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Film: Licence to Kill

M: This private vendetta of yours could easily compromise Her Majesty's government. You have an assignment, and I expect you to carry it out objectively and professionally.
M: We're not a country club, 007!

The one where Bond goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.

The 16th James Bond film, starring Timothy Dalton in his second and last appearance as 007. After an escaped drug lord brutally attacks Bond's old friend Felix Leiter on his wedding night and murders Leiter's wife, Bond starts a personal vendetta against said drug lord that requires him to become a Rogue Agent in the process.

It is a polarizing film among James Bond fans; with some viewing it as a cheap attempt to be Darker and Edgier and cash in on the late '80s Miami Vice/Lethal Weapon/Death Wish craze; while others view it as a welcome return to the spirit of the Ian Fleming novels, as the film uses elements from Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun and the short story "The Hildebrand Rarity" (it actually contains more Fleming material than many of the screen adaptations of several Fleming titles—additionally, both Dalton and Robert Davi used the novel of Casino Royale as inspiration to define their characters as mirror images of each other). It was also affected by the 1988 Writers' Strike, with producer Michael G. Wilson having to finish off the script on his own without co-writer Richard Maibaum.

Though the film tested better with audiences than any previous James Bond film, and did very well overseas (even better than The Living Daylights in some markets), it severely under-performed in North America, due to a poor promotional campaign and even poorer release date—the summer of 1989, after several much higher-profile and better marketed action and adventure blockbusters had already cleaned up at the box office. Though James Bond was certainly not the only longtime franchise installment which underperformed that summer.

Dalton was signed to return as James Bond for a third time, but legal issues (a lawsuit concerning television licensing rights sold off cheap by the new MGM owners to finance the purchase of MGM, without approval of franchise co-owner, the Broccoli/Wilson family), coupled with reluctance, if not outright resistance, of the new MGM management in 1993 to see Dalton return once more, kept the series in a long-running hiatus until Dalton "resigned" in April 1994. Pierce Brosnan was announced as the new James Bond in July 1994 and GoldenEye came out in November 1995.


This film contains examples of:

  • Action Dress Rip: Justified. Pam's evening dress zipped off at the knee level.
  • Action Girl: Pam Bouvier is arguably the best example of the series. Other than the Bimini Bar Brawl (in which Bond really only provided the getaway vehicle), she never really needs to be saved by Bond. In fact, she saves him a few times.
  • Adaptation Distillation: An interesting one, because the movie isn't directly based on any Ian Fleming novel. License does lift Felix Leiter's shark attack from the novel Live and Let Die... the movie version of which starred David Hedison as Leiter. The movie also mixes elements of The Man with the Golden Gun and a short story "The Hildebrand Rarity".
    • More specifically, the character of Milton Krest and the Wavekrest are from "The Hildebrand Rarity", although the titular rarity — a fish — doesn't appear. Krest's wife-beating habits are given to Sanchez. As for The Man with the Golden Gun, Sanchez himself shares many qualities with the novel's version of Fransico Scaramanga, both being crime lords in Central America, although he's more Faux Affably Evil.
  • Affably Evil: Professor Joe Butcher is a conman, but he's never anything but pleasant. Even when Pam pulls a gun on him, or steals back her "donation", he can only smile about the whole thing. It helps that it's not his money being stolen, and he did get to see her shapely leg. It's probably the reason he's the only villain in the film who survives Bond's wrath.
  • Artistic License - Gun Safety: There is a point during Bond's assembly of the camera/sniper rifle where he ends up pointing the barrel at himself. This is even worse than it sounds, since he had loaded the gun just seconds before. Q should also get a mention in this, for designing a gun in which loading it is part of the assembly process rather than something you do after its been put together.
  • Asshole Victim: Ed Killifer, Milton Krest
  • Ax-Crazy: Dario
  • Badass: Bond, of course.
  • Banana Republic: Isthmus City is an Expy for Panama. Sanchez even has a meeting with "el Presidenté", where he informs the man that he is "replaceable".
    Sanchez: You're only President... For Life.
