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Overall Rating
4.75

Awesome86.53%
Worth A Look: 7.77%
Average: 1.55%
Pretty Bad: 2.59%
Total Crap: 1.55%

6 reviews, 157 user ratings


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Raiders of the Lost Ark
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by Rob Gonsalves

"The greatest entertainment ever made."
5 stars

There are greater films, of course. The usual suspects, like "Citizen Kane" or "The Godfather" -- those are greater, and many others. But if there were only two films left in the world, "Citizen Kane" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and I had to rescue one and consign the other to flames, I know which way my heart would vote. "Citizen Kane," the masterpiece and influential classic, would burn.

Perhaps I speak rashly. Perhaps I was also ten years old when I first saw Raiders, the absolute ideal time to see it. Perhaps I loved it so much that I made my mom take me to it four more times in the theater. Perhaps I got a gigantic Raiders poster for my room that same year of 1981. Perhaps I still have it.

Enough about me. Raiders, obviously, is an assemblage of used parts from the vintage adventure serials Steven Spielberg and George Lucas devoured along with their popcorn. (So was Star Wars, with a little help from Kurosawa and Joseph Campbell.) Serials hadn't been box-office currency in decades; the Mad parody of Raiders was aptly titled Raiders of a Lost Art. Spielberg and Lucas brought back the whistle-clean non-Disney adventure film, with tropes and twists we kids were seeing for the first time, but also with the ruthlessly ingenious film language of Spielberg in his prime. It was Spielberg who taught a generation the magic that could be achieved with editing and composition. There's no flab whatsoever in Raiders, nothing that doesn't belong, nothing that doesn't serve the story. It's a machine, but a swift and dazzling one a rocket that keeps sending off fireworks while still in flight.

Lawrence Kasdan's writing has probably never been so effortlessly economical. Very quickly, we learn the essence of our hero, archaeologist/adventurer Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford). He's smart as hell, and passionate as hell about what he's smart about. He's brave, but just because he's willing to face danger doesn't mean he disregards it he's human and can be scared, hurt, killed. We learn that he fears snakes above all else, which of course means he'll be obliged to confront an entire roomful of them. (Paging Dr. Freud.) Even in relatively mundane scenes, when Indy is back teaching at his university, we see that half the class has a mad crush on him (that chick with "LOVE YOU" on her eyelids), including one male student who hurriedly plops an apple on Indy's desk; Indy's pal Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott), who is possibly what was referred to in 1936 as a bachelor, picks it up and regards it wryly.

So we've got a multifaceted hero, played by Ford with an emotional clarity he hadn't shown before, as well as a sense of prankish abandon Ford seems up for anything here. He's visibly relieved to be working with a real director and snappy dialogue, and creating a hero with the aura of a legend (when Indy first shows his face to the camera after whipping the gun out of Barranca's mitt, it's so dramatic it's borderline corny, but it's still probably the most bad-ass introduction to any screen hero) but the dimensions of a man. And he's not afraid to look geeky; when two government mouthpieces visit and drop the Ark of the Covenant mission in Indy's lap, Ford races to the chalkboard to sketch the Staff of Ra, or fumbles with the latches of a huge bible to show them an artist's rendering of the Ark. Indy is playing to an audience that doesn't really care the government dudes just want to know who this Abner Ravenwood is and why Hitler is so interested in him. But Indy throws himself into the impromptu lesson anyway, and we understand, aside from the fact that he looks like Harrison Ford, why Indy is such a popular professor. He cares about rare antiquities; he cares about the Ark. So we care too.




Abner's daughter Marion (Karen Allen) is probably supposed to be in her late twenties, which would've made her a teen maybe barely legal, maybe not when Indy encountered her hymen and her heart and broke both, in that order. She's hated him throughout the decade since he skipped out, but watch how fast that wears off once Indy steps into her Nepalese tavern. He's still the same bastard she knew, but he's older now and more vulnerable, and part of her responds to that with a little sadness. They've both been a little lost in the intervening years. (We now know, naturally, that Indy had previously been through the wringer with Mola Ram, the Temple of Doom, the black blood of Kali, and Kate Capshaw.) The romance rekindled between Indy and Marion is believable because she pretty much never stops giving him shit, and he keeps on taking it with a chuckle, knowing he deserves it. Kasdan had made a splash earlier in 1981 with his retro noir Body Heat, but Raiders really shows the lessons he learned from the old late-night classics. Marion is introduced while drinking a huge opponent under the table, and this, like Indy's ophidiophobia, pays off later when she sits across the table from Rene Belloq (Paul Freeman), Indy's longtime rival and competitor for the prize of the Ark.

