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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Taking A Nothing Day
Twice a year, Deep Discount DVD offers a big across-the-board 20% Off sale, which is always a choice opportunity to nab some larger-ticket DVDs you've been holding off on. One of my shipments arrived today, and inside was THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON. I already have the First Season and I believe Seasons 3 and 4 are out now too.

I've written before about THE MTM SHOW (and may again), and you should know by now how brilliantly warm and funny it was. I took a look at some of the extras and found something interesting and likely obscure. Before the series started its fourth season on CBS, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW creator David Davis took a crew, including MTM creator James L. Brooks, and cast members Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper to Minneapolis (where the show was set) to film a new opening title sequence. A local Minneapolis news crew tagged along with its cameras and filmed the filming for a WCCO-TV documentary. It's interesting to see how the MTM crew spent four days and $15,000 on a title sequence, to see the level of commitment and care they demonstrated to prevent the show from getting stale. Nowadays, nine out of every ten shows don't have opening titles, and the shows that do cobbled them together in a couple of hours. I believe good opening titles can really help an audience grow comfortable with a TV series, particularly shows with lots of characters who need introductions or shows with an elaborate premise that a title sequence could explain. Network TV ratings are about a third of what they were when THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW was on the air, but, hey, what the hell do I know?

My big Deep Discount DVD purchase was THE AVENGERS: THE COMPLETE EMMA PEEL MEGA-SET, which is a 17-disc box set including all 51 episodes of THE AVENGERS in which Diana Rigg appeared as Mrs. Emma Peel, the slinky spy sidekick to Patrick Macnee's John Steed. Macnee had several female co-stars, but Rigg was the most famous, the most popular, the sexiest and the best. THE AVENGERS was a major success in its native England before ABC imported it to play in prime time during the late 1960s. Most of the episodes, which veered from straight espionage to out-and-out fantasy during the Rigg years, hold up quite well today, and it's cool to have them all together. Now I just have to figure out where to store the damn thing.

I will likely be away from the Crane Shot this weekend. I'm heading to Cincinnati for the Reds/White Sox series at the Great American Ball Park. I expect a really good time...and some Reds victories!

P.S. Shit. I just realized that my AVENGERS box set is the original release, which contains just 16 discs. The more recent version has a Bonus Disc with some really interesting extras, plus the discs are in easily storable thinpaks. Ah, well, at least I have the shows, which is what's important.

Posted by Marty at 10:45 PM CDT
Updated: Thursday, June 15, 2006 10:49 PM CDT
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Wednesday, June 14, 2006
On iTunes
This saves me from having to actually create real content.

KNIGHT RIDER--Stu Phillips
"Song Sung Blue"--Neil Diamond
"Seeger's Theme"--The Monkees
"Midnight Caller"--Badfinger
"The Saint"--dance remix of Edwin Astley's theme by Mike Townsend
"Bad Little Woman"--The Shadows of Knight (was Van Morrison still with them?)
"77 Sunset Strip Cha Cha"--Warren Barker
"Barazinbar"--Jade Warrior (this cut runs over 14 minutes!)
"Long, Long, Long"--The Beatles (from the White Album)
"Hey, Joe"--The Stillroven
"The Fun Zone"--Mike Curb from the MARYJANE soundtrack
"You'd Better Think Twice"--a young Rick Springfield from the MISSION MAGIC soundtrack
"Flower Girl"--Ron Dante (catchy bubblegum)
HELLTOWN--Sammy Davis, Jr. (from the TV series that starred Robert Blake as an ass-kicking crimefighting priest!)
"Like A Prayer"--Madonna (I don't even know how this got on my computer)
"Split Decision"--The Penny Arkade
"Calvera's Return"--Elmer Bernstein from THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
"Cylon Attack"--Stu Phillips from BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
"Departure"--Bernard Herrmann from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL
"Quanto Costa Morire"--Francesco de Masi
"Ballad of Easy Rider"--Roger McGuinn
"Open Up Your Door"--Richard and the Young Lions
"Don't Mess with Mister T"--Marvin Gaye from TROUBLE MAN
"Apache"--The Shadows
"Down on the Corner"--CCR (live)

Posted by Marty at 10:56 PM CDT
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Tuesday, June 13, 2006
The New Boss: Nothin' Like The Old Boss
Now Playing: 16 BLOCKS
If I had forgotten why I have more or less given up on new movies coming out of Hollywood, this week was a reminder. I Netflixed two 2006 studio thrillers--FIREWALL and 16 BLOCKS--and considered both mediocre.

