<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

B-movie king Roger Corman and New World Pictures have traded belligerent lawsuits in a battle for control of the company that Corman built from scratch before selling in 1982.

Corman claims that New World’s new owners, lawyers Harry Sloan and Lawrence Kuppin, refuse to distribute Corman’s movies in accordance with the sale agreement. He’s seeking $400 million in damages, as well as the return of the company.

New World claims that Corman has threatened to set up his own distribution company in violation of the sale agreement and has damaged New World’s business prospects by describing its executives as “crooks,” “cheap,” and “failures” in the film business.


New World’s suit was filed Friday in Santa Monica Superior Court, with Corman’s following on Monday.

The suits revolve around two key stipulations of the 1982 sale agreement. Corman claims that New World has refused to honor a clause providing him with “guaranteed distribution” of his movies at a bargain 15% distributor’s fee. New World alleges that Corman intends to break a clause prohibiting him from returning to the distribution business.

Corman says in his suit that New World never intended to honor the distribution pledge. New World refuses to distribute two recent Corman films, “School Spirit” and “Wheels of Fire,” according to Corman. He also claims that he’s been cheated on such films as “Screwballs,” “Space Raiders,” and “Slumber Party Massacre.” New World’s alleged offenses range from deliberate mis-accounting and accepting “kickbacks” from advertisers to leaving its old offices on San Vicente Boulevard in an “unclean and damaged condition” that required Corman to take care of “painting and carpet cleaning.”

New World claims that Corman and his wife Julie have attempted to discredit the company to potential investors and clients. The company also alleges that Corman has bypassed New World on some of his films, including the Columbia Pictures release “Hardbodies.”

Corman claimed in a phone interview that New World left him no option but to seek control of the company. “My whole point in selling was to free myself of the burden of running the company and to get guaranteed distribution. If I can’t get my guaranteed distribution, I’m forced to go back to running the company.”

New World co-chairman Sloan replied that the company will “honor its commitment” to distribute Corman’s pictures. “We filed this lawsuit to prevent him from violating his agreement by setting up a distribution company,” Sloan said. “We bought Roger Corman’s distribution company.”

STRIKE UPDATE: For many employed screenwriters, Monday brought final-hour writing vigils and meetings with producers and studio executives scrambling to receive scripts before the official onset of the strike.


The writers’ strike will not affect in-progress movie productions or scheduled productions with completed scripts. A short-term strike could actually be financially beneficial to studios, providing a chance to take inventory on film projects and an excuse to trim personnel ranks.

A protracted strike, however, would threaten the studios’ supply of finished screenplays. The first problems would arise with movies that were to have begun shooting in summer or fall if scripts now under revision had been ready. The loss of those productions would leave a critical hole in the studios’ 1986 release schedules.

The consequences of a strike could be especially severe for United Artists and Walt Disney Productions. Both companies have new management teams with ambitious plans but comparatively few projects ready for production.

“A strike is equally destructive to everybody,” argued Jeffrey Katzenberg, president of Walt Disney Productions.

“Certainly we’re disadvantaged in that we have (film) projects in development, and we’re just getting on our feet in the television business. But everything is relative. Disney doesn’t have a full stream that’s suddenly being interrupted. We’re just getting up steam.”

United Artists President Alan Ladd Jr. acknowledged that the strike “does hurt us.”

The company just received a final screenplay from Sylvester Stallone for “Rocky IV,” set to begin shooting on April 30. But the company’s newly launched development activities will be brought to a standstill unless the strike is quickly settled. “At this point,” said Ladd, “I’m very pessimistic.”

SAVED FROM THE GRAVE: Mel Brooks’ Brooksfilms company, home of “The Elephant Man,” “Francis” and “My Favorite Year,” has begun production on a gothic thriller based on the only published screenplay by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

“The Doctor and The Devils,” based on a true story about 19th-Century grave robbers, was written in 1953 for Rank Films. Rank’s planned production came to naught, according to producer Jonathan Sanger, as did a second by director Nicholas Ray in the ‘60s. Sanger and Brooksfilm bought the rights from a London doctor and hired Ronald Harwood (“The Dresser”) to “adapt” Thomas’ “very literary” screenplay for contemporary tastes.

The $7-million 20th Century Fox release is shooting at London’s Shepperton Studios with an all-English cast headed by Timothy Dalton, Jonathan Pryce and Twiggy. Dalton plays an unorthodox doctor of anatomy battling the Victorian medical establishment; he’s unwittingly victimized by a team of grave robbers who take an unnatural short cut in their zeal to provide the doctor with fresh bodies for research.

“The Doctor” should at the very least be an extraordinary looking film: Director Freddie Francis is best known as the cinematographer who shot “Dune,” “The Elephant Man” and “The French Lieutenant’s Woman.”

BOX OFFICE: “Beverly Hills Cop” concluded its third month as the nation’s top-grossing film, drawing $5.1 million last weekend to hit $175 million to date. “Witness” also held well, grossing $4.8 million, followed by “Missing in Action II,” debuting with $3.9 million, “The Breakfast Club” with $3.6 million and “The Sure Thing,” debuting at $3.1 million.