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Bond set for 0017th

After a four-year hiatus, James Bond is coming back on assignment.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s creative affairs veepee Elizabeth Robinson confirmed the series is back on track, and it will return with “Cliffhanger” co-scripter Michael France as the new film’s writer.

Top-secret story has been commissioned by Agent 007 producer Danjaq Inc., sources said.

The series has been on hold primarily due to legal entanglements between Danjaq and MGM dating back to 1990.

The 17th Bond actioner will be funneled through United Artists and MGM will distribute. Script will be based on an original idea by the writer, who also penned pirate adventure “Teague” for Cinergi.

Story is being guarded like a military secret, but one source allowed that the “story will have global implications,” and earn France $ 400,000 against $ 700,000.

France has just completed a rewrite of the film “Cold as Ice” for Columbia and is currently writing the first draft of the untitled Bond movie.

France’s agent Justen Dardis, veepee of the feature literary department at Agency for the Performing Arts, did not return calls.

MGM co-chairman/co-CEO Alan Ladd Jr. said pic will be budgeted “at least $ 40 million” and will be put on the fast track when script is ready.

“Licence to Kill” star Timothy Dalton has met with Danjaq producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, but no actor is set, according to sources, who noted Anthony Hopkins has expressed interest in playing a clever villain.

Dalton starred in the last two Bond pictures, “The Living Daylights” in 1987 and 1989’s “Licence to Kill.” The latter had disappointing B.O. results in the U.S. ($ 34 million) but rang up an impressive $ 118 million foreign.

“With about $ 59 million in foreign (film) rentals,” Ladd said, “we did fine when you add it all together.”

“Daylights” grossed some $ 54 million in the U.S.

Asked how MGM plans to prop up the domestic B.O. on the new Bond, Ladd said he is counting on “an important director to give it a different look.”

“We’re talking about A-list directors and we’re getting interest from directors because they love Bond,” Ladd added.

One source said producers are negotiating with Michael Caton-Jones (“This Boy’s Life,””Memphis Belle”), but nothing is set.

For Bond fans, it’s been a long four years while MGM, Danjaq and former MGM/UA owner Kirk Kerkorian sorted out their legal differences.

Delays began in 1990 when Danjaq S.A. — the Swiss holding company that controls rights to the series — sued MGM/UA and Pathe Communications so it couldn’t sell foreign TV distribution rights at cut-rate prices (Daily Variety, Oct. 12, 1990). A flurry of countersuits ensued.

Last December, MGM settled one suit in which MGM reportedly paid $ 13.5 million in cash and eased some of the terms of its longstanding agreement with Albert (Cubby) Broccoli (father of producer Barbara Broccoli) (Daily Variety, Dec. 10).

Five days later, Kerkorian, his Tracinda Corp. and former MGM/UA chairman Jeffrey Barbakow made a separate settlement (Daily Variety, Dec. 15). However, in a statement issued by their attorneys, the Kerkorian groups claimed the settlement was “fully indemnified” by MGM, which means MGM would have had to pay the undisclosed settlement.

Ladd said: “Now it’s just a question of who’s going to pay the lawyers.” He assures that the four-year delay was “because of lawsuits primarily.” Now that they’re settled, “If the script in 12 weeks is good, we’ll go with it.”

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