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 A&E TV series — general discussion thread 

Book to film, or film to book? Your first meeting with Nero Wolfe
A+E series - I'm a youngster! 75%  75%  [ 3 ]
Rex Stout's corpus, of course! 25%  25%  [ 1 ]
Total votes : 4

 A&E TV series — general discussion thread 
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New post A&E TV series — general discussion thread
I hope this is a viable topic, and won't offend any literary purists! :wink: I owe my discovery of Rex Stout's greatest creations, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, to the television adaptation - I had never heard of the books until I caught a repeat of 'Disguise for Murder', and now I'm hooked!

The attention to detail is absolutely amazing; the minor changes to the original stories very rarely lose anything in omission and any extras are always sympathetic; the 'repertory' cast become familiar to the audience as the characters from the books, not as particular actors (I think I only recognised George Plimpton and Kari Matchett, vaguely, when I first saw the series); and the main cast at least do not insult Stout's templates, even if individual readers imagine Wolfe and Archie slightly differently to Chaykin and Hutton's portrayals (for me, both are perfect, but I started in the wrong order!)

The main appeal of the series - Timothy Hutton aside! :wink: - is the expert manipulation of the novelettes, which are always somehow lacking for me (I prefer a good run-up in the novels). 'Disguise for Murder' and 'Christmas Party' top my list, as do 'Champagne for One' :P and 'The Mother Hunt' for the longer episodes.

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Sat, 21 Jul 2007, 21:46
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AdonisGuilfoyle wrote:
I hope this is a viable topic

Absolutely :!:

The fabulous A&E TV series is one of the reasons I announced, in another thread, that I'll be performing an upgrade of the software of this discussion forum soon, to allow a division of the Rex Stout forum into several sub-categories.

One of the sub-categories will, of course, be devoted to the A&E Nero Wolfe TV series. Thanks very much, Adonis, for starting the very first thread of that future forum sub-category. :D As soon as the sub-category is set up, this thread will simply be moved there, with all posts retained.

Plus, there may be similar individual threads for individual A&E TV episodes, as we currently have a dedicated thread for every book of the Corpus. (Those book threads, too, will be transfered to a new forum sub-category titled The Nero Wolfe Corpus.) The top level of the Rex Stout forum will then remain free for general interest threads, so that these don't mingle with threads for specific novels/TV episodes.

This new arrangement should suit everyone more than the current Rex Stout forum that is only 1 level deep. 8)

AdonisGuilfoyle wrote:
novelettes [...] are always somehow lacking for me (I prefer a good run-up in the novels).

I'm with you on this one :!: Give me a Nero Wolfe novel over a Nero Wolfe novelette on any day.

I believe the finest Nero Wolfe novelette I've ever read may be 'Frame-Up for Murder', first published in book form post-humously, 10 years after Stout's death. That says a lot about the quality of the novelettes, I'm afraid. :?


Sat, 21 Jul 2007, 22:04
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New post A&E
I too started in the "wrong" oder with The Golden Spiders. Like you, I got hooked by the attention to detail and the elegance of the Brownstone.
Anytime you are ready to discuss an episode, I'll chime in.
My top nominees are:
Xmas Party
Door to Death
Champagne for One
Mother Hunt
Poison a la Carte :)

The upside of coming to Stout via the videos is, one does not need to adjust mental images. No imagination can be better than Hutton, Chaykin, and all the rest. I wish production had gone on forever! :evil:


Tue, 24 Jul 2007, 3:37
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starfish wrote:
I too started in the "wrong" oder with The Golden Spiders.

Me too, but in book form. And, in a Slovak translation, to boot.

Wait, that's not true. The Golden Spiders was my first Wolfe novel, while my very first encounter with Wolfe & Archie was in a superb Czech translation of the novelette where cigars are exploding so that both Wolfe & Archie need to duck for cover in the hall of the Brownstone. I forget the title of that novelette.

