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Frank Mancuso and United Artists, two names that have dropped out of sight over the last two years, are about to make a comeback together.

Mancuso, dethroned as chairman of Paramount Pictures in March 1991, is close to inking a deal to become chairman of UA and also of a newly combined MGM and UA distribution company. Equally important, the studios’ owner, French bank CreditLyonnais, is allotting $ 150 million to kickstart a production slate at UA , dormant since it released “Rocky V” in November 1990.

Mancuso has recently met with the bank, MGM chief Alan Ladd Jr. and the company’s overseas distribution heads about his new post. He’s also been closeted with Michael Ovitz, the Creative Artists Agency chief who is CL’s new consultant and who is understood to have masterminded these moves. Neither Mancuso nor Ovitz could be reached for comment.

A reasonable model for CL’s plan for MGM and UA would be Sony’s Columbia and TriStar operations. Last year, Columbia had an enviable record of success while TriStar faltered. This year, Col’s fortunes are heavily dependent on the success of “The Last Action Hero,” while TriStar has stepped up production and has several hit opportunities of its own this summer with films like “Sleepless in Seattle.”

It’s an open secret that MGM has been having problems attracting top talent because of skepticism over its recent distribution track record. A newly mobilized unit at UA might face better prospects. It would also be welcome news in Hollywood, providing a new supply of jobs and movies.

Though Mancuso’s strong suit is marketing and distribution, his track record of success at Paramount during the ’80s would immediately give much-needed credibility to the MGM/UA configuration. Sources point out that other financial entities circling around UA could potentially derail a Mancuso appointment, but the smart money is betting that Mancuso ends up there.

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DIRECTOR BACK on ‘Band’: What’s the latest plot twist in the making of HBO’s AIDS epidemic epic “And the Band Played On”? Estranged director Roger Spottiswoode is rejoining the film to supervise reshoots this week.

After completing principal photography on HBO’s adaptation of Randy Shilts’ book about the origins of the epidemic, Spottiswoode surprised HBO by sending a well-publicized letter to CEO Michael Fuchs (Daily Variety, April 23).

In the letter, he claimed the film had been taken away from him by HBO Pictures head Robert Cooper, so that HBO brass could tone down politically sensitive portions of the film, including direct references to former President Ronald Reagan, whose administration largely ignored the disease while it spread primarily among gay men.

Cooper didn’t exactly make Spottiswoode’s return sound like a class reunion. “All that’s happened is we’re shooting a few scenes, which we would have asked him to do anyway, and he’s agreed,” he said. “He was never fired. Basically, he did his cut, we made changes, he went public.”

Cooper said Spottiswoode was shown the latest cut, and when the director flies from his London home to San Francisco this week to shoot the scenes, he’ll be armed with notes. “We’ll be talking back and forth,” Cooper said. The film is slated to premiere in September.

Despite Spottiswoode’s well-publicized concern that the controversial film would be watered down, Cooper was bullish about the final product’s integrity: “It is going to be a huge event, provocative, moving and resonant. … I must say I don’t know of anybody who will say this has been diluted politically, and I include Roger in that statement. When he saw the cut, he never raised the political content of the film as an issue. If anything, it’s stronger than ever.”

Spottiswoode couldn’t be reached at press time.