FIREWALL commits the blasphemy of wasting a terrific supporting cast. One scene finds Alan Arkin, Robert Patrick, Robert Forster and Harrison Ford sharing a scene, and I'll be damned if director Richard Loncraine couldn't find anything cool for them to do together.

Ford plays a Seattle bank manager whose family is kidnapped by Standard Effete Eurotrash Villain #354 (Paul Bettany), who forces Ford to tap into his bank's computer system and transfer $100 million to an offshore account. In their effort to make all movies inoffensive to everybody, Hollywood has become extremely bland when it comes to casting heavies. Aren't you tired of snobby Brits in business suits waving guns? Particularly when they're played by Paul Bettany, who is about as threatening as a junebug. I can think of about 100 actors off the top of my head who would have not only been more charismatic than Bettany, but would have the screen presence to hold the screen opposite Ford, who looks tired and bored in FIREWALL, but is still believable kicking Paul Bettany's ass.

FIREWALL is neither very good nor very bad--both of which would have made it more fun to watch. The same goes for 16 BLOCKS, which is a blatant (and uncredited) ripoff of THE GAUNTLET, a 1977 Clint Eastwood picture that is ten times better, even if it does co-star Sondra Locke.

16 BLOCKS' "Locke" is Mos Def, who may actually be a more obnoxious performer. Bruce Willis, who is very good, plays Burned-Out Alcoholic Big-City Cop #729 (I wonder if BOABCC has ever appeared in a film with SEEV. What am I saying? Of course, he has!). Willis is assigned the shit detail of transporting a petty thief (Mos Def) from jail to the courthouse so he can testify before the grand jury in two hours. The courthouse is only 16 blocks away, but gunmen attack Willis' sedan on the street in broad daylight. A drunken Bruce somehow kills one attacker and wounds another before grabbing Mos and splitting. From there, it's a chase (but not much of one) to the grand jury chambers with the two heroes being pursued by murderous corrupt cops (seemingly the whole damn precinct) led by David Morse, who is excellent (and would have been better in FIREWALL than Paul Bettany, come to think of it...).

Morse is one of those guys who has been an amazing actor for a very long time, but who knows who he is? He spent two seasons on CBS headlining a good crime drama called HACK in which he played--hey, how about that--a corrupt cop. He has the presence and the physical size to dramatically battle Willis on-screen, and their scenes together cook.

The rest of the film is not much. Director Richard Donner doesn't seem interested in the action, and gives us a lot of Mos Def chattering about bullshit. The gimmick of getting a witness to the courthouse by a certain time limit is tried and true, but I've never seen a film where the courthouse was just down the street. There could have been a suspenseful thriller made from this premise, but 16 BLOCKS ain't it.

Posted by Marty at 9:37 PM CDT
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Monday, June 12, 2006
And This One Belongs To The Reds
Now Playing: Game 1: 1975 World Series
I just watched the opening game of the 1975 World Series, courtesy of A&E Home Video and Major League Baseball, who have teamed up to present several new DVD box sets of historical baseball games. In addition to the '75 Series between the Cincinnati Reds and the Boston Red Sox, sets include the 2005 World Series, the 1979 World Series, the 1986 World Series and THE ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: GREATEST GAMES OF BUSCH STADIUM 1966-2005.

