How do a nation’s elite rid themselves of a deranged chief executive or commander who is bent on leading the country astray? No, we’re not talking here about our own life and times. We’re talking Nazi Germany. United Artists announced last week that Tom Cruise will be starring in a World War II thriller just acquired. But no details as to exactly what that meant. We’re here to tell you now. Movie projects are famous for dragging on, for rewrites, revisions, re-thinking. A great project may languish for years. But only a few months ago, writers Chris McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander got together with “X-Men” director Bryan Singer. They had all worked together on the critically acclaimed movie “The Usual Suspects,” which starred Kevin Spacey. And then they went to UA with their project titled “Valkyrie.” At UA, Bryan met with none other than Tom Cruise and just in the last month, Tom has been set to play the lead as a heroic German colonel, Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, the man who led the “July Plot” to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Singer says: “Originally, Chris and Nathan and I brought the project to UA because it seemed like a good match. UA was founded as an artist-based studio. Tom and Paula Wagner were clearly carrying on the tradition. The film was greenlit quickly. I admit in the back of my mind I always thought Tom would be a great fit for this role, beyond his physical resemblance. We met a few times about production and my desire to offer the part to him crystallized.” This seems to be one of those adventures that happen only rarely. UA will forge ahead and make the movie early this summer because Bryan is set to go ahead on “Superman” at Warner Bros. The McQuarrie-Alexander script is described as excellent with suspense, honor, horror and history all mixed in together. To some of us it will be heroic history, to youngsters it will be a thriller. Tom and his partner Paula are very positive and excited about their new professional life at UA. They are already working on their first effort there — “Lions for Lambs,” to star Tom, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro and Robert Redford. The latter also directs.

VH1′S “Celebrity Fit Club,” under Dr. Ian Smith, has rounded up hot names in music, film, sports, politics for “the biggest African-American health initiative in history.” State Farm will sponsor “The 50 Million Pound Challenge” encouraging communities to address America’s overweight epidemic. There’ll be a national tour kickoff over Easter on Washington’s National Mall. Patti Labelle, Mary J. Blige, Ashford & Simpson, Yolanda Adams, Omarion, Giants star Michael Strahan, comic Steve Harvey, celeb DJ Biz Markie and others will shed pounds telling us how to — shed pounds.

“I THINK it is so weird when people come up to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re just like your mother.’ I want to go — ‘No, she sang about being afraid and wishing for things and I sing about getting and celebrating them.” So says Liza Minnelli. Hmmm… Well, let’s break it down to four songs. Judy Garland’s two most famous are “Over the Rainbow” (“Why, oh why can’t I?”) and “The Man That Got Away.” (“The night is bitter, the stars have lost their glitter.”) Liza has “Cabaret” (“What good is sitting alone in your room?’) and “New York, New York.” (“Those little town blues are melting away.”) So maybe Liza has a point, though Judy sang many upbeat songs and Liza her share of love lost ballads. The big difference? Judy died at only 47, exhausted by drugs and her troubles. Liza is 61, once again going strong, still vital and optimistic, experimenting with her music. She recently collaborated with the hot rock band, My Chemical Romance. (Liza’s sense of humor is also still on track.)

Ann-Margret is one of Lindsay Lohan’s idols. In fact, today’s young star would like to remake the A-M’s 1964 juvenile delinquent melodrama “Kitten With a Whip” with Gus Van Sant directing. (For those of you not up on film history, “KWAW” involves a highly sexed sadistic runaway teen who torments a staid politician.) A friend ran into Lindsay at the Beverly Hills Hotel the other day. She was, says he, “refreshingly intelligent, charming and candid.” He didn’t ask about her personal life, therefore found her relaxed and natural. Lindsay talked about her other fave, Marilyn Monroe. She has even stayed in the same Beverly Hills Hotel bungalow MM used during her torrid affair with Yves Montand in 1960 and Lindsay briefly rented Monroe’s Doheny Drive apartment. (LL has recently discovered MM’s “Niagara” the only time Monroe ever played a “bad girl.” Lindsay loves it, natch.) Of her new movie “Georgia Rule,” Lindsay says she thinks it’s “great” and the movie after that one — the thriller “I Know Who Killed Me” had a “brilliant director in Chris Silverston.” And although Lindsay’s initial plan to film the Janis Joplin story with Gus Van Sant fell through because of delays and conceptual problems, Lindsay still wants to interpret Janis’ life in some way. “I would like to do a movie like Bette Midler’s ‘The Rose,” which was based on a Joplin-like personality.” Lindsay had no idea that the nice guy she was talking to at the Fountain Coffee Room, former PR maven Hal Lifson, knew this columnist. She was utterly open to a friendly nod and comment. Hal came away impressed by her calm, cool and collected adult manner. He wanted to let us know what a lovely girl Lindsay is. Ah, but we knew that.

(Email Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com)

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