U on ‘Black Dahlia’ trail

$10 mil paid for rights to Hartnett, Johansson starrer

Universal Pictures made the first major acquisitions deal here Saturday, picking up North American rights to helmer Brian DePalma’s “The Black Dahlia,” a long-gestating big-screen adaptation of the James Elroy tome of the same name.

U paid north of $10 million for rights to the pic, which is shooting in Los Angeles and Bulgaria.

Pic stars Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank.

U plans a 2006 roll out.

Pic follows a pair of boxers-turned-cops investigating the brutal murder of fledgling actress Elizabeth Short. The crime rocked Los Angeles in the 1940s and remains unsolved to this day.

Ellroy’s late ’40s-set book delved into the gritty themes of L.A. cops and corruption that were also explored in his novel “L.A. Confidential.”

“This film came together with all the best elements,” U vice chairman Marc Shmuger told Variety in Cannes. “It has the right mix of director, cast and all key departments on every level. It’s made with impeccable quality and brings 1940s L.A. to life in a very big way.”

Shmuger, who brokered the deal and had visited the Bulgarian set of the film, added that the pic is a “gem that the studios have overlooked.”

Pic’s journey to the big screen goes all the way back to early 1998 when David Fincher inked a deal to develop the film as a follow up to his Brad Pitt-Edward Norton-starrer “Fight Club.” Mark Wahlberg was also once attached to the pic as a star.

Eric Bergren and Josh Freidman have adapted this “Dahlia” for the big screen.

Pic is produced by Art Linson, Moshe Diamant and Rudy Cohen of Signature Pictures, along with Avi Lerner of Millennium Films. Equity Pictures is also a production entity behind the film. Diamant repped the filmmakers in the deal.

“The film will be done in three weeks,” said Linson. “Several studios wanted this picture, but we felt he was the best person for it and that the studio would provide a great home for it.”

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