A movie studio's lifeline is its pipeline a steady flow of product that, released into multiplexes, generates constant and sometimes boffo box office. But the pipeline at MGM/Pathe Communications has been terminally clogged. Leo the Lion's cash-strapped studio had 14 pictures stacked up like 747s unable to leave the runway until two weeks ago. That's when the studio's main lender pulled off a coup de cinema, ousting chief executive officer Giancarlo Parretti and installing Alan Ladd Jr. as chairman, giving MGM/Pathe a new game plan that pits its slate of modest-scale pictures against other studios' summer behemoths.
Parretti's overthrow came about when his own guardian angel, the Dutch bank Credit Lyonnais Nederland, lost faith in his ability to run the studio he'd bought last November for $1.3 billion. With Ladd, a well-regarded production head, now at the helm, the bank will release the $145 million MGM/Pathe needs to proceed with ''an aggressive release schedule,'' stated Ladd, ''as well as planned future productions.'' The first picture to be released will be Ridley Scott's much-buzzed-about road movie, Thelma and Louise, starring outlaws Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis. Originally slated for March, Thelma and Louise will face off on Memorial Day with Ron Howard's big-bucks fire-fighting drama, Backdraft. MGM's distribution company president, Jack Foley, admits the competition is fierce: ''It's going to be summer warfare.'' While MGM/Pathe doesn't have big guns to muster, its pipeline will be pumping out some adventurous films that might have been lost in limbo: John Candy's Delirious; Mel Brooks' Life Stinks; Fires Within, starring Jimmy Smits; and Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, with Mickey Rourke and Don Johnson. One rival studio executive gives the lineup a ''three out of 10 chance of making a dent'' at the box office. ''But you never know,'' he adds. ''Thelma and Louise could be this summer's Dead Poets Society.''