In her largely negative review, Pauline Kael wondered why Belloq never has a change of heart, since the movie seems to be setting that up. I think it's more that he's smitten with Marion more smitten than he'd intended to be, since he probably originally just wanted to take one more treasure away from Indy and ended up falling for the rough charm she honed in Nepal. She isn't like any woman he's ever met. But in the end, Belloq's obsession with going for the gold and outflanking Indy gets the better of him. In a rather too on-the-nose speech, Belloq goes on about how he's merely "a shadowy reflection" of Indy, and that "it would take only a nudge to make you like me" (perhaps being born in France rather than America, the movie seems to say). The thing is, during that scene Indy is tanked to the gills and more or less praying for Belloq to goad him into killing him Indy already seems pretty shadowy. There's genuine rage, suicidal rage, in his face when he gets up and goes for his gun. Marion's dead, screw the Ark, screw you, screw everything, I've got nothing better to do.

That brief bit with the many children of Indy's Egyptian buddy Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) swarming in to intervene is one of the movie's subtler nods to Raiders' origins in cliffhangers. Every sequence seems to present some challenge to Indy's continued well-being, even if the threat is as small as a poisoned date. In the bar with Belloq, Indy actually has to be saved from himself. The major action set pieces, of course, put challenges inside of challenges for Indy there's the larger danger (say, being shot at in the Nepalese tavern), with small variations played throughout (say, being pinned to the bar as a flaming line of alcohol snakes across it). Raiders works up to two still-unsurpassed masterworks of tension and adrenaline the first unfolding in, on, and around a treacherously rotating Flying Wing, the second, with almost no pause in between, unfolding in, on, around, and under a truck. The desert chase sequence, with John Williams' relentless score ramming it forward like some orchestral mutation of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir," is in my estimation the single greatest action piece ever filmed. Making it all the more charming is that, for the film's DVD release, Spielberg didn't bother to tart up the 1981-era special effects: the Nazi car hurtling over the cliff still looks cheesy, you can still see the trench that allows Ford's stunt double Vic Armstrong to hold onto the truck's undercarriage without being squished. And I don't care.




Regardless of what Pauline Kael or J.D. Salinger had to say about it (Salinger sneered at its "unwitty, unfunny awful socko-ness" in a letter that recently sold for $2,250 on eBay), Raiders played like gangbusters for audiences in 1981, and still plays that way today, even to an audience of ten people. I screened it for that small group, and the stuff that went over huge twenty-seven years ago still knocked 'em out. The gunman vs. swordsman gag, probably the most welcome result of dysentery in film history, got a massive laugh. The tilting-mirror bit never fails. The Nazi sadist Toht (Ronald Lacey) assembling what looks like a fiendish instrument of torture represented a joke Spielberg had wanted to film for years. For all their pain and apocalypse, the Indy movies are comedies at heart, with plenty of horsing around and baggy-pants slapstick and zingers. When Indy misjudged his whip swing and crashed back into the Commies' windshield in the teaser trailer for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I dared to hope that the (upcoming as I write this) new adventure had some of the same old raffish humor. Indy screws up and stumbles and gets beaten like a gong, but always bounces back up (much like the heavy concrete block at the end of the Well of Souls sequence, one of the flick's more infamous gaffes). Indy is equal parts Buster Keaton, Buster Crabbe, Humphrey Bogart, and, oddly enough, Richard Dreyfuss, or at least the Dreyfuss on view in Jaws and Close Encounters (forget about Always; I'm sure he has).

