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Suit over ’88 ‘Kwai’ heads to N.Y. trial

LONDON — An 8-1/2-year legal battle between Sony Pictures Entertainment and the producer of the feature pic “Return From the River Kwai” is due to go to trial in New York federal court Monday.

The film’s producer, Kurt Unger, is seeking a declaratory judgment that would allow him to distribute the pic in North America, the only key territory where it has not been shown.

At the same time, Unger, who owns and runs the indie film company Road Show Prods., has filed a separate lawsuit for $15 million in damages against Sony Pictures and his onetime lawyers, Paul, Weiss, Rivkind, Wharton & Garrison. Unger says the law firm had a conflict of interest by working for both him and Sony when the company blocked “Return From the River Kwai” from the North American market.

The 1988 World War II pic starring Edward Fox and Denholm Elliott has seen theatrical, TV and video release in more than 50 markets — including Japan — but not the U.S. and Canada.

Rights in dispute

TriStar had been contracted to distribute the film in North America in 1989, but refused on the grounds that Unger had not cleared the rights to use the words “River Kwai” with the estate of Sam Spiegel.

Spiegel produced the 1957 David Lean classic, “The Bridge on the River Kwai.”

Unger, however, believes that because TriStar merged with Columbia in 1989, TriStar used the words “River Kwai” as an excuse not to distribute because it feared the pic would offend the company’s new Japanese owners.

Sony had no comment on the litigation.

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