My set is officially titled THE CINCINNATI REDS: 1975 WORLD SERIES COLLECTOR'S EDITION and offers all seven games in their entirety (pre- and postgame shows are not included). 1975 was the year I became a baseball fan and the first year that I watched the World Series. I began playing Little League that summer, and played organized baseball every year until I graduated high school, including four years at Farmer City-Mansfield High School, where I lettered in baseball. The first MLB game I saw in person was at Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium that year (Reds over the Giants 8-4). That, combined with my mother's relatives who lived in Cincy and helped hook me on Reds baseball, made me a lifelong Cincinnati Reds fan. Sure, those were the years of the Big Red Machine and stars like Rose, Bench and Morgan, but I suffered through the Bruce Berenyi, Paul Householder and Alan Knicely years too.

The 1975 World Series is considered by most fans to be the greatest of all time. With the exception of Game 1, in which Boston beat the Reds 6-0, all of the games were close, and five were decided by one run. Game 6 may be the most famous baseball game ever played; that's the one Carlton Fisk won in the 12th inning with a homer off the left-field foul pole. Also, both teams were unquestionably the two best teams in all of baseball that season. Today, with too many divisions, too many playoff rounds, and wild card teams, it's easier for the 4th or 5th best team to sneak into the World Series. In 1975, there were two leagues of two divisions each and just one round of playoffs. The Reds won the National League West by a whopping 20 games, an amazing season of dominance.

* Six future Hall of Famers were involved in Game 1: Carl Yastremski and Carlton Fisk (Red Sox); Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Joe Morgan and manager Sparky Anderson (Reds). Pete Rose would obviously be in if he were eligible. Many believe Dave Concepcion should be in too. Also playing: Ken Griffey (father of current Reds star Ken Griffey, Jr.), Fred Lynn (the American League's Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player) and Luis Tiant.

* Tiant pitched a five-hit shutout for the 6-0 win. "Looie" was a great entertainer and a bitch for opposing batters to hit. Tiant had a herky-jerky motion that distracted hitters; he flailed his glove, his head bobbed, he spun around 180 degrees, he changed speeds, his arm always came from a different angle. His changeup or "lob" pitch was amazing. He probably didn't throw it faster than 40 mph. In fact, it was so slow that you can see Reds hitters double-pumping to try to hit it.

* Curt Gowdy, Dick Stockton and Tony Kubek were in the broadcast booth for Game 1. Gowdy, who died earlier this year, is one of the all-time great sports broadcasters, as well as a longtime Red Sox announcer (as was Stockton). Kubek is my favorite color man, a very knowledgable and candid former player who meshed well in the booth with whomever his partner was. Kubek and Joe Garagiola was the team I grew up with on NBC's Saturday GAME OF THE WEEK, and the only baseball tandems I ever saw who were (arguably) better were Kubek and Bob Costas and Garagiola and Vin Scully as the two NBC teams during the early 1980's. There is no one working the network circuit today, be it Fox or ESPN, who comes even close.

* The technical advances in television broadcasting in the 31 years since are obvious. Cameras are better (and smaller and cheaper, meaning there are more of them and they can be more quickly and easily moved). Audio is better. Chyron is definitely better; whoever was doing Game 1 had trouble spelling simple words. Like "sports". I do believe that today's telecasts are much too graphic-heavy, but I do like the band at the top of the screen that continually shows the score, the count, number of outs, etc.

* For a sport that lives and dies by statistics, the 1975 telecasts don't tell you much about them. You get batting average, home runs, runs batted in, and that's about it. Nobody cared much about pitch counts, and there were no such things as OPS and WHIP. Of course, baseball networks still haven't caught up with sabermetrics. They like to throw stats at the viewer, but they have little idea what they mean. For instance, I was watching a Cubs/Reds game over the weekend. WGN put up a graphic that said the Cubs were batting .186 (or something like that) with two outs and runners in scoring position. Well, so? In and of itself, that's a worthless stat. How does that average fit in with the rest of the league? If the National League average is, say, .174 in those situations, then the Cubs are actually doing quite well, and that .186 would actually be a positive stat, rather than the negative one WGN intended.

