Russell Crowe | Beatles, Phil Spector | 'The Producers' | Halloween Boos

Russell Crowe: Master of His Domain

Russell Crowe is having his cake and eating it, too, these days. Or rather, not eating it any more.

Rumors of Crowe's tremendous weight gain proved false on Saturday night when the Oscar winner came to New York for the premiere of "Master and Commander: Far Side of the World."

In a black suit, he looked svelte and trim. (Black suits, I can tell you, are the key to success in this town. They're better than the Atkins diet.)

Crowe also got his way, or at least his publicists did. There was no press invited to the landlocked Yacht Club on West 44th St. for the after-dinner event. Only the celeb guests (Walter Cronkite, Bebe Neuwirth, Martha Stewart) and movie makers were allowed to attend.

No newspapers, no magazines, no potential for unscheduled questions and spontaneous retorts. Crowe's publicity over the weekend was limited to extremely monitored behavior: press junkets (which are controlled by the studios) and those TV shows you see in the between-real-news-and-sitcoms slots every night (also heavily guided by PR, don'tcha know).

When a reporter from a New York daily wandered into the lobby of the Beekman Theater and looked as though she might ask Crowe a question, one of his reps shut her down so fast and rudely that heads spun.

Oh well. Maybe she was going to tell him how much she liked him. It's possible, isn't it?

Crowe certainly has nothing to worry about. "Master and Commander" is longish but should nevertheless be a big hit. Stunning to watch for its grandeur and action, the film is the kind of epic not seen in some time.

Crowe is the main deal, as the captain of a British vessel locked in an ongoing battle with a French frigate along with the eastern South American coastline in 1805. His characteristic cockiness makes him a bit Captain Kirkish; in fact many at the screening suggested Crowe, with a wink, revive the "Star Trek" series. He can arch an eyebrow better than anyone.

But "Master and Commander" is, in the end, a director's movie. And the director in this case happens to be a real hero: Peter Weir.

The Australian's list of credits reads like an all-time Top 10 list: such real classics as "The Year of Living Dangerously," "Dead Poets Society," "Picnic at Hanging Rock," "The Truman Show," "Witness," "Fearless," "The Last Wave" and two films that certainly prefigure "M&C," "Gallipoli" and "The Mosquito Coast." No director could be better suited to adapting the late Patrick O'Brian's bestselling historical novels.

My only wish: that Weir had taken on Joseph Conrad's "Lord Jim," perhaps the greatest seafaring literature of all time and far deeper and richer thematically than O'Brian's lighter fare.

Nevertheless, "M&C" will likely launch a series of sea adventure films based on O'Brian's stories about Capt. Jack Aubrey (Crowe) and his friend, Dr. Stephen Maturin (played with wit and vigor by Crowe's actual pal, "Beautiful Mind" actor Paul Bettany).

Indeed, watch for "M&C" to be a serious contender for a Best Picture nomination, with more nominations for (possibly) Crowe and Bettany, (most certainly) Weir, and (most definitely) lots of technical and craft designations such as cinematography, art design, lighting and costumes.

Let me be the first to say it: There's smooth sailing ahead for "Master and Commander."

Beatles Let It Be Without Phil Spector

While Phil Spector waits to see if he's indicted for murder, Beatles fans are counting the days 'til Nov. 18 and the release of the de-Phil Spectorized "Let it Be," titled, awkwardly, "Let it Be ... Naked." You could probably assemble these tracks from the Beatles Anthology CDs and other sources, but Apple Records — currently suing Apple Computers — has done it for us.

This new CD is what Paul McCartney intended for "Let It Be" in 1969 when it was still called "Get Back." But the album was tabled, "Abbey Road" was recorded and released, the Beatles broke up and "Let it Be" was finally issued as kind of an afterthought in early 1970.

McCartney hated the Spector-produced versions of the title track and "The Long and Winding Road." John Lennon and George Harrison obviously didn't mind Spector that much. They each used him as a producer on solo albums.

"Let It Be ... Naked" has a different running order than the original album, and omits two songs as well ("Maggie May" and "Dig It" are gone). It does promote "Don't Let Me Down" — a great record previously part of the now out-of-print "Hey Jude" collection — to album status.

A second CD with bonus tracks comes in the package as well, although the Beatles' version of the Drifters' "Save the Last Dance for Me," written by Doc Pomus and included on "Get Back" bootlegs, is omitted. Here's the rundown of the main CD, according to a Japanese Web site:

"Get Back," "Dig a Pony," "For You Blue," "The Long and Winding Road," "Two of Us," "I've Got a Feeling," "One After 909," "Don't Let Me Down," "I Me Mine," "Across the Universe," "Let It Be."

Apple is doing a good, if slow, job adding to the Beatles CD catalog. What would be really nice: actual reissues of "Rarities," "Live at Shea Stadium," and "The Beatles Again" (aka "Hey Jude").

Meanwhile, Billy Preston, the fifth Beatle and the man who made "Let It Be" really groove, is still not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But that's another story.

'Producers' Stars Returning: Someone Tell the Times

That was kind of a weird article in Sunday's New York Times Arts & Leisure section about "The Producers." Not mentioned until the penultimate paragraph was the throwaway fact that the original stars may be coming back soon. Hmmm. Talk about burying the lead!

In fact, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick are set for a New Year's Eve return to their Tony Award-winning roles. Not asked so far is Cady Huffman, the other Tony winner from the show and a valued member of the cast. Huffman is said to be fielding some offers for new shows both on Broadway and in film.

There's a rumor — very offbeat — that Broderick's better half, Sarah Jessica Parker, might join him in a limited run on stage.

The Times article poses a lot of questions about why "The Producers" isn't doing better. I can tell you why. I walked under the marquee last week and saw two actors I'd never heard of in my life receiving top billing.

I'm sure they're very talented, but really, please. Get some stars into the show, some names we've heard of. It can't be that hard.

When Lane and Broderick go to start the London edition, I hope Mel Brooks and company will replace them with some worthy talent. The show, despite this problem, remains the best on Broadway, hands down.

Halloween Boos From All Over

Heidi Klum, the last of the supermodels, managed to pull together a fun costume party Friday night at spacious nightclub LQ on Lexington Avenue. It was short on celebrities, though, with the exception of Lizzie Grubman done up as Pam Anderson ...

On West 10th St., the neighbors are still talking about the "Eyes Wide Shut" party at the home of Enrico Cinzano, heir to an Italy family fortune. There were drag queens, gospel singers and rumored appearances by "Sex and the City" author Candace Bushnell and Vanity Fair influence Reinaldo Herrera. Revelers emerged talking about the art work, the big spiral staircase and the various nooks and crannies of the 18th-century carriage house ...

Sean Combs gets our congrats and respect for running the New York City Marathon in a little more than four hours yesterday. See Sunday's column in the archives for our report from P. Diddy's pre-Marathon dinner featuring Wyclef Jean ...

Last, but not least: In its continuing effort to self-destruct in a most magnificent way, ABC Daytime has taken 90-year-old actress Anna Lee off contract on "General Hospital." She's played beloved family matriarch Lila Quartermaine since 1978 and has been wheelchair-bound for several years.

Another brilliant move for ABC. You can almost imagine the meeting they had about this. "Do you suppose she'll live forever? Let's not take any chances."

In a way, Lee is lucky; her show, unlike ABC's "One Life to Live," doesn't have a serial killer bumping off favorite characters.