  • Bang Bang BANG: As an in-joke, some bullets ricocheting off a tanker do so to the tune of the Bond theme.
  • Bar Brawl: Complete with Grievous Bottley Harm and Chairman of the Brawl.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Bond seems to desperately want Pam Bouvier. He vents his frustration by displaying vague hostility towards her.
  • Berserk Button: Bond accepts the violent deaths of those in the world of espionage as a fact of life; but when you start involving innocents (old-flame and best friend's wife or not), on the other hand, that's when you find yourself on his bad side. And as the movie poster clearly states, Bond's bad side is a dangerous place to be.
    • Franz Sanchez does not take being screwed over very well, a trait that Bond ends up taking advantage of.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Hong Kong DEA tells this to his partner. She obliges by shooting as many of Sanchez's men as possible before being gunned down.
  • Betty and Veronica: Pam Bouvier and Lupe Lamora.
  • Big Damn Villains: Bond would have been sent straight back to England after he was caught by the undercover narcotics agents if it weren't for the timely intervention by Heller.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Probably the bloodiest and goriest Bond film to date.
  • Bond One-Liner: Oddly, by the villain.
    Sanchez: (when asked what to do about the blood-splattered money) Launder it.
    • "SWITCH THE BLOODY MACHINE OFF!"
    • Also includes probably the smartest Bond One-Liner; At Ernest Hemingway's house, when Bond is asked to hand over his gun, "I guess this is a farewell to arms."
    • There's also Bond's "Bon Appetit!" after locking un unconscious guard in a big drawer full of maggots (never mind that maggots don't eat living flesh), harking back to when he threw a henchman into a pool full of piranha in You Only Live Twice.
  • Bullethole Door
  • Call Back: Pam's "I haven't heard that one in a long time" quip about Bond mentioning their escape boat has run out of fuel is most likely a reference to Bond and Honey Rider's similar predicament at the end of Dr. No.
    • The opening chords to this movie's theme is similar to the one to Goldfinger.
    • The horrific end to Felix's marriage to Della echoes Bond's own tragic marriage to Tracy.
    • "Why don't you wait until you're asked?" "Why don't you ask me?"
  • Car Skiing: The climactic chase has Bond commandeering a tanker truck and somehow managing to dodge a Stinger missile with this maneuver.
  • Cartwright Curse: Felix's marriage to Della lasted twice, possibly three times as long as Bond's marriage to Teresa. This isn't saying much.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Partially averted. Some of the gadgets Q brings to Isthmus City (the exploding alarm clock and the laser/X-ray Polaroid camera) are never used (in the field). However, if Bond doesn't succeed to assassinate Sanchez with the gun, it only responds to Bond's handprint; this saves his life later when a ninja tries shooting him with it.
  • Collapsing Lair
  • Comic Book Adaptation: Eclipse Comics adapted the story as a standalone graphic novel.
  • Continuity Nod: Felix tells Della that "[Bond] was married once, but it was a long time ago.".
  • Conveyor Belt-O-Doom: The victim being a young Benicio del Toro.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Sanchez's escape, first bribing Killifer with a hefty sum and then having his prison van crash into the sea where his henchmen are waiting.
  • Cyanide Pill: The Hong Kong DEA agent bites down on one when questioned by Sanchez.
  • Darker and Edgier: This remains the darkest Bond flick, to the effect that some audiences were turned off by the violence. Others thought it was more faithful to the books. In fact, some scenes had to be trimmed or removed to avoid an R-rating (They were later restored for the Ultimate Edition DVD/Blu-Ray). It did get a 15, roughly equivalent in terms of what's allowed, in the UK and is the only Bond film to date to have a theatrical release rated 15.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Q actually gets to be a supporting character in this one, rather than his usual one scene appearance to give Bond his gadgets.
  • Death by Materialism: Killifer, Heller and Truman-Lodge. Inverted with Milton Krest; Sanchez only thinks he died for this.
  • Deconstruction: Bond going rogue had been hinted in previous films (Goldfinger, and most notably On Her Majesty's Secret Service), but never really explored until now. Licence to Kill really doesn't show this in a flattering light, considering the number of innocent people who end up dead because of Bond's vendetta.