* Game 1 was played on a Saturday afternoon: October 11, 1975. Curt Gowdy read a promo for a new show debuting that evening on NBC, something called NBC'S SATURDAY NIGHT, a new live program with special guest George Carlin. Future guests would include Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel and "Bob Reiner of ALL IN THE FAMILY" (sic). Of course, that was the first episode of what is now known as SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, a series still running 31 years later.

Posted by Marty at 10:48 PM CDT
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Sunday, June 11, 2006
There's No Bee There
Simply one of the funniest fucking things I have ever seen in a movie:

Yep, it's Michael Caine trying to convince a freaked-out little kid that the giant fucking bee that's floating over his hospital bed is just a hallucination. "I promise you. There's no bee there."

If you've never seen THE SWARM, Irwin Allen's all-star disaster flick about a swarm of killer bees infesting the United States, do so immediately. There's a good chance that no comedy you see this year will make you laugh as much as THE SWARM.

Posted by Marty at 10:56 PM CDT
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Don't Cluck It Up
“This Case Is Closed” originally aired as a special 90-minute episode of THE ROCKFORD FILES. Unfortunately, Universal’s DVD splits it into two separate 60-minute episodes, the same as when it airs in syndication. I’d rather have it in its original form, since Part 2 begins with an extremely long “Previously On” prologue that Universal added to pad the episode for an hour timeslot.

I’m guessing Stephen J. Cannell wrote it as an hour, because the episode really drags at two. Director Bernard Kowalski can’t be blamed for the interminable driving scenes that slow the pacing almost to a standstill nor for the pointless little pieces, like Rockford hailing a cab or stock footage of a medical emergency, used to stretch the episode beyond what the story could hold. Maybe it plays just fine at 90 minutes, but the two-hour version seen in reruns and on DVD is a letdown.

It’s really too bad, because the kernels of a good episode are here: an interesting mystery in which the audience doesn’t have any more information than Rockford does, some wry dialogue (mainly between Rockford and his various kidnappers), more cunning use of the Firebird, and a coup in guest star Joseph Cotten (CITIZEN KANE), the 69-year-old film legend who did not often do episodic television, but reportedly did “This Case Is Closed” as a favor to executive producer Meta Rosenberg.

Cotten plays Warner Jameson, a nasty millionaire who hires Rockford (James Garner) to find some dirt on his daughter’s fianc?, Mark Chalmers (Geoffrey Land, a regular in junky Al Adamson movies). A trip to Newark, New Jersey lands Rockford in a heap o’ trouble with the local cops and some finger-breakers who may be mobsters or may be Federal agents. Back in L.A., Rockford is kidnapped twice by members of organized crime, but is rescued the first time by F.B.I. man David Shore (James McEachin, who the season before starred in his own private-eye series, TENAFLY). Meanwhile, chipper Sue Jameson (Universal contract player Sharon Gless) has no idea her father is investigating her fianc? or that Mark may be the target of Mob hitmen.

Viewers may have been pissed off a year or so later, when Universal used the same script for a SWITCH episode, but with Robert Wagner playing “Rockford”. Ironically, Sharon Gless was a regular on SWITCH and got to play the same script twice.

The first time NBC aired “This Case Is Closed,” its competition on THE CBS FRIDAY NIGHT MOVIE was THEY ONLY KILL THEIR MASTERS, a 1972 mystery starring James Garner. THE ROCKFORD FILES topped it in the Nielsens.

Posted by Marty at 10:52 PM CDT
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I'm Betting You've Got A Smart Mouth
As proof that humor and characterization were more important to THE ROCKFORD FILES than its plots, “Tall Woman in Red Wagon” ends with its plot unresolved--a rarity in network television, where executives like their stories tied up in neat little bows. And it’s not an example of writer Stephen J. Cannell forgetting about plotholes; Rockford (James Garner) makes a joke about the open-ended story point at the closing freeze-frame.