A small streak of nihilism what Kael referred to as "unfeeling" has kept Raiders sharp over the years. I've said several times that Spielberg is a closet sadist, and it shows more than once here. It doesn't hurt that Michael Kahn, Spielberg's editor since Close Encounters, keeps Raiders hurtling along smoothly yet mercilessly, like a ghost train going 85 mph past snakes and explosions and Ronald Lacey. The short but nerve-wracking scene wherein Marion flails through a chamber of desiccated corpses (who somehow go "BLOOOAH!", at least according to the soundtrack) is like a perfect mini-horror film; it seems designed to scare the shit out of little kids. (Indeed, the film narrowly dodged an R rating a poof of smoke superimposed over an exploding head made the difference and won the PG.) There's the odd moment when Belloq reaches into the Ark, finding only dust, and Toht cackles merrily and strolls away. Wait, shouldn't he be pissed that his Fuehrer has spent untold amounts of money and soldiers to retrieve a shiny box of bug shit? No, Toht doesn't care; he's only in it for the torture.

Mainly, though, Raiders is warm, and not just because most of it unfolds in the Tunisian sands. Douglas Slocombe, who shot the film as a whippersnapper of 67, gives each frame the look of an adventure-story magazine cover (as Roger Ebert pointed out). The dominant style is lush yet naturalistic; everything seems to be filmed either at magic hour or by the light of a roaring fire. Even the opening sequence in Peru, with then-novice Alfred Molina skittering along at Indy's heel into cobwebbed doom, boasts infinite gradations of brown. Spielberg used to work with a variety of master cinematographers before apparently getting locked into Janusz Kaminski (who, aside from Schindler's List, has two modes: desaturated and bleached); he only used Slocombe for the Indy films, and it's safe to say that Slocombe is as responsible for the burnished Indy image copped by Richard Amsel and Drew Struzan for the Indy posters as Williams' instantly recognizable "Raiders March" is for the Indy sound.

It all may have been George Lucas' idea (thank Christ they didn't go with "Indiana Smith"), written up by Lawrence Kasdan from a story by Lucas and Philip Kaufman (it's one of the weirder facts of pop-culture history that the director of Henry & June and The Unbearable Lightness of Being helped concoct Indy's cinematic debut), but Raiders is Spielberg's baby. Others may have conceived it, but he brought it to term and birthed it. He tries all sorts of tricks: he stages the entire Nepal shoot-out without music (unusual in an otherwise Williams-drenched film); he touches on desolation in a simple shot of a grieving Indy staring through the grate in a door; he just about fetishes the recurring motif of men with fedoras silhouetted or casting shadows; most of all, everything he tries pays off with a vengeance.

This may be George's toy box, but Spielberg plays with the toys as if he owns them, and they become his by default. Better still, he lets us play, too. "Raiders" is, for me, the most purely fun movie ever made.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=223&reviewer=416
originally posted: 05/06/08 13:38:29
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Trilogy Starters: For more in the Trilogy Starters series, click here.

