he insisted on leaving in the hard edges of his character even though it made him somewhat unpleasant and unsympathetic. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times said that it was a “difficult and unattractive role.” He described Crosby’s character as “a stubborn, self-pitying father who tries to monopolize his young son.” But “Variety” called it an “appealing and sensitive performance.”

 

The movie was not a hit at the box office, and it’s not difficult to understand why. There are few appealing characters in the film. The supporting characters of the lawyer, E. G. Marshall, and the lawyer’s assistant, Inger Stevens, come as close as you’re going to get. And, it’s not the type of role people expected from Bing Crosby. And, the studio made a decision to use two stage actresses for the major female roles (Inger Stevens and Mary Fickett). This was the first film for both.

 

The screenplay (written by the director, Ranald MacDougall) was based on a story which was dramatized on television in a 1955 episode of “The Alcoa Hour.” It probably would have worked better as a shorter piece. It’s hard to watch 90 minutes of people arguing over a custody dispute. But, the film brought Crosby some of the best reviews of his career.

 

At the beginning of filming, Stevens had an appendicitis attack. Crosby took to visiting her in the hospital and the two developed a close relationship. This eventually turned into an affair during the production. Crosby had also had an affair with Grace Kelly while he was filming with her. And, he was also (unbeknownst to Stevens) involved with a young starlet, Kathryn Grant, during the filming of “Man on Fire.” Crosby was 33 years older than Stevens.

 

Stevens was just out of a marriage to her agent, reportedly an abusive and intensely jealous man. She also had a habit of having relationships with people she worked with.

 

Stevens evidently wanted to be the second Mr. Crosby, but she wasn’t willing to convert to Catholicism for Crosby. Sometime after the filming of “Man on Fire” Stevens accepted a proposal from Crosby that she redecorate his home. She, it is said, assumed that he asked her because she would be living there as his next wife. But, while she was doing the redecorating, she found out that Crosby had married Grant.

 

Not long after, (January 1959) Stevens made another suicide attempt. She later died in 1970 from an overdose of alcohol and pills.

 

Crosby was left with four sons after his first wife died in 1952. Two of those sons reportedly committed suicide. One of those sons wrote a memoir “Going My Own Way,” in which he accuses Crosby of physical and psychological abuse. Grant wrote several books about her life with Bing.

 

For a detailed discussion of ‘stevens’ career see

 

http://www.classicimages.com/people/article_1e7f82c6-bac3-57e9-a1bb-2d301aee1af7.html

 

Books about Bing Crosby

 

Giddins, Gary (2018) Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star: the War Years, 940-1946.

Giddins, Gary (2002) BingCrosby: A Pocketful of Dreams – The early Years, 1903-1940.

Bing Crosby, Pete Martin, et. Al. (2001) Call Me Lucky: Bing Crosby’s Own Story.

Crosby, Kathryn (2002) My Last years with Bing.

Prigozy, Ruth (2007) Going My Way: Bing Crosby and American Culture.

 

On The Loose (1951)

Posted on June 3, 2019 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (0)

On the Loose (1951)

 

I don’t know that Melvyn Douglas hated making this movie, but I can imagine that he did. It is just such a terrible script (based on a story by Malvin Wald and Collier Young). It may be that the theme just seems so hackneyed now that it’s impossible to watch it without seeing the obvious direction of the story a mile ahead. But, Melvyn Douglas made a lot of movies, good movies and I can’t help but wonder what he thought about this one.

 

Added to the pretty dreadful script is the directing that has Lynn Bari playing the mother in unrelenting obnoxiousness. Fortunately, Douglas’ character, the father, at least gets some sympathetic lines. I don’t think Bari has any. And, Douglas uses the opportunity of a section of the film where he takes his daughter out dancing to introduce the charm of his natural character. I almost fell in love with him during these scenes where he dances with his daughter.

 

Interestingly enough, this film was produced by Ida Lupino’s production company. Known for social commentary productions, most of the films made by this production company stand up well even decades later. This one doesn’t. There is such an obvious and simplistic “blame it on selfish parents” theme that it is unsatisfying.

 

You can see the same problem four years later in “Rebel Without a Cause.” I suppose at the time, the theme of the film was ground breaking, but much like “Rebel” I find the young people in  "On the Loose" whiny, self-indulgent and unsympathetic.

 

And, it is yet another of the “cautionary tales” for women movies. The message distinctly sent is that if you play fast and loose with boys, your reputation will be affected, and polite society will shun you. It doesn’t matter if you’re guilty or innocent, ignore the rules at your own peril. Even if it’s all the fault of your parents, you might have to leave town if you (as in this film) date a lot of boys and have too much, even platonic, fun with them.

