U inks Hitler tome rights; Brando eyes ‘Arm’

UNIVERSAL HAS BOUGHT rights to Ron Rosenbaum’s nonfiction book “Explaining Hitler” for a feature film that will be directed by Jim Sheridan.

While the book by the New York Observer columnist is a wide-ranging exploration of how Adolf Hitler deceived and seduced Germany into following him, the film Sheridan wants to make is crystallized in the third chapter, “The Poison Kitchen.”

That is how Hitler characterized the Munich Post as the paper was blitzkrieging him with daily exposes and headlines as he grew in stature. The editors recognized in the early ’20s exactly what Hitler was and pounded him and his loyalists with sharply reported exposes that continued for a decade. Hitler sued the paper, but it would not back down until March 9, 1933, when Hitler used the Reichstag fire, which burned the German Parliament, as an excuse for suspending civil liberties. Then, the Nazis came down on the Post editors with a vengeance. They destroyed its printing plants and began imprisoning editors, dragging the paper’s editor in chief off to Dachau. He was killed June 30, 1934, his blood-spattered spectacles cruelly returned to his wife by the Nazis. Several others died as well.

Though the story’s ending is hardly happy, several studios sparked to the story as “All the President’s Men” set in the formative years of the Third Reich. Many filmmakers have looked for a way to tell the story of how Hitler charmed Germany into becoming his instrument of evil but were thwarted because Hitler’s so loathsome a character and no studio wants him to appear the least bit sympathetic.

With “The Poison Kitchen,” Sheridan, whose films include the politically charged “In the Name of the Father” and last year’s “The Boxer,” has a vehicle to explore the character of the Fuhrer while squarely casting him as the villain.

The project was bought by Universal president Casey Silver, who notched his second significant project buy inside of a week after landing “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” as a Jim Carrey-Ron Howard vehicle (Daily Variety, Sept. 16).

Sheridan will assign a writer, as he decides whether to direct “I, Claudius” or an autobiographical comedy about how he came from Ireland to Gotham, where he started the Irish Arts Center. The latter’s untitled, though it’s being referred to as “Sheridan’s Travels.” The deal was brokered by CAA’s Bob Bookman with Rosenbaum’s lit agent Kathy Robbins.

ONE ARM,” TWO CAMERAS: Though “American History X” helmer Tony Kaye lost an arbitration with New Line over his attempt to remove his name from that movie because the studio wouldn’t use his final cut, he’s just had another duel-cut encounter.

This time it was during a meeting with Marlon Brando about Brando possibly starring in the Tennessee Williams-penned “One Arm,” about the journey of a fighter to recover his dignity after he loses an arm. Brando and Kaye taped each other with video cameras during the meeting, Dish hears.

Brando began a penchant for taping during the making of the New Line pic “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” while Kaye has been carrying a camera everywhere as he hopes to do a documentary about his “X” experience. Brando audiotaped New Line execs, but prexy Mike DeLuca declined to allow a camera to the now famous meeting in which Kaye came accompanied by a Tibetan monk, a priest and a rabbi.

Brando seems well-suited for the role, and he certainly had success with Williams-penned “A Streetcar Named Desire.” No word yet on whether Brando has any desire to do “One Arm” or who gets final cut over their meeting.

TORTOISE REACHES HARE’S PACE: Screenwriter Antwone Fisher is putting the finishing touches on “Tortoise and the Hare,” a script he’ll send out in the next month as a spec, with producer Todd Black attached.

“It’s about the relationship between two close friends, and one moves very quickly and is successful right away, and the other moves slowly but accumulates more in the end, and what happens when that balance shifts,” said Fisher, easily the most unlikely screenwriter success story in Hollywood.

He’s a guy who began as the tortoise but is now on a hare’s pace, having written two go movies and setting up several others already this year — without an agent. Fisher’s the former Sony security guard who with producers Todd Black and Randa Haines turned his life story into “Finding Fish,” a biopic Denzel Washington directs and possibly co-stars in early next year for Fox Searchlight.

That story is about an angry sailor about to be kicked out of the Navy for repeated fighting, who, with the help of a determined Navy shrink (the role Washington might play), turns his life around by finding the family that abandoned him as a baby.

The only fight Fisher has these days is with writer’s block, but not often; he’s made north of $1 million on scripts. Fisher has now set up three at Universal: “Scout’s Honor,” about the integration of the Boy Scouts; “O-O-Soul,” a James Bond-like comedy to star Chris Tucker and Mariah Carey; and the comedy “Trigger Happy,” about a South Central Los Angeles cop suspended for an inability to control his anger who becomes a security guard at Barney’s in Beverly Hills.

Fisher’s writing for HBO the biopic on T LaRock, a rapper rendered comatose by a baseball bat to the head who convalesces in a Jewish hospital where he bonds with Holocaust survivors. Fisher’s now setting up a TV pilot about a child psychiatrist who’s a beard for the kid next door, who provides the real wisdom.

ALL FISHER’S DEALS are made by attorney Jeff Franklin of Hansen, Jacobson, Teller & Hoberman. Fisher is as surprised as anybody about his success.

“Maybe, it’s beginner’s luck, like when you sit around a card table and you’re winning, and people are amazed because you don’t know how to play the game,” said Fisher.

He never had formal scripter schooling, but Fisher got schooling when he wrote his biopic. “I did 64 drafts of that script over four years, and it was the screenplay I used to learn how to write screenplays,” said Fisher. “I never went to film school, but my professors were Todd Black, Randa Haines, Chris Smith, Jason Blumenthal and Denzel Washington. They taught me, and they were hard on me, and the newer jobs became easier.”

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