User Comments

7/23/14 fbbclmjm USA 2 stars
7/18/14 vuynxzptfqq USA 2 stars
7/10/14 jwguqddzpv USA 3 stars
9/03/13 Geraldine Amazing! A classic! 5 stars
7/11/13 Charles Kill This was the best one...besides crusade...and temple, of course. 4 stars
6/03/13 Ron One of my top 3 or 5 films ever. 5 stars
9/16/12 cindy madson good 4 stars
5/12/12 matthew thompson dalldorf One of the best adventure movies of all time! 5 stars
3/01/12 jcar a very good action movie with lots of thrills and cool effects, ford is great action hero 4 stars
1/04/12 Flipsider One of the best American Movies, maybe THE best! 5 stars
6/08/10 Flathead King Raiders could be the best action film ever made 5 stars
3/10/10 Josie Cotton is a goddess Just as good everytime you see it 5 stars
4/19/09 Jbond the moving corpse scene as "merely to scare the kids"... indeed it did 5 stars
9/03/08 austin wertman one of the greatest movies of all-time 5 stars
8/30/08 Shaun Wallner Great film!! 5 stars
8/28/08 Charles Tatum Absolutely huge fun, why have I not commented here before? 5 stars
8/25/08 George Barksdale This movie is the reason you stood in line for the other ones, Great! 5 stars
7/17/08 Keithers The only movie that entertain you...30 years later, the greatest adventure of all time... 5 stars
6/21/08 PAUL SHORTT ONE OF THE MOST INDELIBLE ADVENTURE FILMS IN CINEMATIC HISTORY 5 stars
6/10/08 Johnnyfaye the only movie that will actually knock you out of chair then then slap the shit out of you 5 stars
6/02/08 mike pease awesome movie loved it 5 stars
5/25/08 debdahlin excellent movie - love harrison ford in action paction films 5 stars
5/07/08 AJ Muller I take back every bad thing I ever said about Rob G - great review for greatest flick ever. 5 stars
3/24/08 Bnorm If you dont like this movie you're not a fucking American 5 stars
6/15/07 Vincent Ebriega More than just another old-fashioned adventure movie. 5/5. 5 stars
6/13/07 al smith the best adventure film ever.anyone who disagrees is a cock 5 stars
4/27/07 R.W.Welch Top of the Adventure Genre -- probably forever. 5 stars
11/02/06 Patsyc very good movie. Definitely worth watching. 5 stars
10/25/06 Drew G What can I say that hasn't already been said? 5 stars
10/15/06 Ron Newbold Escapism at its best. This became an instant classic 5 stars
8/26/06 michael can't wait for the new 1 to come out one of these years 5 stars
8/25/06 Al Guy A permanent classic! 5 stars
8/24/06 David Pollastrini great action with a few comedy bits 5 stars
8/23/06 Ole Man Bourbon Richard Chamberlain in Alan Quatermain was SO much better. In hell. 5 stars
7/26/06 Sepi53 Best adventure film since Adventures of Robin Hood! 5 stars
6/24/06 JohnnyFaye Ford gives the proformance of a lift time, cloest you can get to the best adventurefilmever 5 stars
5/26/06 Kimberly Dull This is my favorite movie. 5 stars
3/10/06 Dk The last crusade may be more entertaining but this is the best Indiana Jones movie 5 stars
11/18/05 Chris Barrett Lets All Hum The Theme!!!! Whoever Hates This, Hates Movies 5 stars
11/18/05 John Dog Awesome action movie. Anyone who dislikes this film has a lot of problems. 5 stars
10/09/05 Anus NAZIS - I HATE THOSE GUYS. WELL, TYPICAL REMARKS FROM A TYPICAL JEW DIRECTOR 1 stars
9/08/05 Johnny Best action movie. 5 stars
9/02/05 Zack great movie 5 stars
8/28/05 Quigley there are so many classic scenes; this is an unforgettable movie experience. i love it!!!! 5 stars
8/26/05 EZ Ford was great, exciting action, and George Lucas delivered another masterpiece 5 stars
8/12/05 D Buckley Best movie ever made? 5 stars
5/27/05 tony BEST FILM BY HARRISON FORD. EXELLENT EVERYTHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
3/18/05 indrid cold Flawless from first scene to last. The best action/adventure of all time. 5 stars
1/04/05 t-1000 marion is ugly 5 stars
10/17/04 Elisheva Rison This movie is an astounding piece of work, it's totally breathtaking and action-packed! 5 stars
10/16/04 Denise awesome 5 stars
8/29/04 Conor Crockford great 5 stars