 

It also makes clear that boys will not respect you if you go places with them where there are no adults to chaperone. It’s the “they won’t respect you in the morning” lesson. The teenage girl goes to a boy’s house and makes it clear that she’s willing to be sexually available, but when she starts to talk about marriage and children, it turns him off. But, even so, it doesn’t stop him from parroting his MOTHER’S admonition that you can’t trust a girl who would come to the house anyway. You can’t even trust her to wait for you if you go to war (as he explains) because a girl like her would be dating other boys when he was away.

 

Another thing that makes this film hackneyed and unsatisfying is the ending. Both parents (who were horrors during most of the film) suddenly become thoughtful and loving at the end, surrounded by the wider community who gather to give her a party.

 

As Leonard Maltin writes of, “On the Loose:” “Pretty awful, but intriguing as a relic of its era.”

 

Note: Joan Evans was the daughter of two Hollywood writers. They named her after her god mother, Joan Crawford. When Evans was 17, she announced that she was going to marry a car salesman. Her parents asked Joan as her god mother to use her influence to try to stop it. Joan not only didn’t condemn the union, she blessed it and arranged to have the wedding in her house without the parents. Isn’t Joan Crawford just preposterous?

 



On The Loose (1951)

Posted on June 3, 2019 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (0)

On the Loose (1951)

 

I don’t know that Melvyn Douglas hated making this movie, but I can imagine that he did. It is just such a terrible script (based on a story by Malvin Wald and Collier Young). It may be that the theme just seems so hackneyed now that it’s impossible to watch it without seeing the obvious direction of the story a mile ahead. But, Melvyn Douglas made a lot of movies, good movies and I can’t help but wonder what he thought about this one.

 

Added to the pretty dreadful script is the directing that has Lynn Bari playing the mother in unrelenting obnoxiousness. Fortunately, Douglas’ character, the father, at least gets some sympathetic lines. I don’t think Bari has any. And, Douglas uses the opportunity of a section of the film where he takes his daughter out dancing to introduce the charm of his natural character. I almost fell in love with him during these scenes where he dances with his daughter.

 

Interestingly enough, this film was produced by Ida Lupino’s production company. While knows for social commentary productions, all the films made by this production company stand up well even decades later. This one doesn’t. There is such an obvious and simplistic “blame it on selfish parents” theme that it is facile.

 

It’s the same problem four years later in “Rebel Without a Cause.” I suppose at the time, the theme of the film was ground breaking, but much like “Rebel” I find the young people in the film whiny, self-indulgent and unsympathetic.

 

And, it is yet another of the “cautionary tales” for women movies. The message distinctly sent is that if you play fast and loose with boys, your reputation will be affected, and polite society will shun you. It doesn’t matter if you’re guilty or innocent, ignore the rules at your own peril. Even if it’s all the fault of your parents, you might have to leave town if you (as in this film) date a lot of boys and have too much, even platonic, fun with them.

 

It also makes clear that boys will not respect you if you go places with them where there are no adults to chaperone. It’s the “they won’t respect you in the morning” lesson. The teenage girl goes to a boy’s house and makes it clear that she’s willing to be sexually available, but when she starts to talk about marriage and children, it turns him off. But, even so, it doesn’t stop him from parroting his MOTHER’S admonition that you can’t trust a girl who would come to the house anyway. You can’t even trust her to wait for you if you go to war (as he explains) because a girl like her would be dating other boys when he was away.

 

Another thing that makes this film hackneyed and unsatisfying is the ending. Both parents (who were horrors during most of the film) suddenly become thoughtful and loving at the end, surrounded by the wider community who gather to give her a party.

 

As Leonard Maltin writes of, “On the Loose:” “Pretty awful, but intriguing as a relic of its era.”

 

Note: Joan Evans was the daughter of two Hollywood writers. They named her after her god mother, Joan Crawford. When Evans was 17, she announced that she was going to marry a car salesman. Her parents asked Joan as her god mother to use her influence to try to stop it. Joan not only didn’t condemn the union, she blessed it and arranged to have the wedding in her house without the parents. Isn’t Joan Crawford just preposterous?

 



Clark Gable: The King of Hollywood

Posted on May 29, 2019 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (0)


Clark Gable was born in 1901 in Ohio.  His father was an oil prospector.  Even when Gable was making a lot of money, his father continued to think Clark would have done better if he had followed his father into the oil business.  

Novel/Movie Series: Burt Lancaster

Posted on May 27, 2019 at 2:45 PM Comments comments (0)

BURT LANCASTER BOOKS

 

Buford, Kate (2000) Burt Lancaster: An American Life.