The translation was published on yellow paper in the supplement of a Czech large-size magazine sometimes in the early or mid-1980s. It featured original Czech drawings of Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe, done by a famous Czech artist, if I'm not mistaken. I'd like to unearth that magazine edition one day to have a look at the Rex Stout supplement again, especially the drawings, several decades later.

Anyway, this magazine translation is responsible for my getting hooked on Wolfe & Archie. :)


Tue, 24 Jul 2007, 13:07
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New post Re: A&E
Faterson wrote:
The Golden Spiders was my first Wolfe novel, while my very first encounter with Wolfe & Archie was in a superb Czech translation of the novelette where cigars are exploding so that both Wolfe & Archie need to duck for cover in the hall of the Brownstone. I forget the title of that novelette.


Instead of Evidence? I wonder if the exploding cigars in that were 'recycled' in the corpus finale? Archie says that they keep the remaining devices in the safe, doesn't he?

faterson wrote:
Anyway, this magazine translation is responsible for my getting hooked on Wolfe & Archie. :)


Do you prefer to read the original American texts now, or do you take anything you can find? :wink: Is anything lost in translation, do you think?

The first novel I read was, I think, Death of a Doxy (in large print!) - I was instantly hooked by Orrie's line: 'I'm not his Archie Goodwin, but even then he'd have to', and Archie's reply, 'I like to think of myself as my Archie Goodwin'. I've since found that Archie doesn't always object to being termed as 'Nero Wolfe's', but that was my first reading of Stout's books after catching an episode or two from the series, so it was a well-baited hook! Hutton played Archie so well that, even from 'Disguise for Murder', I could tell that Archie is an independent character, his 'own man', and yet very important to Wolfe; I liked that.

As I've just mentioned to Danielle, 'Cop Killer', in the Homicide Trinity collection, contains my favourite summary of Archie and Wolfe: Cramer is trying to get Wolfe to admit that he sent Archie to the barbershop to investigate a murder, and he says, 'I have learned over a stretch of years that when I find you within a mile of a murder, and Goodwin is a part of you, something fancy can be expected'. I thought that was a perfect description of their relationship, and shall be adding it to the relevant Wiki page when I skim back through the book for quotes! :D

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Tue, 24 Jul 2007, 14:22
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New post Re: A&E
AdonisGuilfoyle wrote:
Is anything lost in translation, do you think?

Almost everything is lost in translation. I hate translations. :evil: I stopped reading them when I was 18 years old. There are exceptions, such as the magazine translation of the Wolfe novelette, but mostly translations are just fake, extremely distorted mirror images of the original texts.

Well, I say that as a professional free-lance translator. I may be more sensitive to all the translation mistakes now that I have to earn my bread doing translations. (I don't translate fiction, though – not yet. :lol:)

Wolfe says in The Black Mountain he speaks 8 languages; I'd like to emulate him. My father (no longer alive) spoke about 10 languages. As of right now, I can read books in 6 languages, and am currently working on my French, which would be language no. 7. (I'll tackle Asterix as the first literary series in that language. :D) I'm im my 30s so when I get to Wolfe's age, I hope I can equal or beat him in the number of languages I'm capable of reading. (Speaking is more difficult, of course.)

AdonisGuilfoyle wrote:
Do you prefer to read the original American texts now, or do you take anything you can find?

From the above, it follows I never, ever read translations from languages I understand myself. When it comes to Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, or Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, Arabic, and Chinese – those are some of the languages I haven't started studying yet and so, unfortunately, for the time being, I need to resort to translations when reading authors writing in those tongues. :?


Tue, 24 Jul 2007, 14:38
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Faterson wrote:
Wolfe says in The Black Mountain he speaks 8 languages; I'd like to emulate him. My father (no longer alive) spoke about 10 languages. As of right now, I can read books in 6 languages, and am currently working on my French, which would be language no. 7. (I'll tackle Asterix as the first literary series in that language. :D) I'm im my 30s so when I get to Wolfe's age, I hope I can equal or beat him in the number of languages I'm capable of reading. (Speaking is more difficult, of course.)


