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Ruddy/Morgan team to lens ‘Americal’ pic

Producers Al Ruddy and Andre Morgan are firing up their howitzers to lense rookie writer Bill Cross’ script “Americal,” a look at one of the most controversial U.S. military units during the Vietnam War.

Cary Elwes, Gary Busey, Michael Rooker and Powers Boothe will topline. The 10 -week shoot will begin in February in either the Philippines or Indonesia, project producers say.

Sidney J. Furie, who worked with Ruddy/Morgan on the comedy “Ladybugs,” will helm.

Based on Cross’ own 1971-72 Vietnam experience, the story follows a young Army lieutenant (Elwes) from the Americal Division who is assigned to an artillery unit where soldiers killed their two former commanders.

Only with the help of a gunnery sergeant, played by Busey, does Elwes manage to gain both the unit’s respect and a fighting chance to survive a sweeping attack by the North Vietnamese.

“It’s really a piece about the loneliness of command,” said Morgan, who explained that near the end of the pic, the unit is dispatched into nearby Laos, officially a non-combat zone, with disastrous results.

“We’re way down the road on this project,” said Morgan, recently returned from location scouting in Southeast Asia. “We’re ready to send our production designer, Herbert Pinter (“The Year of Living Dangerously,””Black Robe”) back out there next week when we make a decision.”

Based in the heavily contested area of Chu Lai near the northern highlands, Americal was the largest single combat division in the war. In 1971-72, its name was scarred by the so-called My Lai Massacre, committed under the command of Americal Lt. William Calley, and the division was re-dubbed the 23rd Infantry Division.

The producers added that “Americal” would be shot without a particular domestic distribber in mind, and that overseas would be sold territory by territory. The midsize production budget is independently financed by Ruddy/Morgan.

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