Fishgall, Gary (1995) Against Type: The Biography of Burt Lancaster.

Fury, David (1989) Cinema History of Burt Lancaster

Charles River Editors (2014) American Legends: The Life of Burt Lancaster

(Free on kindle unlimited)


The next Novel/Movie Series will cover the films of Burt Lancaster.  Look foward to seeing you there. 

Mass Market Paperback () Burt Lancaster by Windeler, Robert (1985)

 


New Novel/MOvie Series

Posted on May 26, 2019 at 1:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Burt Lancaster

 

Fortunately, we have a lot of movies to choose from. Burt Lancaster made eighty movies. Of course, not all of them are based on novels. But many of them are. This is what I have come up with so far.


(1999) Luchino Visconti (documentary, himself)

(1996) The Island of Dr. Moreau

(1989) Field of Dreams (W.P. Kinsella “Shoeless Joe”;)

(1988) Rocket Gibraltar

(1988) The Jeweller’s Shop

(1987) Control -

(1986) Tough Guys

(1985) Kiss of the Spider Woman -?

(1985) Little Treasure

(1983) Local Hero (Bill Forsyth)

(1983) The Osterman Weekend

(1981) Cattle Annie and Little Britches

(1981) The Skin

(1980) Atlantic City

(1979) Zulu Dawn

(1978) Go Tell the Spartans -

(1977) Twilight’s Last Gleaming

(1977) Exploring the Unknown (documentary)

(1976) The Cassandra Crossing

(1976) Buffalo Bill and the Indians (small part)

(1976) 1900?

(1974) The Fighters –

(1974) Conversation Piece

(1974) The Midnight Man (novel by David Anthony, Lancaster writing credit, directed)

(1973) Executive Action

(1973) Scorpio -

(1972) Ulzana’s Raid

(1971) Valdez is Coming (novel by Elmore Leonard)

(1971) Lawman

(1970) Airport

(1970) King: A Filmed Record (himself)

(1969) The Gypsy Months

(1969) Castle Kep

(1968) The Swimmer (Story by John Cheever)

(1968) The City of Gods

(1968) The Scalphunters

(1966) The Professionals (Novel by Frank O’Rourke, screenplay by Richard Brooks)

(1965) The Hallelujah Trail

(1964) The Train (French screenplay)

(1964) Seven Days in May (Fletcher Knebel, Charles W. Bailey II, novel, screenplay by Rod Serling)

(1963) The Leopard (novel by Guisseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, on audible)

(1963) The List of Adrian Messenger

(1963) A Child is Waiting -

(1962) Birdman of Alcatraz (Novel by Thomas E. Gaddis)

(1961) The Young Savages

(1961) Judgment at Nuremberg (story by Abby Mann, later stage play, amazon, audible)

(1960) The Unforgiven (directed by John Huston, novel by Alan LeMay)

(1960) Elmer Gantry (Sinclair Lewis)

(1959) The Devil’s Disciple

(1959) Take a Giant Step

(1958) Run Silent Run Deep

(1958) Separate Tables – (play by Terence Rattigan who wrote the screenplay with John Gay).

(1957) Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (screenplay by Leon Uris, lots of non-fiction books about this fight).

(1957) Sweet Smell of Success (novel by Ernest Lehman, screenplay by Lehman and Cifford Odets)

(1957) The Bachelor Party

(1956) Trazeze

(1956) The Rainmaker (play by N. Richard Nash)

(1955) The Rose Tattoo (Screenplay and play by Tennessee Williams)

(1955) Marty (Produced)

(1955) The Kentuckian (novel by Felix Holt, directed)

(1954) Apache

(1954) His Majesty O’Keefe (uncredited directing novel by Lawrence Klingman and Gerald Green)

(1954) Very Cruz

(1953) From Here to Eternity (NOVEL by james Jones)

(1953) South Sea Woman

(1953) Three Sailors and a Girl

(1952) The Crimson Pirate

(1952) Come Back, Little Sheba (play by William Inge)

(1951) Jim Thorpe – All American

(1951) Vengeance Valley

(1951) Ten Tall Man -

(1950) Mister 880

(1950) The Flame and the Arrow -

(1949) Criss Cross (novel by Don Tracy)

(1949) Rope of Sand

(1948) All MY Sons (Arthur Miller play)

(1948) Sorry, Wrong Number -

(1948) Kiss the Blood Off My Hands

(1947) Brute Force

(1947) Desert Fury –

(1947) Variety Girl –

(1947) I Walk Alone -

(1946) The Killers (Story by Ernest Hemingway)




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