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The plot thickens

(Correction: Because of a reporting error, the Downtown column in yesterday's Business section incorrectly identified the position of former Massachusetts Secretary of State Michael Connolly's wife. She is Lynda Connolly, chief justice of the district court department of the Massachusetts trial court.)

So one morning last week I found myself sitting in an empty theater with Michael Connolly, once known as Massachusetts' secretary of space.

Connolly, secretary of state for 16 years and now a part-time Boston licensing commissioner, had rented an auditorium at the Fenway Theatre so I and a few others could see -- on the big screen -- his failed film, ''Beacon Hill." Connolly co-wrote -- with his wife, a Dedham judge -- and co-directed it, and with his investors has $2 million into this bomb. It remains, however, his dream. And dreams die hard.

''Beacon Hill," once called ''The Gentleman from Boston," is the story of an idealist freshman state rep -- a cross between Eddie Markey and Andy Card, Connolly says -- who enters the Legislature to find corruption all around him. And, as it turns out, no shortage of easy sex. ''We were all gunning for that," Connolly says of his days at the State House.

It is a great movie, Connolly tells me over several days. But he has never been able to get a distribution deal, he says, because he has been ''blacklisted" from the industry. The villain: Shari Redstone, the daughter and presumptive successor of one of the great hardball players of our time, Sumner Redstone.

According to Connolly, he and his film are a victim of payback, Redstone style. In 1997, Connolly says, he represented Hoyts Cinemas, which was trying to build a theater in Stoughton at the same time that the Redstones' National Amusements was trying to build one in neighboring Randolph. The Redstones won -- as usual -- but they never forgot Connolly's opposition, or so his story goes.

Connolly produces a letter from Shari Redstone as the smoking gun. ''I must tell you, Michael, on a personal note, that I am absolutely shocked that you would act in opposition to National Amusements," she wrote. ''We, as a company and as a family, have always been extremely supportive of your endeavors, and I am hard pressed to believe that you have proceeded in this manner. Nor can I believe that you didn't even give me the courtesy of a call to discuss this matter before you proceeded as you did. I don't know what else I can say." And she copied the letter to Dad.

It is Shari Redstone's invisible hand, he says, that has blocked his movie from getting that big distribution deal. He says an MGM executive once screamed at him on the phone that ''you will never show that film in a Shari Redstone theater. . . . And he proceeded to tell me my film sucked."

At least the guy was honest. If Shari Redstone did blacklist this dog -- unlikely, to say the least -- moviegoers everywhere are in her debt. Connolly is a man in denial. His story is hackneyed, the dialogue ridiculous. The women are there only as bed pals for the pols.

Don't take it from me. Here is what actor Michael Landes, who starred in the movie and met his wife, Wendy Benson, the female lead, on the set, had to say: ''It was a very boring film, and we can't even watch it," he told Britain's Birmingham Post. WRKO talkmaster Howie Carr, who played himself in the movie, says diplomatically: ''I wish it had turned out better."

For the record, National Amusements calls Connolly's allegations ''unfounded and defamatory." Rather than blacklisting the film, a spokeswoman says, Redstone arranged to have it viewed by the company's bookers. ''In addition, she set up a meeting for Mr. Connolly at Paramount Pictures to explore this opportunity, which he cancelled and which he never called to reschedule."

Even the suggestion that Shari Redstone could have blacklisted this movie gives me new confidence in her as Sumner's eventual successor.

As for Connolly, the only way he should get near a movie again is to buy a ticket like the rest of us.

Steve Bailey is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at bailey@globe.com or at 617-929-2902.

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