8/19/04 courtney hrison ford is hott and it makes a great move for action adventurer people 5 stars
7/26/04 keithers a timeless adventure film. Just as fun every time you see it. When adventure moviesweregood 5 stars
7/17/04 Evan great stuff 5 stars
7/08/04 Stevo There hasn't been an action film quite like it since 5 stars
5/15/04 the bride whisky?? Funny as! Fuckin awesome as! 5 stars
5/04/04 dead next door has aged a bit but still great. 4 stars
3/27/04 Littlepurch. Disappointing solution through lack of action but gd build up. 4 stars
2/12/04 Johnny Fay GOLDENCHILD!!!!...ARE YOU INSANE!!..someone shoot CC 5 stars
1/27/04 Katie Malone Hung on to the edge of my chair the whole time! 5 stars
1/24/04 CC Whatch the Golden Child ...better 1 stars
12/07/03 john still great! 5 stars
11/22/03 ross hendrick brilliant 5 stars
11/12/03 alien assassin timeless classic 5 stars
11/02/03 Skilly Skally Yep. it's a good one alright 5 stars
10/27/03 John Bale One of the best action/fun flicks of all times, Harrison is great, and direction etc, super 5 stars
9/29/03 Boris Smtih "I don't know; I'm making this up as I go." 5 stars
9/16/03 Terry One of the best movies ever made, great fun. 5 stars
9/06/03 Dimitri Aubert Fun, action and romance in a shaker and you have a great movie, thank you Steven. 5 stars
8/19/03 Hewdam The definitive action/advebture movie 5 stars
8/08/03 3man "Asps! Very dangerous. You go first Indy." 5 stars
8/07/03 Roger Thornhill Smart action movie. 5 stars
7/12/03 Indrid Cold Flawless all the way to the wrath of God climax: absolutely as good as movies get. 5 stars
5/08/03 Doctor Jay One of the finest movies of the 1980s!!! 5 stars
4/26/03 Mr. Do They should make more movies like this, not those fuckin things they make today 5 stars
4/24/03 GWB great film 5 stars
3/21/03 defranco73 The best of the trilogy. 5 stars
3/04/03 Jack Sommersby A grand adventure. Feverishly paced with lots of great stunts. Plods some, but rocks mostly 4 stars
3/04/03 hi there This is one of the best movies ever made, and if you hated it, you're an idiot! 5 stars
2/20/03 Mark Earley This is one of the best movies ever made in the history of time 5 stars
2/05/03 123 this is the original stuff! harrison ford's best role 5 stars
11/29/02 Jay Best of the Indiana Jones Series 5 stars
11/09/02 YES 2nd best action film ever, behind only Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 5 stars
9/23/02 George Overrated my ass. This movie rocks. 5 stars
7/04/02 gary vidmar A completely great film in all ways. If U haven't seen it yet, do it now! 5 stars
6/27/02 Shams Huque Anyone giving this less than 5/5 is a fool. 5 stars
5/13/02 Dark Baron Can't wait for the DVD Trilogy. 5 stars
4/22/02 Randal Grantham I Absolutely love it 5 stars
4/13/02 Movie Expert The movie is goofy and is the most overrated movie ever made 2 stars
4/03/02 Stephanie Throckmorton On of most overrated pieces of irreverence &hooey ever & "heroine" is a bitch! 2 stars
3/20/02 Rockitman007 Best Action movie ever!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
3/11/02 Jo Smo It was a horrible movie NOT it was great! 4 stars
2/19/02 I love movies better than Star Wars y'all 5 stars
2/06/02 Nevz Good enough for me 5 stars
1/18/02 David A. Comic-book style action and adventure--extremely well-done! 5 stars
1/01/02 slipperyK it is know as "the" adventure movie, the greatest adventure ever, specially the desertchase 5 stars
12/19/01 dkb You can see its influence in every action film since. 5 stars
12/13/01 Brian White Easily one of the greatest movies ever made, and my favorite of all time. 5 stars
11/24/01 Andrew Carden I Can't Say It Was That Great, but It Is Such A Classic Flick. 5 stars
10/24/01 Chris Wright Still the greatest action movie 5 stars
10/08/01 jawsboy one of the greatest action movies ever made. Very good movie, but the ending was only ok. 4 stars
10/02/01 Phoenix The best adventure picture ever made. 5 stars
8/06/01 E-Funk The greatest adventure movie of all time. The end is a trip... 5 stars
7/12/01 the scarecrow a classic 5 stars