  • Dirt Forcefield: One of the few movies where Bond doesn't have it. By the end of the final action sequence, he's covered in sweat, blood, dirt, and gasoline.
  • Dirty Cop: Ed Killifer.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Twice for Bond. The first time when Pam shows up at the bank, having gotten a haircut and decent set of clothes. The second time when she strips down to her underwear as she and Bond load Sanchez's money on to the Wave Krest to frame Krest.
  • Disturbed Doves: Bond dislodges a few while rappelling to attach plastic explosives next to Sanchez's office window.
  • The Dragon: Heller and Dario.
  • Dull Surprise: A frequent criticism of Talisa Soto's acting. "I love James, so much."
  • End of an Age: In many ways, as the last Bond film to be made before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the last film to feature title sequences by Maurice Binder, the last to use the classic office sets for M & Moneypenny (at least until Skyfall), the last to feature Smoking Is Cool throughout the film, the last film with Albert R. Broccoli as an active producer, and the last not to have any CGI (and thus, also the last to feature cheesy rear projection shots).
  • Establishing Character Moment: In his first scene, as he finds his girlfriend Lupe making love to another man, Sanchez has her lover savagely murdered and he personally whips her.
  • Exploding Fish Tanks: Done when Bond is found in Krest's place and is fired upon.
  • Explosive Decompression: A variant thereof.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Both Killifer and Krest are nauseated by Sanchez dipping Leiter into the shark pool.
    • Pam mentions that Dario "Used to be with the Contras until they kicked him out".
    • A mook truck driver rescues his companion from the burning vehicle.
    • Anti-Hero example; Bond frames Krest for embezzelment so that Sanchez will kill him, but he is visibly shocked by the manner that Sanchez chooses to kill him.
  • Everything's Even Worse With Sharks: Poor Felix.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Sanchez is a hospitable enough guy that you almost forget he beats his girlfriend, had a guy's heart literally cut out, had a man's wife raped and murdered right before feeding him to a shark, and shoved a henchman into a decompression chamber (wrongfully thinking that he'd betrayed him).
  • Fixing The Game: Bond is cleaning up playing blackjack in Sanchez's casino. Sanchez sends Lupe in to replace the dealer. After Lupe expertly shuffles and cuts the deck, Bond asks if he is going to lose. Lupe replies yes, but not much. Bond quits the game.
    • Its ambiguous if she's actually fixing the game or is just better at playing it. Its a bit odd for a casino to rig one blackjack game since the House always wins.
  • Forklift Fu: Heller is impaled on a forklift by Sanchez.
  • The Generalissimo: Hector Lopez.
  • Giggling Villain: Dario (Benicio del Toro).
  • Guile Hero: Bond.
  • Hero Antagonist: M becomes this as he tries to reign in Bond, who has gone rogue and is up to some increasingly reckless antics in his personal vendetta. There is also Fallon ("our man in Isthmus" according to M) and the Hong Kong narcotics agents (remember, Hong Kong was a British crown colony at the time), who capture Bond for possibly blowing their undercover operation against Sanchez.
    • Ironically, Bond manages to take down Sanchez in just a few days while the Hong Kong narcotics agents had tried "to set him up for years".
  • Hero Harasses Helpers: Bond constantly looks down upon Pam throughout the film.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • Sanchez's plan probably would have succeeded if he'd just left Felix Leiter's family alone. He ends up covered in gasoline from his own trucks.
    • Killifer, Leiter's DEA partner, sells him and his wife out for $2 million dollars. Later, when Bond has him dangling over a shark pit containing the same shark that Leiter was fed to, Killifer desperately offers Bond the money, only for Bond to decide he should keep it... by throwing it, and the metal case it's in, right at him. This causes Killifer to lose his grip and fall right into the shark pit.
      • Bond's companion referred to Killifer's death as a terrible waste... of money.
