Blum’s ‘Brigade’ marching to Miramax

BRIGADE’ BREWING: In a mid-six figure deal, Miramax has landed screen rights to “The Brigade,” a fact-based book by “Gangland” author Howard Blum to be published this spring by HarperCollins. The film will be produced by Industry Ent.’s Nick Wechsler and Keith Addis, and the question in Hollywood is whether the book still holds the interest of Tom Cruise, whose Cruise-Wagner Prods. had high interest when a 20-page proposal made the rounds last year (Daily Variety, Feb. 2, 1999).

Wechsler and Addis also sparked to the proposal and set it up at Miramax. The book tells the true story of a group of Palestinian Jews molded by the British into a fighting brigade that battled the Nazis in WWII. Later, they spearhead a secret campaign to import Jewish refugees to the Middle East in what would later become Israel.

“The moral ambiguity of these men who go from a calculated campaign of vengeance to a course of action that changed their lives and the course of history makes for an intriguing film,” said HarperCollins exec editor David Hirshey. CAA’s Robert Bookman repped Blum in negotiations with Miramax senior veep Steven Hutensky. Exec veep Jon Gordon will steer the project.

HANNIBALIZING: As Universal begins mulling a deal with Anthony Hopkins on “Hannibal,” the studio’s apparently still hopeful that Jodie Foster might reconsider her decision to bail. Her exit came as a holiday shock, and since she ostensibly exited because Claire Danes skipped a semester of college to star for her in “Flora Plum,” there’s a glimmer of hope that scheduling accommodations could be made.

Steve Zaillian’s script has cleverly excised Tom Harris’s ending of the book, which made Foster uneasy about reprising the role that won her an Oscar. So the creative impediment shouldn’t be there any longer. Getting Foster back is a longshot, and Hollywood’s already buzzing about the list of actresses who might replace her. Atop it are Cate Blanchett, Angelina Jolie and “Boys Don’t Cry” star Hillary Swank.

Informed sources call the lists speculative and argue that without Foster, U might even shelve the pic. That’s shocking, given U’s investment of more than $10 million for book and script fees, but caution might be smart. U spent a decade evolving “The Mummy” and the studio and its producers were rewarded with a big summer hit and a fast-developing sequel. Aside from heightened critical expectations, “Hannibal” is high stakes since the participants will likely gobble up more than 20% of the film’s gross. No comment on the speculation from Universal.

REBOTTLING ‘CHAMPAGNE’: Daly Harris Prods. has made a deal with producer Steven Jay Rubin and author Pat H. Broeske to mount a remake of “Champagne for Caesar,” the 1950 comedy about the early days of live TV gameshows that starred Ronald Colman as a gameshow whiz and Vincent Price as a soap magnate trying to get him to lose.

Given that TV’s more infatuated with gameshows now than anytime since the ’50s, the pic seems ripe for remaking. Daly/Harris, run by actor Tim Daly and producer J. Todd Harris, recently completed the Harvey Milk pic “Execution of Justice” for Showtime, while Rubin’s the co-exec producer of a Disney remake of “The Errand Boy” and co-producer of “Combat!” at Paramount. Broeske, a showbiz industry scribe for years, wrote “Howard Hughes: The Untold Story,” a book New Regency is hoping to use for a biopic of the billionaire-turned-recluse. It is looking for a writer and a studio deal.

MOLONEY POSTMORTEM: February’s Vanity Fair weighs in with an 11-page article on former CAA agent Jay Moloney, which provides a much gentler epitaph than some other articles printed days after Moloney hung himself at the age of 35.

The most surprising revelation in the article by VF scribe Ned Zeman is provided by the former agent’s mother, Carole Johnson, who makes her son’s demise almost seem preordained. Johnson blames his problems on his genetic predisposition toward bipolar disorder, a condition previously known as manic depression. Bipolars often succumb to cocaine as a way to counter energy-sapping depression drugs such as lithium.

Johnson reveals she herself has battled the condition and feels her son should not be lumped in with other Hollywood drug-fueled casualties. Since Moloney’s father was an alcoholic, it seems he was dealt as bad a hand genetically.

Zeman chronicles in detail Moloney’s numerous suicide attempts and his final failed comeback effort, when financier pal Dana Giacchetto installed him to run the music company Paradise. VF engages in a bit of Monday morning quarterbacking in chiding journalists for not recognizing the significance of Moloney’s bipolar disorder in his downfall.

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