‘Sleuthing’ a deal

WB and Roadshow to remake 1972 drama

It’s time to get back into that murderous drawing-room.

Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow are gearing up for a remake of the 1972 chamber-drama “Sleuth,” which starred Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine, earning both thesps Academy Award noms for Best Actor.

Producers Cooper Layne and Sean Bailey from HorsePower Entertainment had been pursuing the rights for a year and a half, which WB business affairs just secured a few days ago.

The project was pitched to WB exec VP Rob Guralnick, who involved VR and will be shepherding its development for the studio. Bernie Goldmann and Dana Goldberg will steer for VR.

The producers expect to go out to both writers and directors imminently for an updated version of the pic, which will take it out of the slightly confined setting of the original. No financial details were available.

Complex negotiations

Insiders have described a complex negotiating process where original Old Blighty rights holder Palomar, which produced the picture, had let the rights go.

Rather than reverting to Fox, which distribbed the pic then, the most recent owner turned out to be Bristol-Myers/Squibb, which prompted what insiders describe as “a pretty hilarious series of conference calls with pharmaceutical lawyers” to get the material unstuck.

The 1972 pic helmed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz was based on an even more successful West End legit version, which was penned by Anthony Shaffer.

Plot concerns a young man invited to spend the weekend at the country estate of an older, venerate mystery playwright. The guest has been having an affair with his host’s wife, but thinks he doesn’t know. What ensues is a series of plots and counterplots in which each tries to outsmart the other (as well as the audience) into thinking he has won, only to turn the tables and counterattack.

At the time of the play’s bow in London, audiences were riveted by the clever but simple dramatic design of two men probing the depths of the other’s fear, using elaborate references to Agatha Christie novels and the traditional, suburban mistrust of “outsiders” in rural England.

HorsePower vehicles

HorsePower, which has been in existence for about four years, just unspooled the Fox Searchlight limited release “Best Laid Plans,” which starred Reese Witherspoon and Josh Brolin and was produced with Mike Newell’s Dogstar shingle.

Layne and Bailey also have the Layne-penned action project “Helldorado” set up at WB with Guralnick, as well as “Love Crazy” with Gold/Miller and The Canton Co. They are also co-producing “The Core” at Paramount with David Foster.