I am incredibly impressed, can I just say? I must be of the typically English mindset that other countries will be able to understand my own language :wink: I thought that that line in The Black Mountain about Wolfe speaking eight languages was a mere symptom of Great Detective Syndrome, but perhaps it is a likelier characteristic than I gave Stout credit for?

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Tue, 24 Jul 2007, 16:10
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AdonisGuilfoyle wrote:
perhaps it is a likelier characteristic than I gave Stout credit for?

Absolutely. It's not so unusual for people from mainland European countries to be fluent in various languages. Take Switzerland or Belgium – in each of them, 2 totally different languages are on an equal footing, and most inhabitants of that country probably understand and speak both of the languages. (Plus English, as a matter of course.) In the former Czechoslovakia, all Czechs understood both Czech and Slovak, and all Slovaks understood both Slovak and Czech. (They still do; but these two languages are very similar, unlike in the case of Switzerland, Belgium, or Canada.)

In the empire of Austria-Hungary, where Wolfe was born, it was a matter of course for everyone to speak German beside their native language. Plus, French was the obvious langage of all educated people born in the 19th century, just like English seems to be nowadays. Wolfe moved from Europe to the US, learning English in the process, and we're already at 4 languages that he speaks. Since Wolfe's mother lives in Budapest, there must be some connection between Wolfe's family and Hungary proper, meaning Wolfe is likely to be fluent in Hungarian.

That leaves only 3 more languages for Wolfe to learn, and Italian is the likeliest one, Italy being located right across the sea from Montenegro. Spanish is not terribly difficult to learn once you're fluent in French (as Wolfe definitely was) and Italian. Once you learn a certain language from a language group, it's easier to learn other languages from the same group: for example, if you're fluent in French, you will find learning Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian (all are Romance languages) easier than someone who speaks no French in the first place. Since Wolfe is Slavic by birth, that would equip him excellently for learning languages such as Russian, Bulgarian, Polish, Czech, and Slovak (not to mention Slovenian) with relative ease.

A similar thing is true of Northern Europe, by the way. My sister, whose husband is Danish, says that once you're fluent in Danish (as she now is), you can also understand Swedish and Norwegian pretty well.

Etc., etc.

Some time ago on one of the Wolfe mailing lists, there was a controversy about which languages exactly Wolfe spoke. There were disagreements about that.

So, let's try and compile the list of the 8 languages Wolfe definitely or probably speaks:
  • Serbian, Serbo-Croatian, or Montenegrin (whatever you want to call Wolfe's native language)
  • English (obviously!)
  • French (Wolfe frequently lectures Archie on correct French pronunciation, such as right in the opening novel, Fer-de-Lance)
  • German (unavoidable for someone born in the Empire of Austria-Hungary)
  • Hungarian (probable, because of Wolfe's mother living in Budapest)
  • Italian (likely, due to the geographical proximity to Montenegro)
  • Spanish (not certain, but I think there may have been a few occasions in the Corpus where Wolfe was heard speaking Spanish :?:)
  • :?: :?: :?: (Slovenian?)


Tue, 24 Jul 2007, 17:12
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Faterson wrote:
Since Wolfe's mother lives in Budapest, there must be some connection between Wolfe's family and Hungary proper, meaning Wolfe is likely to be fluent in Hungarian.

Which novel/novelette mentions Wolfe's mother? The Black Mountain? Just testing my recall of the corpus so far! :wink:

faterson wrote:

Are the phrases used in Over My Dead Body, for instance, accurate? I tried to look up 'Hvala bogu!', which amused me immensely, particularly when Archie said it, but couldn't find it anywhere :?:

faterson wrote:
  • Spanish (not certain, but I think there may have been a few occasions in the Corpus where Wolfe was heard speaking Spanish :?:)
  • :?: :?: :?:

  • Marginally back on topic, Wolfe is seen arguing with Mr and Mrs Perez, who are either Mexican or Spanish, in Too Many Clients - haven't read the novel - :wink: - so I don't know if that scene is in the book, too.