  • I Work Alone: Bond adopts (and even states) this mentality to Q and Pam. It's implied that he's going solo because he doesn't want their deaths on his hands, as the last person - Bond's ally Felix Leiter - who tried to mess with Sanchez, he ended up brutally mauled and his wife killed.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Colonel Heller, as mentioned above. Attempted on Bond in the Bar Brawl with a swordfish. The look on Bond's face when the chair he uses barely deflects it is priceless.
  • It's Personal: The entire premise. Bond is not only doing it for Felix and Della, it's like he's avenging what happened to his own dead wife.
  • Just Between You and Me: See below. Inverted, since it's the hero revealing his reason to the villain.
  • Karmic Death: "Don't you want to know why?"
    • Happens earlier with Killifer. Dangling above the same Shark Pool Felix had been lowered into, he desperately offers to split his payoff with Bond. Bond, however, answers "You earned it. You keep it, old buddy.", and throws it at him, making him fall in and get eaten.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Sanchez's murder of Krest by putting him in a decompression airlock.
  • Kill It with Fire: Sanchez' death, and a few mooks during the final chase.
  • Lawman Gone Bad: Ed Kilifer, a DEA agent who accepts a $2 million dollar bribe to spring drug lord Sanchez from federal custody.
  • Machete Mayhem: Sanchez's gasoline trucks are apparently equipped with machetes, in case of hostile takeover. The man himself is also holding one when he confronts Bond in the climax.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Bond himself basically become the Iago to Sanchez's Othello, except that this time Sanchez really, really deserves it.
  • Man on Fire: Sanchez starts out this way, followed by Stuff Blowing Up.
  • Market-Based Title: The U.S. posters featuring 'license', as per the American standard.
  • Mean Character, Nice Actor: Robert Davi as Sanchez.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • The movie itself due to the excessive violence. Plus, at least six other blockbusters crowded this movie out of the market in the summer of 1989, making some believe it really was the licence to kill the franchise. At the very least, it prevented any future Bond films from being released in the summer. Later they almost did this with Quantum of Solace, though.
    • Pam Bouvier's name, and her alias 'Miss Kennedy' are a reference to JFK's wife, Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.
    • In-universe acknowledgement: One of the mooks comments on Sharky's name. Guess how he dies?
    • It probably shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise that a DEA agent with the name 'Killifer' should turn out to be a wrong'un.
  • The Mole: All over the place. Ed Killifer helps Sanchez escape and sells Leiter out to him. On the other side, Heller is trying to sell Sanchez's Stinger missles to the Americans in exchange for immunity from prosecution. Kwang infiltrates Sanchez's circle posing as a drug baron, and Lupe plots against him and helps convince him that Krest is a Mole (or at least a traitor), when in fact he is loyal. Bond himself is sort-of this, and for a moment believes Pam is one when he sees her meeting with Heller through the lens of his sniper rifle.
  • Mythology Gag: At the Hemingway House, Bond is led to a shadowy figure stroking a cat, a la Blofeld, but it turns out to be M.
  • Neutral Female: Lupe.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: As noted, Bond's quest for revenge ends up screwing up the actual plans other agencies had in place, and gets a lot of them killed.
  • Ninja : Working for Hong Kong Narcotics. Face, meet palm.
  • Noble Demon: Sanchez thinks of himself as this. Ends up being a cheap thug at the conclusion.
  • Not Enough to Bury: Krest, who dies from Explosive Decompression, and Dario, who dies by going through a cocaine grinder.
  • Not with the Safety on, You Won't: The "signature gun" will only fire when it registers Bond's palm print on the stock. This saves Bond's life when a ninja snatches it and tries to shoot Bond.
  • Nothing Personal: Sanchez says this to Felix right before he dips him into the shark pool.
    Sanchez: I want you to know this is nothing personal, is purely (pause) business.
  • Offing the Mouth: The drug kingpin Big Bad has an accountant as a helper that gets more and more snarky about the money loss that the typical Bond-brand Roaring Rampage of Revenge is giving them (Supervillain Lair-slash-drug lab blown up sky-high, Evil Minions killed, secret stolen MacGuffin military weapons that they were going to sell on the black market wasted on trying to kill Bond, etc) as the movie goes on. The Big Bad eventually gets enough during the final action sequence, and with a proper Pre-Mortem One-Liner shoots him dead with an Uzi.
