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Mel Gibson and Danny Glover are back in "Lethal Weapon 3" and theater exhibitors think the movie will be a hit.

The people who run the nation's theaters like to think they can spot a big movie with the best of Hollywood's moguls. "Bram Stoker's Dracula" from director Francis Ford Coppola and "Lethal Weapon 3" with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover looked like winners to an audience of theater exhibitors recently at their annual trade show convention at Bally's Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Nev.Most of Hollywood's major studios unveiled product reels of upcoming movies at NATO-ShoWest convention, where scenes from Columbia Pictures late '92 release of "Dracula" drew lots of strong comments and a surge of applause for the rich-looking period-piece tale. There were also hoots and hollers of approval for a 10-minute preview of "Lethal Weapon 3," the action-movie sequel that is on Warner Bros.' schedule for a Memorial Day weekend opening.

"They saw money on the screen with `Weapon,"' one onlooker said.

Theater manager Terry Sholan, of Edwards Cinemas' Mira Mesa 7 in San Diego predicted that the release of "Dracula" would be "huge. When I saw that, I could tell we'd be busy next Thanksgiving," she said.

Among others, Sholan responded very strongly to scenes from "Stephen King's Sleepwalkers," a suspense thriller in April.

Another film sequence that drew resounding applause was a five-minute clip from Walt Disney Studios' next animated movie musical, "Aladdin," scheduled for release late in the year.

The unfinished clip was a mixture of sketches and finished color animation, showing a genie - with the wacky voice of Robin Williams - emerging from a magic lamp.

The consensus among viewers seemed to be that any time you can get a combination of animation and quality songs, there's another "The Little Mermaid" or "Beauty and the Beast' on the horizon.

Buzz around the convention meetings also focused on such summer star vehicles as "Patriot Games" with Harrison Ford, Anne Archer and Patrick Bergin, and "Far and Away" with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

Director Spike Lee introduced a clip from his upcoming "Malcolm X" to what one viewer described as "mild to dispassionate reaction," while the same audience "saw money on the screen" as Michael Keaton showed off clips of a familiar universe: "Batman Returns," coming to a theater near you this summer. - DAVID J. FOX

- HOLLYWOOD - Years ago in Hollywood, it wasn't uncommon to find studio heads like 20th Century Fox's Darryl F. Zanuck or MGM's Dore Schary putting their names on the opening credits of a film. In recent years, though, the practice disappeared as studio presidents and chairmen opted for anonymity, giving the credit to the actual producer of the movie.

Not so for Frank Price. The former Columbia Pictures chairman has added his name as producer alongside Steve Roth's on Columbia's "Gladiators," which arrives in theaters March 6.

The film, billed as a Price Entertainment-Steve Roth production, is a drama set in the world of underground amateur boxing, directed by Rowdy Harrington and starring James Marshall, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert Loggia.

Sources say that Price's move has irked current Columbia Chairman Mark Canton, who replaced Price, and Sony Pictures Entertainment chief Peter Guber, in addition to Roth himself.

"This is a man who was running the studio while the film was in production, never visited the set and didn't produce the movie," one source said. "So why should he get a producing credit? Most everybody thinks it's embarrassing and laughable that Frank stuck his name on the movie."

Price, who resigned as chairman of Columbia in October 1991, says that he has been developing the project since it was brought to him by Roth in 1982 and defends putting his name on the credits as producer. "I've been very involved with the development of this project for many years and I think I've been instrumental in getting it made," Price says.

But another industry source says, "Producing a movie is different than developing a movie. As chairman of the studio, he was paid to develop a lot of material. Does he deserve a producing credit for all the films he developed? I don't think so."

In 1983, Price left Columbia and became chairman of the Motion Picture Group at Universal and took the "Gladiators" project with him. He left Universal in 1986 and started his own company, Price Entertainment, which had its headquarters at TriStar. Once again, Price took the project with him and continued developing it. He rejoined Columbia as chairman in 1990.

By the time "Gladiators" went into production, Price was running Columbia and Roth was the film's producer. It was after he left Columbia last fall that he suddenly decided to take a producer's credit - and this is what seems to make everybody so mad.

Some see the arrangement as part of the deal under which he left Columbia. "Because he had the good fortune to settle his contract with the studio in a way that gave him a lot of leverage, he managed to stick his name on the credits," says the industry source.

Price says that he deserves the credit and that he was involved with the production of the film. "I stayed right on top of everything," he says. "I was involved with the script, the casting, direction, post-production, everything." This is disputed by sources connected with the film, who contend that Price only saw one day's worth of dailies and wasn't permitted to see the film until it was almost completed.

Other industry sources speculate that Price decided to put his name on as producer after the studio started conducting test screenings and the research results were favorable. "Believe me," says the source, "if the test results had been bad, he wouldn't have taken a credit."

Executives at Columbia declined to comment on the matter. Publicly, Roth says, "As far as I'm concerned, it's a non-issue."

Another industry source says he hopes Price's action doesn't start a trend. "Every producer in Hollywood gets a little nervous about seeing something like this," he says. "It's a scary precedent." - ANDY MARX

- HOLLYWOOD - It seems that former MGM-Pathe Communications Co. boss Giancarlo Parretti has a literary interest in a book that a one-time employee is writing about him - which could be the most telling of several on him in the works - and the target may be her checkbook.

Arlene Cattani, who worked for 16 months as head of MGM's public relations department during Parretti's regime, says that she has been besieged with bills from the waiter-turned-movie mogul, who is trying to collect money he says Cattani owes her.

It all started recently when Cattani got a bill for $10,288.36 from Los Angeles' trendy Madeo restaurant, which Parretti owns. While Cattani worked for Parretti, she says that she was instructed by him to eat all her business meals at his - and only his - restaurant, an order that she carried out. She was shocked when she received the bill asking for payment.

"I sent the bill back," says Cattani. "I had no intention of paying it because it was ridiculous that he would think I would pay it. This is the act of a desperate man."

When she didn't respond to the first bill, Cattani received another and took the matter up with executives at MGM.