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    Tue, 24 Jul 2007, 19:53
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    New post Re: A&E
    AdonisGuilfoyle wrote:
    Faterson wrote:
    Since Wolfe's mother lives in Budapest, there must be some connection between Wolfe's family and Hungary proper, meaning Wolfe is likely to be fluent in Hungarian.

    Which novel/novelette mentions Wolfe's mother? The Black Mountain?

    Not The Black Mountain. I think it's one (or several) of the 1930s novels. Stout later apparently dropped the idea of Wolfe's mother living in Budapest – probably because Hungary became a Communist country after World War II and that wouldn't fit in well with Stout's strongly anti-Communist sentiments.

    AdonisGuilfoyle wrote:
    Are the phrases used in Over My Dead Body, for instance, accurate? I tried to look up 'Hvala bogu!', which amused me immensely, particularly when Archie said it, but couldn't find it anywhere :?:

    Oh, Google is your friend, Adonis. :wink: It returns almost a million results for the phrase, look here. So, hvala bogu is definitely correct Serbian/Serbo-Croatian/Montenegrin. I knew that even before checking out Google, because in my own native language (Slovak), the same phrase goes chvála Bohu, which is almost identical. It means Thank God, but it's such a familiar phrase it's frequently used even by people who aren't religious.

    AdonisGuilfoyle wrote:
    Marginally back on topic, Wolfe is seen arguing with Mr and Mrs Perez, who are either Mexican or Spanish, in Too Many Clients - haven't read the novel - :wink: - so I don't know if that scene is in the book, too.

    Ah, I thought there was a beautiful Italian girl in the original novel :?: I must have remembered it incorrectly. (Unless the TV producers changed the parents' nationality.) Anyway, if Too Many Clients – the book confirms Wolfe's arguing in Spanish, that will help us in getting the list of 8 languages complete. 8)


    Tue, 24 Jul 2007, 20:47
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    New post Cop Killer
    I wish to lodge a formal complaint! :wink: I watched this episode again, after reading the novelette - which was actually fairly decent - and think this is possibly the only story ruined by its adaptation. The direction was nauseating, and the little adlibs and extras were pointless, and rather preoccupied with food (don't get me started on that last scene with the applause). Plus, how am I meant to take Archie seriously with a towel wrapped around his head? :wink:

    I though the novelette was a neat little mystery, involving the two illegal immigrants in a separate murder story, but I barely noticed the plot in the episode. I thought Kari did well as Janet, and scenes with Archie and Stebbins always amuse me, but otherwise, I have to rank this at the bottom of the pile, with Immune to Murder (same director?)

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    Wed, 25 Jul 2007, 9:54
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    New post Re: Cop Killer
    AdonisGuilfoyle wrote:
    I wish to lodge a formal complaint! :wink: I watched this episode again

    Many folks will envy you that complaint. :P That's because here in continental Europe, we didn't get to see Cop Killer at all.

    As you probably know, a few (3, I believe) episodes of the Nero Wolfe A&E TV series were never shown in Europe, in exchange for us getting to see some of the other episodes in double length compared to what the viewers in the US got to see. See the Missing Minutes Wolfepack webpage.

    So, for example, the Immune to Murder episode you refer to was 90 minutes long here in Europe, whereas it was only 45 minutes long for the viewers in the US.

    And, I've got to say I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of watching Immune to Murder. :D

    AdonisGuilfoyle wrote:
    I have to rank this at the bottom of the pile, with Immune to Murder (same director?)