    Sanchez: I guess it's time to start cutting overhead.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Timothy Dalton. His Northern accent is more evident than before in this film, although such 'slippage' might have been intentional.
  • Outside Ride: Bond and Sanchez clings to the outside of gasoline tanker trucks during the films climatic chase scene.
  • Path of Inspiration: Professor Joe Butcher, a New Age Scam Religion TV evangelist and head of the Olimpatec Meditation Institute. Its main purpose is as a front for Sanchez's drug operation and donations invariably end up funding that, with "targets" actually drug dealer speak for agreeing new market prices for their product.
    • Truman-Lodge mentions to the Orientals that they started the Olimpatec Meditation Institute strictly as a cover, but that Butcher has even made it profitable in and of itself.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Q, even more so than before.
  • Porn Stache: Part of Q's disguise.
  • Post Rape Taunt: Dario and his men taunt Felix Leiter with news of their murder of his new wife, among other things telling him, "We gave her a nice honeymoon," implying that they raped her before killing her. Then they feed Felix to a shark.
  • Precision F-Strike: Q tells Pam not to be upset at Bond spending the night with Lupe, as it's something often required by his job. Pam's response: "Bullshit!" Quite shocking given the lack of profanity in the series before then.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Perhaps the most serious, heartfelt in a Bond film.
    Franz Sanchez: You could have had everything.
    Bond: Don't you want to know why?
    [takes out the lighter Felix gave him, and sets Sanchez on fire]
    • Sanchez gets one himself.
      Truman-Lodge: Brilliant! Well done, Franz! Another eighty-million dollar write-off!
      Sanchez: Then I guess it's time to start cutting overhead. (cue SMG)
    • And Pam:
      Dario: You're dead!
      Pam: Took the words right out of my mouth! *Shoots Dario*
    • There's also "Compliments of Sharkey!", right before Bond harpoons a Krest frogman and kicks off the water-skiing chase.
  • President for Life: The president of the Banana Republic of Isthmus. Mentioned as a threat by Sanchez — if he doesn't cooperate, "for life" may not be very long at all.
  • Product Placement:
    • The title sequence is literally a commercial for Olympus cameras. It has a photography theme that doesn't really correlate to anything in the movie (one of Bond's gadgets is disguised as a camera....and that's it. Its not even one that he uses; Pam does, but only because she mistook it for a real camera.)
    • Both the U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and Sanchez's private helicopter prominently display the logo of Aerospatiale, the French aircraft manufacturing company of both of the helicopter models shown.
    • Bond's remote control for the detonator features the Philips logo, and the detonator is disguised in a pack of Lark cigarettes.
    • The Kenworth logo is visible several times during the tanker chase.
    • Bond orders a case of Bollinger R.D. when arriving at the hotel in Isthmus.
    • The signature gun is a Hasselblad camera.
  • Psycho for Hire: Dario.
  • Psycho Electric Eel: Bond pulls one of Krest's men into a tank full of them.
  • Rape as Drama: Della, Leiter's wife, was tortured and raped before being murdered, as evidenced by the line that the baddies gave her "a nice honeymoon."
  • Resignations Not Accepted: As M stated, "We are not a country club, 007!". M could not fire Bond or allow him to resign - only revoke his licence to kill. This invokes a bit of Fridge Horror while you really think about it.
  • Right-Hand Cat: Sanchez's pet iguana (with a diamond collar).
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The Movie
  • R-Rated Opening: The early scene of Sanchez finding Lupe with another man, having her lover murdered, and personally beating her with a stingray tail whip lets the audience know that this will be much darker than the average Bond film.
  • Safety In Muggles: After Bond "resigns" and escapes to the street, M stops a guard from shooting because they can't risk hitting a civilian.
  • Say My Name: Dario screams for Sanchez as he's going into the cocaine grinder.
  • See You in Hell: Felix yells this (with some Narm, sadly) at Sanchez when he gets dunked into the shark pool.
  • Sexy Backless Outfit: Pam's evening dress.
