Looks like Santa won't be giving us a double dip of DiCaprio for Christmas.

Conceding that pitting Martin Scorsese's costly period drama Gangs of New York, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, head-to-head against Steven Spielberg's light-hearted action comedy Catch Me If You Can, also starring his Leo-ness, didn't exactly make the greatest business sense, Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein has decided to move Gangs from its scheduled Christmas bow to an earlier release date.

"We moved it off Christmas Day, but we've yet to decide on an exact weekend," Weinstein rep Matthew Hitzik said Friday. "We've said all along that we'd evaluate the prevailing circumstances and then make a decision."

In other words, it was Hollywood's version of chicken.

DreamWorks had staked out the Yule date for Catch Me, which also stars Tom Hanks as the federal agent chasing down DiCaprio's baby-faced con man, long before Weinstein & Co. slated Gangs there. In fact, Gangs was supposed to come out in December 2001, but has been much delayed.

While Gangs has been generating Oscar buzz for costar Daniel Day-Lewis, it's also been collecting dust since wrapping principal photography in April of 2001. At last check, Scorsese was still tweaking the final sound mix on the film, whose running time stands at two hours and 40 minutes.

Not only does Miramax's date move stem a potential rivalry between two of Hollywood's greatest directors--the publicity of which undoubtedly would have overshadowed their movies--but Miramax and DreamWorks would have also had to contend with the unattractive possibility of splitting DiCaprio's (largely female) audience, something both studios were loath to do.

There have also been whispers that DiCaprio was balking at the idea of competing against himself and had even hinted he'd boycott publicity for either if something wasn't done about it. However, Leo's rep called the rumors "garbage."

"He never threatened anything," says publicist Ken Sunshine. "He's extraordinarily proud of both movies and will do a lot to promote them."

Several Miramax execs had been trying to convince Weinstein to blink first, because Gangs, a gritty, violent, epic-length production about revenge in 19th century New York, would likely lose out in the popularity contest with Spielberg's more crowd-pleasing Catch Me, which features a clean-shaven Leo in a breezy tale of a teenage con artist.

Weinstein reportedly sat down with DreamWorks head Jeffrey Katzenberg over breakfast last week in New York to iron out the situation. "Releasing the movies on the same day was in none of our interests," Katzenberg told the New York Times."It was an uncomfortable situation as both companies have a big investment in Leo DiCaprio."

Now, the big question remains which weekend Weinstein will park Gangs, which, at a budget of $100 million, is Miramax's most expensive film ever.

Warner Bros. has already targeted the weekend of December 6 for its comedy sequel Analyze That. Perhaps the best place to squeeze in Gangs is December 13, when Paramount opens the latest installment in its increasingly lackluster Star Trek franchise. The following weekend gets tougher, with the bow of another highly anticipated epic, New Line Cinema's Two Towers, the second chapter in The Lord of the Rings.

The date hunt becomes even more complicated considering Miramax is fielding several high-profile films in December, including Roberto Benigni's live-action Pinocchio, George Clooney's directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and the Richard Gere-Catherine Zeta-Jones musical, Chicago.

Despite the crowded holiday slate, Miramax's Hiltzik says he doesn't believe Gangs will get lost in the shuffle.

"Awareness is high, 64 percent among adult males without even running a single ad," he said. "Any great action romantic film like this with Leo, Cameron [Diaz], Daniel, a legendary director like Marty Scorsese and music by U2 will have broad appeal. And we're looking forward to its release date. It's a nice happy ending."

As for Spielberg and Scorsese, the two remain friendly despite the near showdown. (The two have been pals since the early 1970s. They even once famously swapped projects, with Scorsese giving Spielberg the rights to the Oscar-winning Schindler's List, and Spielberg returning the favor by passing the remake of Cape Fear along to Scorcese, which ended up being the director's biggest box office hit to date.)

But, the Los Angeles Times reports, their friendship became a bit strained over the possible faceoff. For the first time in his career, Spielberg cut together a highlight reel of 14 minutes of footage from Catch Me for exhibitors and the media to generate some buzz and gently persuade Scorsese and Weinstein to shift Gangs.

According to Scorsese's publicist, however, the director usually does not bother himself with release dates.

Here's hoping Gangs finally gets one.

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