    Well, once again we perceive things completely differently. :twisted: Just like we seem to disagree about the merits of Too Many Cooks, etc. :)

    Never mind, disagreements are what makes discussions worthwhile. 8)

    On 30 March 2006, I posted the following review of the 90-minute TV version of Immune to Murder to the Pfui Pfighters mailing list:

    Faterson wrote:
    Superb comedy! This TV version of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe story was more fun to view on TV than it was to read. Of course, that doesn't say much, because Rex Stout's original story is not among the best in the Wolfe canon; still, it's a quality short mystery, and the TV version is even more enjoyable.

    The one thing that immediately stands out about the screen version of Immune to Murder is the quality of screenplay: the screenwriter Stuart Kaminski boldly departs from Stout's original story while still remaining faithful to the spirit of Stout's characters. And, it's remarkable what a large percentage of the original Rex Stout dialogs still managed to be retained for the screen version.

    Some of the funny aspects of the book version were more than adequately substitud for on TV by other means; whereas Archie complains about being constantly snubbed by his hosts in the book version, which contributs a lot to the comedic aspect of the story, on TV we see Archie's hosts address him as “Goodwink” or “Goosewin”: and the look on Archie's face upon hearing this is very funny to behold; it is exactly one of those things that can only be captured on film, never in a book.

    Of course, one thing that helps is that Timothy Hutton gives another impeccable performance as the definitive Archie Goodwin. Maury Chaykin is superb in this installment as well, and for once it doesn't matter at all that he yells more than ever in this episode: after all, Wolfe is completely out of his element (the Bronwnstone) here, so why wouldn't he yell more than ever?

    The screenwriter, Stuart Kaminski, apparently couldn't resist and invented a final scene for this story that does take place back in the New York Brownstone; and what a delightful scene it is, complete with a quotation from Epicurus! Other things that the screenwriter invented are pretty funny, too, such as the Chinese helpers in the kitchen and the English cook who gets completely deranged because of Wolfe's badgering. It's priceless to see and hear Wolfe mutter, “I must do everything by myself” as he prepares trout in the kitchen: even in cooking, Wolfe the supreme genius is without a peer!

    Another invented theme are stuffed animals hanging everywhere on the walls of O.V. Brogan's lodge, which gives Kaminski the opportunity to put some truly Wolfean lines into the detective's mouth, denouncing “all the diseased creatures adorning this place”. The screenwriter also invented a flamingo dancer's performance in the midst of the evening party preceding the murder – excellently used to highlight the rising tension between the two female protagonists.

    Kaminski further invented an encompassing theme, a TV journalist on the premises of O.V. Brogan's lodge, conducting TV interviews (in Citizen Kane style) with all guests (and Brogan's cook) invited to stay at the lodge, and the interviews are interspersed throughout the episode, providing for some of the most hilarious moments. (Just think of Spiros Papps and his memories of his Cleveland mother's breakfast routine!)

    Finally, there is the invented Wolfe's dream sequence, running for a good two minutes, as surrealist as from an Akira Kurosawa movie, and as fun to watch as Wolfe's equally improbable and inconsequent dance with one of the murder suspects in another A&E episode, Before I Die.

    The supporting cast are magnificent throughout; the direction (by John R. Pepper) and cinematography are flawless, with each camera angle, it seems, carefully chosen. The costumes and sets are superb as well; to behold Wolfe delivering his denouement crowned with the head of a stuffed bear and the statue of an Indian is enough to make your jaw bust. The actress portraying the ambassador's wife is as beautiful throughout the movie as Wolfe is sore.

    It seems indeed sad that such an excellent episode as Immune to Murder turned out to be the very last in the short-lived A&E mystery series (only two seasons). Immune to Murder runs for 92 minutes in the version that was shown in Europe; it's hard to imagine how this episode could have been shortened to 45 minutes in the United States as well as for the DVD release in the US; I found none of the episodes or interviews shown during the 92 minutes redundant: everything seemed to fit right in.

    And so, one can say Immune to Murder is a Nero Wolfe TV episode exhibiting no flaws at all; you may not remember much about it ten years from now, but I've certainly found nothing to complain about, and was superbly entertained throughout.