A pesky journalist named Sandra Turkel (Sian Barbara Allen) hires Rockford to find her beautiful friend Charlotte, the ex-girlfriend of a dead mobster. Charlotte has vanished with over a million bucks of the hood’s money, and among the people who want it is a suspicious Treasury agent named Harry Stoner, played by George DiCenzo, just a couple of years away from his “role of a lifetime”: district attorney Vincent Bugliosi in HELTER SKELTER.

Much of the episode’s humor is contained in Rockford’s confrontations with the appropriately named Stoner, a man who, by his own admission, has no sense of humor. Their first great scene occurs after Rockford, angry at the stranger who has been tailing him all day, throws his Firebird into reverse and smashes it into his pursuer’s sedan. Before Stoner can recover, Rockford pulls him out of his car, reaches into his coat, and tosses his gun away. Perfectly performed by Garner is Rockford’s complete turnabout from indignation to sycophancy when he discovers the guy he’s roughing up is a Fed. He even straightens Stoner’s jacket and runs off to fetch his pistol. Rockford's not too proud to grovel when it means avoiding a night in jail or a sock to the gut.

One element that set Jim Rockford apart from other TV private eyes is his skill as a con artist, which Cannell, co-creator Roy Huggins and Garner obviously nicked from Bret Maverick. Rockford disguises himself as a coffinmaker, a Federal agent and a shrink in this episode, aided by one of the series’ most interesting props (and one we didn’t get to see very often after this). Here we learn that Rockford drives around with a portable printing press stashed in the backseat of his Firebird, just in case he needs to whip up some instant credentials.

Also in this episode are character actors John Crawford (who appeared with Garner in the great THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY), Dick Cavett lookalike James Murtaugh (now often seen as a judge on LAW & ORDER) and Angus Duncan, who played creepy Dr. John in the WIP classic SWEET SUGAR (“Dr. John is invincible!”). Jerry London, who made the classic KILLDOZER the same year, directed his first ROCKFORD FILES episode.

Posted by Marty at 12:39 AM CDT
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Saturday, June 10, 2006
Well, If Anyone Would Know... would be Richard Dawson. I've seen enough FAMILY FEUD to know that.

Posted by Marty at 5:07 PM CDT
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Wednesday, June 7, 2006
Um. Ouch.
Yikes. I'm a little sore right now. I played basketball after work. Well, more like we shot baskets, but we did it for two hours. That was two hours of being on my feet, chasing rebounds, jumping around, no sitting (or very little). My shot is terrible too. If I were to hazard a guess as to my shooting percentage, I'm sure it's under 20%. There was some ugly hoops going on this evening. Still, it was a good time, and I enjoyed a tasty pork chop sandwich at Esquire afterward.

So you were asking for more ROCKFORD FILES reviews? Yeah, you were.

OK, so now that everyone is gone, here's "Exit Prentiss Carr". It would be interesting if somebody were to keep count of all the times Rockford was either arrested or just harassed by the police. Jim manages to avoid the clink in this episode, but the small-town detectives played by venerable character actors Warren Kemmerling and Mills Watson (later to portray a more comedic corrupt cop in THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO) do rough him up a little bit (“I bruise easy.”).

One important lesson taught by 1970’s TV is that you should never, ever pass through a small town where nobody knows you. Particularly if that town is located in the South. Just about every TV detective ended up poking around one--Mannix, Cannon, Charlie’s Angels--and it always led to trouble. Not as bad as the TV-movie NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY, where two luscious coeds ended up in a womens’ work farm after getting raped by sheriff Chuck Connors and ogled by pervy warden Robert Reed, but bad enough.

In this episode, Rockford enters Bay City in search of Prentiss Carr, the husband of Jim’s old flame Janet (Corinne Michaels, who also appeared in many shows billed as “Corinne Camacho”). Rockford finds Carr dead in a motel room and tells the Bay City cops--omitting the part about actually being in the room. The cops call it a suicide, even though the evidence Rockford saw there was obviously that of a murder. He accuses the cops of being corrupt and his client of being her husband’s killer. Typical of a Roy Huggins story, the plot is more complex than that, throwing in blackmail and a late-act red herring.

