Inside Move: Towne, Roos trying to ‘Dust’ off Fante pic

Film financing, male lead close at hand

It’s been more than a quarter century since writer-director Robert Towne and producer Fred Roos have wanted to make a film from the John Fante novel “Ask the Dust” — and they aren’t about to stop trying now.

In fact, as they continue to hunt for pic financing, they appear to be getting closer to finding a male lead for the project.

If all goes as planned, Towne will direct from his own adaptation, penned several years ago. Roos will produce and cinematographer Conrad Hall (“American Beauty”) will reteam with Towne, with whom he last worked on “Without Limits.” Period pic is budgeted in the $10 million-$20 million range.

“John’s novel, published in 1937 or ’38, is one of the best novels written about Los Angeles,” Towne told Daily Variety. “If you really want to get a sense of how people spoke at that time, and lived at that time, read the book. It’s even a better book about L.A. than ‘Day of the Locust.’ ”

The story centers on a young man full of ambition and shame for having been castigated in Colorado for his Italian heritage, who comes to Los Angeles to become a novelist and meet a blond beauty. As his writing flourishes, the young man meets and falls in love with a Mexican waitress.

“It’s sad and funny at the same time,” said Towne. “It’s one of the best love stories that I know. It’s actually a love-hate story.”

Towne added that some of the book’s language characterized as politically incorrect and, because it’s still so humorous, “that’s part of its charm.”

Towne had taken an interest in Fante and “Ask the Dust” while he was writing “Chinatown.”

Casting calls

But “Dust” was a project that lingered in his mind. At one point, he had discussions with Al Pacino and Peter Sellers to make the pic. At another, Johnny Depp was attached to the project, but no film materialized.

“Fante (is) slowly becoming recognized as one of the most important undiscovered novelists around,” said Towne, who wrote the summer smash “Mission: Impossible 2.”

Fante’s novel “Full of Life,” which he adapted for the screen, was made into a 1956 pic of the same title and starred Judy Holliday.

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