The brothers Medved seem to have made a career out of chronicling the movies Hollywood would just as soon forget about. Their most recent book, ''The Hollywood Hall of Shame,'' is about the biggest and most expensive flops in movie history. Celebrated disasters like ''Cleopatra'' and ''Heaven's Gate'' are thoroughly dissected, and lesser-known flops such as ''Inchon'' and ''The Blue Bird'' also get their due.
Many of the productions were ruined by the delusions of grandeur of the filmmakers. In this regard, the section on film projects of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany is both fascinating and somewhat horrifying. Other movies just seem jinxed. ''Doctor Doolittle'' was fouled up at one point by a parrot that learned to shout ''Cut!''
With a few notable exceptions, reading about these films is undoubtedly more fun than seeing them. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about John Lahr's ''Automatic Vaudeville.''
This collection of essays on such writers and performers as Noel Coward, the Beatles, Woody Allen, and Eugene O'Neill is largely disappointing. Too many of the essays were written as introductions to other books and do not stand well on their own.
One article, on pop music composers Leiber and Stoller (''Love Potion Number 9,'' ''Yakety Yak'') fails to identify their first names or even their genders. Another, on ''Dame Edna Everage,'' the stage character of British performer Barry Humphries, attempts to make a case for the brilliant hilarity of the character but instead serves only to confirm the opinion of the New York Times critic who panned Humphries's show.
Two essays in the volume work, and work well. One, on playwright Joe Orton, is a concise precis of his life. One would expect nothing less from Lahr, who wrote ''Prick Up Your Ears,'' a biography of Orton. Another, on the many faces of Dallas, is well written and makes the city, rather than the author, the center of its attention. Lahr is a good writer, but perhaps someone else should select which articles should be preserved between hard covers for his next book.
Another good writer, William Goldman, has done an excellent job of describing what it is like to write for the movies. ''Adventures in the Screen Trade'' is a combination guide and memoir. Besides talking about his experiences working on such films as ''Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,'' ''All the President's Men, '' and ''Marathon Man,'' he also discusses how to write for a star (make sure he or she gets the best lines), which stars are a joy to work with (Paul Newman) and which aren't (Dustin Hoffman), and why some parts are woefully miscast (was she right for the part of the producer's wife?).
If you want to know how a story is adapted for the screen, the final section of the book is must reading. Goldman presents a short story, then a draft script for it. He then shows the script to several members of the filmmaking community to see what they would bring to this hypothetical film project. Each offers the perspective of his own craft, which subtly changes the final product.
Goldman is forced to admit that their changes of his work serve to improve it , illustrating the collaborative nature of filmmaking.
''Adventures in the Screen Trade'' deserves a place on the bookshelf of anyone seriously interested in film.