6/23/01 erik the movieman Should have been AFI's #1 Most Thrilling Film of All Time. It was mine! 5 stars
6/02/01 G-MAN I Love this movie 5 stars
5/14/01 fifu the best adventure movie ever made 5 stars
5/02/01 sharkey All I wanted as a kid was a bullwhip. And the hat. 5 stars
4/02/01 Jesse L Set a new direction for action thrillers 5 stars
2/13/01 Richard Wright My favourite is the third one, but this is still a classic. Will they make a fourth? 4 stars
2/11/01 KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi I will love this movie till the day I die. See it, or else!! 5 stars
1/09/01 fifu the ideal adventure movie/it's 20 years old and still leaves you breathless at the end 5 stars
12/31/00 Msitrab I still love this movie 5 stars
12/24/00 Destruction Worker "I hate snakes" 5 stars
12/09/00 fifu my favorite movie ever 5 stars
11/28/00 Cristopher Revilla a roller coaster ride, one of the greatest films!!!! 5 stars
11/13/00 The EVIL Penguin Great, but the weakest of the three 4 stars
10/28/00 Evil Cartman Hella rocks! Too bad about the hella awful sequels... 5 stars
9/22/00 White Rabbit My second favorite Spielberg movie 5 stars
6/30/00 Deckard The best Action/Advanture movie ever made. Period. 5 stars
6/05/00 David Gaukroger brilliant 4 stars
5/31/00 danilo a thrill ride from beginning to end, LITERALLY 5 stars
5/03/00 matt Most exciting, thrill ride in motion picture history. Speilberg is the MANNN 5 stars
4/17/00 punkass Saw it again and wished I hadn't - don't ruin your childhood favourites 2 stars
4/04/00 Bruce A wild ride, this is the role Harrison Ford was born to play 5 stars
3/24/00 stellisima Sweet Harrison... 5 stars
3/21/00 The Saint this movie was pretty damn good 4 stars
3/20/00 Richard Wright I prefer Last Crusade,but this film is certainly a milestone in its genre.Ford-what a star! 4 stars
3/15/00 Matthew Bartley The bit where he shoots the swordsman. That's all you need to know. 5 stars
1/25/00 Eric With The Last Crusade, Raiders of the Lost ark is the best action/adventure film ever made 5 stars
1/24/00 Casey Jarzabek OVERRATED 1 stars
1/20/00 Jedi15 Definitely one of Spielberg's best. A must-see! 5 stars
1/11/00 noelle camargo it's the best actio/adventure movie 5 stars
1/06/00 bk Marion Ravenwood is annoying as hell 3 stars
11/18/99 Vick Di Brecci Truck chase scene is the greatest chase in all of movies. 5 stars
10/27/99 Ralf Behet Hard to beat 5 stars
10/18/99 Ginny Brilliant...set the standard and raised the bar for ALL action/adventure flicks to follow 5 stars
10/14/99 Jay Jourden very good 5 stars
10/10/99 SJKelley Simply redefined the adventure film. We all want to be Indiana Jones. 5 stars
9/17/99 garthow it rocks 5 stars
8/10/99 Ted Wetzel One of the best action/adventure movies ever made. 5 stars
7/05/99 Ben Leostein Rating: **** (out of ****) Category: "Excellent" 5 stars
6/03/99 Matthew Bartley Shooting the swordsman is sill one of the greatest scenes ever 5 stars
4/28/99 Michael Grimm The Bomb!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
2/19/99 Derek My favorite movie ever. I'm serious. If you don't like this, you're beyond help. 5 stars
2/01/99 Vick Di Brecci Great character, great adven story (for most part), great truck chase scene 5 stars
11/29/98 Mike F pretty good. 3 stars
11/27/98 Mr.Pink An entertaining yarn. 4 stars
11/24/98 bizzy mmmmmmmm...Indiana Jones..... 5 stars
11/02/98 Baba booey !!!!!! 5 stars
10/30/98 Silent Rob Pure Movie Magic. 5 stars
10/18/98 Kwyjibo Man, this film ruled all butt. Ford will never be better. In fact, now he sucks. 5 stars
10/14/98 Chi-Fan Hu The best Indy film 5 stars
9/18/98 Couch Potato Critic The classic action Saturday afternoon matinee. 1 of the 6 Spielberg greats. 5 stars
9/05/98 Badass One of the best action films ever made! 5 stars
8/16/98 {{{OZ}}} Can't be negative about a classic. 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  12-Jun-1981 (PG)
  DVD: 14-Oct-2008

UK
  30-Jul-1981 (PG)

Australia
  14-Aug-1981 (M)




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