As MGM canvasses directors to rebirth a series of movies modeled on the Peter Sellers “Pink Panther” comedies, the studio has made a deal to develop a remake of another Sellers pic, the 1966 satire “After the Fox.”

The new version will be scripted by George Gallo, the writer/director whose credits include “29th Street.” David Permut will produce, and “Rush Hour” helmer Brett Ratner in talks to direct.

“Fox” starred Sellers as a master of disguise who escapes from prison and masquerades as a film director to smuggle stolen gold bullion.

“It’s a wonderfully inventive, clever and funny movie with a great lead role,” said MGM president Michael Nathanson. “Fox” was pitched to the studio by Permut, Gallo and Ratner, who loved the Neil Simon-scripted original; they thought up the remake when they were quoting lines from the comedy during a story meeting on “Double Take,” a project the trio’s doing at Touchstone.

Ratner expected to direct that pic but left when he took “Family Man” with Nicolas Cage. Said Nathanson: “If Brett’s involved, it’ll be as director and if he wants to direct, that’s great. But if he doesn’t step up, we’ll find another director.”

Permut produced the Gallo-directed “29th Street,” and is producing “Vermin and Pestilence,” a pilot that Gallo just scripted for Columbia/TriStar TV. The project was brought in by Permut Presentations vice president Steve Longi, who’ll coproduce.

MIRAMAX COOKS UP AUSTEN: Miramax Films is negotiating with Rachael Leigh Cook to play the lead role in “Northanger Abbey,” an Andrew Davies-penned adaptation of the Jane Austen novel.

Austen’s first novel is about the sexual awakening of a young woman with a passion for Gothic fiction. The film’s a coproduction between Miramax, Granada Films and London Weekend Television, and it will become the second film in a two-pic deal Miramax signed with the actress after she toplined “She’s All That” with Freddie Prinze Jr.

Cook is currently starring for the studio in “Never Better,” a black comedy about the tress biz also starring Alan Rickman and Josh Hartnett; and she’s recently finished the teen western “Texas Rangers” for Dimension.

Austen adaptations “Sense and Sensibility” helped launch Kate Winslet, and “Emma” was a starmaking vehicle for Gwyneth Paltrow. Cook is repped by Strong/Maroney Ent., UTA and attorney Michael Fuller.

BREGMAN SWITCHES POSITIONS: Michael Bregman, who along with his father Martin has produced films that range from “The Bone Collector” to “Carlito’s Way,” is taking his first turn behind the camera.

Bregman recently got his first big shot as a screenwriter when he adapted the Nelson DeMille novel “Gold Coast” for Castle Rock, and now he’s about to begin production on “Table One,” an indie drama with an ensemble cast topped by Michael Rooker, Stephen Baldwin and Burt Young.

The film’s shooting in Gotham and is produced by Bo Dietl, the subject of the Bregman-produced “One Tough Cop” which also starred Baldwin. “It’s the story of four guys who are pushing 40 and have careers, money but no women, who decide to open the next Moomba,” said Bregman, describing the Gotham hotspot of the moment. “Only it doesn’t turn out to be Moomba and these are the wrong four guys.” Bregman has written a bunch of films, always hoping to get his shot behind the camera.

DROPPING ‘BOMB’ ON HBO: Mutual Film partners Mark Gordon and Gary Levinsohn have made a deal with HBO to mount the drama “Dropping the Bomb.”

The drama, to be told in real time, follows the crucial timespan in which the President and his advisors must decide whether to retaliate to a nuclear attack. The drama’s scripted by Bonnie Mark and overseen by Mutual’s Tania Landau and HBO exec Frank Dolger. Gordon and Levinsohn will produce.

TOM’S SECOND SHOT: Before he rejoins Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis and James Cameron in a Fox sequel of “True Lies,” Tom Arnold is completing starring stints in “Box Marley,” a pic directed by “Hav Plenty” helmer Chris Cherot, and “Animal Factory,” a Steve Buscemi-directed prison drama that’s now shooting.

With any luck, he’ll be reprising his role as Schwarzenegger’s secret agent sidekick by the winter. “Jim’s working with this prolific writer (Jeffrey Eastin) and we’ve been talking about this for at least two years and several visits to the ‘Titanic’ set.”

The first gave Arnold strong reviews, and if the sequel reaps similar results, he promises to be more choosy with films. “When you’re involved with a hit for the first time, you’re off balance, and you take the offers you get,” he said. “A director who has made a lot of hit movies comes to your house, tells you that ‘The Stupids’ will be a great movie and you’re charmed and say, ‘Sounds great!’ Five years later, I think I have had the chance to maybe think things through a bit better.”

Arnold thinks audiences will be surprised by his work in Buscemi’s film: “Steve took a chance letting me play a very bad character with no redeeming qualities whatsoever whose main goal in the movie is to do something awful to Eddie Furlong. I would not be the obvious choice, I hope, to play the prison rapist.”

HARMON-IC CONVERGENCE: If Mark Harmon looks tired during rounds of “Chicago Hope” early next season, it might not be acting. He’s joined Tom Selleck in “Crossfire Trail,” a western for TNT about to start production in Calgary. It’ll be a brutal September for Harmon, shuffling almost nonstop between Canada and the Hollywood “Hope” set. Simon Wincer’s directing the Charles Robert Carner-scripted adaptation of the Louis L’Amour novel, exec produced by Selleck and Michael Brandman, and produced by Tom Kane.

The western’s a battle between two men over a widower. Harmon, who plays the bad guy, is repped by WMA, and managed by Tracy Samuels.

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