Fincher pinches ‘Dahlia’; Cruise eyes ‘451’

“Seven” helmer David Fincher has made a deal to develop the James Ellroy novel “The Black Dahlia” as a directing vehicle, possibly to follow his next film, the Fox 2000 adaptation of “The Fight Club.”

Though Ellroy has become a suddenly hot author after the Curtis Hanson-directed adaptation of his novel “L.A. Confidential,” Fincher has had a long dalliance with “Dahlia,” a fictionalization of the never-solved murder of Elizabeth Short. Ellroy turned it into a tale of obsession between two tough L.A. cops in 1949 who both fall for the dead woman. A tangled trail of clues leads to an eventual solving of the murder, but not before the lives of both men are destroyed.

The book was optioned several years ago by producer Rudy Cohen. His April Prods. is partnering with Moshe Diamant’s Signature Entertainment, which will sell foreign rights. Signature has a first-look deal at Columbia Pictures, so that studio will get first shot at domestic rights.

“We’re so excited about having David, because he’ll bring out the true flavor of James Ellroy,” Cohen said.

Fincher is poised to next direct “Fight Club,” with Fox 2000 making pay-or-play offers after Brad Pitt approved the Jim Uhls script. Pitt’s expected to star with Edward Norton, with Courtney Love high on a list to play the female lead when the film begins shooting in June. Fincher’s repped by CAA and attorney Thomas B. McGuire Jr., with Cohen repped by attorneys Jake Bloom and David Feldman and Alan Grodin.

CRUISING TO ‘451’: A potentially intriguing twist is in the works for “Farenheit 451,” the Warner Bros. adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel to be directed by Mel Gibson from a Terry Hayes script. While Gibson originally planned to direct and play the lead, Dish hears he might replace himself as star with Tom Cruise.

After pulling double duty on the Oscar-winning “Braveheart,” Gibson would prefer to concentrate on directing. He felt the same way on “Braveheart,” but eventually agreed to play William Wallace because he needed his own starpower to get the film greenlit. A Gibson-Cruise combination would supply plenty of heat for the film, with Gibson directing Cruise in the role of a fireman who questions his book-burning role in a futuristic, repressive society.

Cruise has just come up for air following an arduous shoot on “Eyes Wide Shut” and is considering numerous projects that include the “Mission: Impossible” sequel. Sources close to the actor label the “Fahrenheit” talk as very serious.

STONE IN GRIDIRON HUDDLE: Director Oliver Stone is getting closer to the goal line on a pro-football project, which is attracting a stellar lineup of stars poised to play ball for Warner Bros.

The project is an amalgamation of three existing projects, scripted by John Logan and to be produced by Lauren Shuler-Donner, Stone and Dan Halsted. Dish hears George Clooney is interested in playing a superstar quarterback forced to play hurt to keep ahead of a young phenom. For that role, Stone and WB are in talks with rap impresario Sean “Puffy” Combs to make his starring debut.

Also in the mix are names like Al Pacino, Tommy Lee Jones and Wesley Snipes. But WB brass is calling the signals here, and everything is contingent on the studio OK’ing the budget and giving Stone the OK to say “hike.”

REGENCY GOES SHORT: First-time director Bill Britten and writer Eric Beacon have taken a smart shortcut to the feature level. “One Night Stand,” a chilling short film they made that’s a new take on “Wait Until Dark,” has been purchased for low against mid-six figures by New Regency.

The producer has hired the filmmakers to turn their short into a feature. The pic is a product of the British-based First Film Foundation, which has helped start such careers as Jim Gillespie and Carlo Carlei, and which included the short in its First Film Festival. Writers & Artists agents Michael Stipanich and Marti Blumenthal showed the short around Hollywood, and New Regency’s Dan Levine and David Matalon pounced.

MANIFEST DESTINY: Manifest Films’ Janet Yang and Lisa Henson have bought a story by first-time scribes Christian Gudegast and Paul Scheuring. The duo will script the untitled story, an international action adventure, in a deal that could be worth mid-six figures if the film’s made.

Gudegast is the son of “Young and the Restless” star Eric Braeden. The writers were repped by Paradigm’s Sandy Weinberg.

DISHINGS: Nicolas Cage has taken himself out of the running to play Andy Kaufman in “Man on the Moon,” the Jersey Films biopic to be directed by Milos Forman. Cage was considered a strong contender, along with Jim Carrey, Edward Norton and John Cusack; Cage was the only one who refused to do an audition tape for Forman, who’ll make a decision shortly.

Cage, busy filming “8 Millimeter” and locked into a probable summer start for “Superman Reborn,” likely would have experienced a scheduling nightmare on “Moon.”

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