Times Staff Writer

Paramount Pictures starts production Wednesday on "Blue City," a thriller with one of the youngest teams yet assembled in young-thinking Hollywood: actors Judd Nelson, 25, and Ally Sheedy, 22, and first-time director Michelle Manning, 25.

"Blue City," however, is anything but typical youth-oriented fare. It was adapted from one of Ross McDonald's hard-boiled novels and developed under director Walter Hill ("Streets of Fire," "48 HRS.," "The Long Riders"). Hill wrote the screenplay with Lukas Heller and is producing the film with Bill Hayward, but he has turned over the directing reins to Manning.

Nelson plays a young man who returns to his hometown for a reconciliation with his politically powerful father but discovers that he's been murdered. The movie was originally developed with the main character in his mid-30s because the pool of young leading men was so small, according to co-producer Hayward. But "with all the talented young Turks out there now, there is much more acceptance from the studio's point of view."

Nelson, Sheedy and Manning worked together on "The Breakfast Club," which Manning co-produced. The 1981 USC Film School graduate worked for Francis Coppola as a production supervisor on "The Outsiders," then joined independent producer Ned Tanen for "Sixteen Candles" and "Breakfast Club." Tanen has since become president of Paramount Pictures.

The film's action sequences distinguish it from the teen comedies that Hollywood's few other working women directors are typically assigned. "I don't think I'll become Samantha Peckinpah," Manning jokes, "but I don't think as a woman that I should have to make a movie with girls in locker rooms putting on makeup."

Manning bridles at the term "woman director" and says that traditional industry attitudes are changing. "With all the men I've worked for, my age has never been an issue and my sex has never been an issue. I think that's more of a testament to them than to me."

'PURPLE' PLANS: Nothing is official yet, but it looks as if Steven Spielberg has decided after long deliberation to direct the screen adaptation of Alice Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "The Color Purple." Comedienne Whoopi Goldberg is in line for the lead role.

Spielberg would be taking a dramatic career turn by tackling Walker's novel, an unconventional, deeply emotional work about a black teen-age bride and her extended family in the rural South. The book was adapted by Menno Meyjes, a young Dutch screenwriter whose previous credits include a much-admired script called "The Children's Crusade," which Francis Coppola tried unsuccessfully to get off the ground.

Goldberg's unsettling vignettes on growing up black have made her a favorite among media tastemakers during the last two years. Although her current one-woman Broadway show provoked a mini-backlash in New York, she has been heavily courted in Hollywood and currently has a two-picture deal with Warner Bros., home of "The Color Purple."

Spielberg's decision on "The Color Purple" is of special concern to 20th Century Fox, which has its own pending movie with Goldberg. The studio is obliged to give Spielberg first shot with Goldberg and has been patiently waiting for word from Warner Bros.

Fox's movie (tentatively titled "Sweet Dreams" but soon to be changed) involves a lonely computer operator who starts receiving messages from an American secret agent trying to escape from Russia. Its status is expected to hinge on Spielberg's soon-to-be-announced timetable for "The Color Purple."

BAD FRIDAY: Trusting souls no doubt supposed that "Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter" marked the end of the line for the "Friday" gore-fests.

Caveat emptor, moviegoers. "Friday the 13th: A New Beginning," fifth in the series, completed shooting last month and is scheduled for release by Paramount Pictures on March 22.

"Friday" aficionados may recall that Jason, the mad killer of the first four films, was done in at the end of "The Final Chapter." But the young boy who dispatched Jason battles new dangers in the latest film, which is expected to beget a new series.

Executive producer Frank Mancuso Jr. pulls no punches about the "Final Chapter" title. "Of course we knew there'd be another," he says with a laugh. The reasons are simple, and staggering. Each of the sequels has done better than its predecessor, according to Mancuso. And their collective box-office take to date tops $140 million, on total production costs of $7 million to $8 million.

WISE WORD: "Wise Guys," the Brian De Palma comedy that wound up on the open market last week when MGM/UA had second thoughts about the $13-million project, has returned home. MGM/UA will begin shooting the film in New York as originally planned on Feb. 25, producer Aaron Russo confirmed. Danny De Vito and Joe Piscopo play tough-luck mobsters who run afoul of an organized crime boss; Harvey Keitel and Ray Sharkey are in supporting roles.

Russo said there were "proposals" from other studios, but none worked out. The $13-million budget will have to be trimmed, he acknowledged, and the cutback will make it impossible to get the film out in time for the lucrative summer movie season. (Russo's own $1-million "pay-or-play" contract with the studio is presumably safe from the budgetary winds.)

TRAILERS: Columbia Pictures, meeting the massive production plans laid out by its owners at Coca-Cola Co., started shooting not one but two movies this week. "Jo Jo Dancer," a heavily autobiographical film written, directed and produced by Richard Pryor, is filming locally for Christmas release. "Murphy's Romance" began shooting Monday in Florence, Ariz., starring Sally Field as a divorcee who moves to a ramshackle horse ranch with her young son to start a new life.

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