    To conclude, what is the most admirable aspect of the TV version of Immune to Murder? It is that this adaptation is clearly designed as pure comedy, yet, although comedic in nature, it manages to convey the portrayals of human personalities depicted so faithfully as to create a disturbing effect on the viewer. Immune to Murder is, then, a movie depicting the real world through the prism of comedy. You can't help laughing or smiling throughout the movie – but what you're laughing at or smiling about really is the pitiful nature of human personalities so well captured in this episode. Touché!


    Wed, 25 Jul 2007, 10:39
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    Yep, John R. Pepper is the culprit behind the acid-trip direction of 'Cop Killer'! :wink: I don't 'actively dislike', shall I say, 'Immune to Murder' - that is, I don't have a particular reason to, bar preferring stories/episodes set in the brownstone - but it's not one of my favourites. I liked the scene with Wolfe persistently calling Archie back, 'Archie, Archie!' and 'Will you sleep?' I enjoyed the 'dance off', too - it's 'flamenco' dancing, by the way. Archie does Flamingo dancing :wink:

    I've only seen the 45 minute DVD version, as I haven't seen all the episodes on television; I did see the European release of 'The Next Witness', which also had 'interviews' with the characters, but I think I prefer the condensed version. The scripting of the monologues was very clever, and I enjoy little character studies like that, but it didn't really add to the story.

    Have you not invested in the DVD boxset, then? I couldn't live without it, even if some of the episodes are shorter than I could maybe have seen on television here. Timothy Hutton is perfectly spot on, always, and I only object to Chaykin's bellowing when I can barely understand what he's saying (his speech to Cramer in 'Disguise for Murder', for instance - 'It is the malefic spite', etc. He rather ruins that moment with his growling!)

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    Wed, 25 Jul 2007, 14:24
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    AdonisGuilfoyle wrote:
    Have you not invested in the DVD boxset, then?

    No, but I think I've managed to record everything on TV, anyway. I haven't checked yet to make sure.

    Oh, and I'll tell you a terrible secret, Adonis: although I've managed to record all episodes (I think), I haven't had the time yet to watch them all :!: Unimaginable to you, right? :lol: That goes to show I'm first of all a book fan of Nero Wolfe, and only afterwards a movie Nero Wolfe fan. :) Of course, I'm looking forward to watching all the episodes, as soon as I find the time.

    AdonisGuilfoyle wrote:
    The scripting of the monologues was very clever, and I enjoy little character studies like that, but it didn't really add to the story.

    I beg to differ, as far as Immune to Murder goes. (I haven't seen The Next Witness yet.) The interviews/monologues added lots of fun to the story, and since the TV version of Immune to Murder was clearly conceived as primarily a comedy, not a murder mystery, then I'd say that the interviews were an important part of this episode.


    Wed, 25 Jul 2007, 14:44
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    New post A&E
    FS, you are a linguistic renaissance man.
    I can't imagine hearing Wolfe in any other language, even my own. I want to hear Wolfe speak an educated, non-native English and Archie an American English, with the occasional good and bad slang, according to Wolfe

    I would sell a first born or something to see all of "Immune!
    So, he actually danced? Well, there is hope for him afterall. I am sure you know that the real Mrs. Chaykin was part of the cast. It made the add-on ending (not found in the book) so very funny.
    CK certainly had it's moments, good and bad.
    Loved the scene of Wolfe and Archie diverting Cramer from finding his prey. Great teamwork on the spur of the moment.
    On the other hand, why is Wolfe amused (laughing loud and long) when told by the immigrants tales of starvation?
    Of course, the poor roasted piglet scene lost me completely! :cry:
    In defense I will speculate that this was actually the "wrap party" and the cast saying farewell to each other and the audience.
    CK was the last episode shot, even though "Immune" was the last to air. The axe fell on short notice, which makes the fact that CK derailed in spots, somewhat understandable. :cry:


    Wed, 25 Jul 2007, 16:54
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