In sporting terms, it's the Hollywood equivalent of a bloodied prize-fighter suddenly deciding to chuck in the towel and flee the ring in the dying seconds of a long and gruelling heavyweight bout that was almost certainly headed for a draw.
Producer Scott Rudin has abruptly walked away from the forthcoming film The Reader and removed his name from its credits, following a vitriolic dust-up with his co-producer, the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
The two men, who have apparently hated each other for years, had been quarrelling over when to release the highly-anticipated love film, directed by Stephen Daldry and starrings Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes, which has been tipped as a major contender for next February's Oscars.
Weinstein had originally hoped to rush the low-budget but high-profile movie into cinemas by 7 November, the deadline for new titles to be considered for the 2009 Academy Awards. Rudin, who boasted the support of both Daldry and Winslet, was adamant that its release should be delayed until next year.
A compromise appeared to have been reached in what was becoming a bitter and increasingly-public dispute last week when Rudin and Weinstein issued a joint statement saying they were finally "working together" and that The Reader would be released in US cinemas on December 12th.
However late on Thursday, it emerged that their relationship had taken a turn for the worse. Variety, the Hollywood bible, confirmed reports that another highly-strung dispute had seen Rudin finally leave the project. According to friends, Rudin resigned because he felt unable to set aside his differences with Weinstein, and was anxious to protect his working relationship with Daldry and Winslet.
The Weinstein Company, for its part, said: "We have given Stephen Daldry every resource to finish the picture and will continue to do so."
The resignation of Rudin marks the latest in a long series of setbacks for The Reader, which recounts the love affair between a teenage boy and a much older woman who eventually turns out to have been a Nazi war criminal.
Initial production on the film – which was adapted by David Hare from the Bernard Schlink novel -- was delayed by eight weeks after its original star, Nicole Kidman, pulled out after discovering she was pregnant. When Winslet was cast as her replacement, Daldry
was forced to factor in a further delay so that an actor could reach the age of consent before filming a sex scene.
Two of The Reader's co-producers -- Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack -- tragically died, while its $22 million budget climbed to $30 million. After originally being slated to wrap in February, it didn't reach the production suite until July.
The subsequent row over its release date reached its lowest ebb last month, when a leaked email showed Rudin accusing Weinstein of harassing the families of Minghella and Pollack to support his efforts to have it finished by November. "HW went to Minghella's widow and tried to insert himself into Mirage's editorial rights so as to insist the film be released this year," read the email. "[He] harassed Sydney on his deathbed until the family asked him to stop because he wanted Sydney to warrant that we would deliver for release this year."