It’s a pretty good episode with good dialogue and another car chase (every episode up to this point had one). Cult movie fans will enjoy a brief wordless performance by the delicious Roberta Collins, a pretty good actress who never really got out of B-movies. She’s probably most memorable as one of the convicts in THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, the sex-crazed con who tries to seduce a man by pointing a knife at his junk and warning him, “Get it up or I’ll cut it off!” Director Alex Grasshoff was a three-time Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary who turned to episodic dramatic television around this time, presumably for the bucks and the comfort of steady work. In 1974, he also worked on GET CHRISTIE LOVE, KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER and THE ROOKIES.

Posted by Marty at 9:12 PM CDT
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Tuesday, June 6, 2006
Only 900 Miles There And 900 Miles Back
Spent the evening with LD, Train Guy and their wives grilling huge steaks and watching SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT on DVD. Life don't get much better than that. Considering the many times I've seen SMOKEY and the countless evenings at Tres Hombres my friend Jerome and I spent reenacting entire scenes from the movie, I've got the whole thing pretty much memorized by now. How anyone could ever get tired of Burt Reynolds telling cops to "f.o." while jumping bridges in a sweet Trans Am, I'll never understand.

SMOKEY II--not so good. SMOKEY 3--the less said, the better. The only thing that interests me about the third movie is the rumor (is it more than that?) that it was originally shot as SMOKEY IS THE BANDIT with Jackie Gleason donning Burt's cowboy hat. The result was reportedly unreleaseable, forcing Universal to lure in Jerry Reed to drive the Trans Am and play the Bandit opposite Gleason as the sheriff. Reynolds came in for about 12 minutes to shoot a quick cameo, and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT 3 died a deservedly quick box-office death. Now that I have it on DVD, I wonder if I'm brave enough to revisit it. I would definitely watch SMOKEY IS THE BANDIT if a bootleg copy existed.

A lot of great television is coming out on DVD these days. So much that I can't figure whether or not I should buy it all. Partially because of cost and partially because when the hell would I watch it all? I'm simultaneously working my way through Season 1 of THE ROCKFORD FILES and Season 2 of THE WHITE SHADOW now. My three favorite western series are either just out or coming soon on DVD: THE BIG VALLEY, THE WILD WILD WEST and THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY, JR. BRISCO COUNTY is an absolute must-buy; I've been waiting for this set ever since it was rumored back in the '90s that star Bruce Campbell had recorded audio commentaries for them. THE WILD WILD WEST has a lot of extras, including commentary by Robert Conrad, which may make Season 1 (the b&w year) a sure-buy too. THE BIG VALLEY, a great show, basically a gender-switched BONANZA with matriarch Barbara Stanwyck looking over her three sons (and daughter Linda Evans), another I want to catch up with. Perhaps that's one I should Netflix (as I'm doing now with WHITE SHADOW).

A definite must-buy is one of my favorite shows, period. Season 1 of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is coming to DVD in September. When it was first announced, I expected Paramount to start with Season 2, which was the year Peter Graves took over as the star. However, the studio is starting from the beginning, when the great Steven Hill headed a cast that also included Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Greg Morris and Peter Lupus. Hill proved to be an enormous pain in the ass for everyone involved with the series, including executive producer Bruce Geller, who fought to cast Hill against the vehement wishes of CBS execs who didn't want him. Hill was basically fired before the season even ended, which was likely fine with all parties. Graves, already a dependable TV actor, became an international star through running the Impossible Missions Force for the next six seasons, so I'm sure he was happy to get the gig.

Extras or not (and none have yet been announced), M:I is going to be in my Top Ten DVDs of 2006. I like the box design, although I don't know why Paramount didn't use the original show logo. I have no idea where this one came from. Was it for the first Tom Cruise movie?

Posted by Marty at 11:01 PM CDT
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