  • Shark Pool: Somewhat justified in that it occurs in a marine research facility.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: While Pam is insulted to be Bond's "secretary", when she shows up at the bank in the dress she bought with the money Bond gave her, Bond is so stunned by how beautiful she is, he does a Double Take.
  • She's Got Legs: Pam, and how!
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: Especially in bar brawls.
  • Shut Up and Save Me!: "SWITCH THE BLOODY MACHINE OFF! " (which is kind of a Bond One-Liner, as Dario had just fallen into said machine, a shredder)
  • Slasher Smile: Dario enjoys flashing one of these.
  • Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality: The first Bond film to reach Level 5. Despite Bond's concerns, Pam frequently shows she can handle herself, in fact saving him a few times throughout the film.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Averted. The end credits sport a Surgeon General's Warning in reference to the use of tobacco products in the film
  • Sniper Rifle
  • So Proud of You: Bond takes time to tell Q he makes a great field agent. Dawwwwwwwwww...
  • Something Completely Different: Part of why this film was poorly received (in the States) was how extremely atypical it was from previous Bond films. This time, Bond's not on a mission by MI6, fighting for queen and country, he's on his own fighting for himself and his friends.
  • Stealth Pun: Felix's lighter. Get it? What's even funnier is that they had explicitly used that pun in Live and Let Die - where Leiter was played by the same actor.
  • Sympathetic Adulterer: Can you honestly blame Lupe for cheating on Sanchez? Twice.
  • Technology Marches On: Look at the size of the CD drive for Felix's computer.
  • Title Drop: Double when considering the Viewers Are Morons entry.
    M: Your licence to kill is revoked.
  • To the Pain: As Sanchez puts Bond on an conveyor belt into a cocaine grinder.
    Sanchez: When it gets up to your ankles, you're going to beg to tell me everything. When it gets up to your knees, you'll kiss my ass to kill you!
  • Tragic Keepsake: Bond's lighter.
  • Turn in Your Badge / Rogue Agent: The premise of the film is Bond resigning his License to Kill to go after Sanchez.
  • Two-Person Pool Party: Possibly.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: "We're Hong Kong Narcotics, you bastard!"
  • Vapor Trail
  • Vapor Wear: It doesn't take much of a close look to see that Pam isn't wearing anything under the dress she has on during the climax.
  • Viewers Are Morons: A rumor exists that the original title for the film, License Revoked, was changed because test audiences didn't know what the word "revoked" meant, or that they would be confused why Bond not being able to drive (i.e. a driving licence) was such a bad thing. The last minute title change was one of the things that ultimately hurt the film.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Initially, Sanchez treats his men well. At the end, where everything's falling to pieces, he's gunning them down with MAC-10s for being annoying. Also an example of a Blofeld Ploy.
  • The Voiceless: Braun.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Pam Bouvier calls Bond out when she and Q catch up to him in Isthmus for letting his personal vendetta endanger a critical DEA plan to cripple Sanchez's operation. In Bond's defence, he didn't know about the operation: the DEA had led him to believe that nothing was happening. Technically, it wasn't. Kwang is a Hong Kong Narcotics agent, hence why the DEA picked up Sanchez at the start in the first place. Pam herself is CIA: she's referring to Sanchez's owning Stinger missiles he was threatening to fire at American passenger jets if the U.S. didn't stop harassing him. Her operation was trying to get the Stingers back, but Bond's assassination attempt spooked her contact. This, combined with Bond realizing he blew Kwang's operation as well, makes him realize his Roaring Rampage of Revenge wasn't that clean and simple. Of course, Bond being Bond, he ultimately demolishes it single-handedly. It would be awesome except a lot of good agents and people were killed by his fuck ups.
    • Earlier, Bond gets one from M after the former kills Killifer without the authority from the Americans or M.
  • Your Head A Splode: Poor Krest.


The Living DaylightsFilm/James BondGoldenEye
The Living DaylightsFilms of the 1980sJaws 3D
Between My LegsImageSource/Live-Action FilmsCar Skiing

alternative title(s): License To Kill; Licence To Kill
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