Josh Rottenberg
October 17, 2008 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Strange twists. Big egos on the line. No, we’re not talking about the presidential campaign. In Hollywood, this year’s battle royal is the one raging between indie mogul Harvey Weinstein and producer Scott Rudin over director Stephen Daldry’s film adaptation of the best-selling novel The Reader. Capping months of bitter squabbling over the film’s postproduction schedule and release date, this Godzilla-versus-Megalon face-off came to a surprising head on Oct. 10 with news that Rudin was removing his name from the project.

Their rivalry is nothing new: The two sparred over Daldry’s 2002 film The Hours. But even by their pugilistic standards, the fight over The Reader — Bernhard Schlink’s story of a teenager who has an affair with an older woman, only to discover years later that she is a Nazi war criminal — has been unusually nasty. Rudin’s camp says it began when Weinstein tried to force Daldry to rush an edit of the film, which stars Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes, in order to position it for the Oscar race. Daldry protested, Rudin backed him, and the feud quickly escalated in the press. Weinstein suggested Rudin wanted to stall the film so it couldn’t compete with his other Oscar baiters, Doubt and Revolutionary Road (also starring Winslet). Others say Weinstein is driven largely by financial considerations, a claim the Weinstein Co. strongly denies.

Last month, a purported e-mail from Rudin leaked to blogger Nikki Finke. It claimed Weinstein had pressured the widow of producer Anthony Minghella and had ”harassed” fellow producer Sydney Pollack ”on his deathbed” to hasten postproduction. (Pollack died in May.) Weinstein insisted it was fake, and said he would donate $1 million to charity if it could be proved legitimate. It was, and he says he will. In late September, all parties finally agreed to a Dec. 10 release, seemingly ending the conflict. But days later, Rudin dropped out. (He won’t comment on what precipitated his departure.) In a statement, a Weinstein Co. rep says simply, ”We are on schedule for a December 10th release. We are extremely proud of The Reader and Stephen Daldry’s work and eagerly anticipate opening the film.”

As toxic as the Rudin-Weinstein relationship seems now, don’t be shocked if these two wind up working together again. As Rudin said of Weinstein during the Miramax era, ”Every time you finish there, you swear you’ll never go back. Then sooner or later you want to make a specific kind of movie, and the road leads to him.”

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