New guides aim to help videocassette viewers through the maze of movies

Rating the Movies (revised), by the editors of Consumer Guide and Jay A. Brown. Skokie, Ill.: Publications International Ltd. Illustrated. 416 pp. $9.95. Paper. Halliwell's Film Guide (3rd edition), by Leslie Halliwell. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1,453 pp. $9.95. Paper. TV Movies (1985-86 edition), edited by Leonard Maltin. New York: New American Library. 1,021 pp. Plume edition $9.95. Signet edition $4.95. Paper. The growth of the market for videocassette recorders and cable television has had an interesting side-effect. More movies than ever are available to the viewing public, from early silents through some of last year's hits. To help the prospective viewer wade through this cornucopia of film, several books are available to help one decide how to make the best use of movie-watching time.

One of the least of these is ``Rating the Movies,'' which purports to list ``just about every movie now being shown'' on TV, cable, or cassette. It is in fact a listing of fewer than 3,000 titles. If you watch only recent films or well-known older ones, this should be adequate.

However, if you have any film knowledge at all, the volume's omissions quickly outweigh its benefits. To give you an idea of how many movies are missing, one need only compare it with Leslie Halliwell's ``Film Guide,'' which admits to being incomplete with over 12,000 titles listed. To cite but two examples, Frank Capra's ``Mr. Deeds Goes to Town'' with Gary Cooper and Franois Truffaut's Oscar-winning ``Day for Night'' are both absent. In a movie guide that claims to list ``just about every movie,'' such omissions are inexcusable.

Halliwell's volume is another story. For sheer wealth of information on each film, Halliwell has no peer. Along with the usual plot summary and critical comments, he also provides such detail as the film's studio, cinematographer, and Oscar nominations. It is a volume of enormous value to film buff and scholar alike, but for the viewer trying to decide which film to see it has two serious problems.

First, the wealth of information may be more than you need to know in deciding what movie to watch. Discovering that Franz Waxman scored Alfred Hitchcock's ``Rebecca'' may be interesting, but it probably won't be the factor that determines whether you watch the movie. Second, this paperback edition, just published in the United States, was written in England in 1980 and therefore does not list any films released since then.

In the best of all possible worlds, Halliwell would combine his ``Film Guide'' with Leonard Maltin's ``TV Movies.'' Maltin's book, now in its sixth edition, gives the prospective viewer everything he or she needs to know about some 16,000 different movies. It is by far the largest consumer listing of movies available and includes movies released as recently as August 1984. Maltin's book is similar to the other volumes, with a star rating system, cast lists, plot summaries, and running times. The entries are more compact than Halliwell's.

Daniel M. Kimmel is a Boston-based film reviewer and a frequent contributor to the Monitor.

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