The latest edition of Leonard Maltin's invaluable paperback reference book, "Leonard Maltin's TV Movies and Video Guide," hit the stands last week - a whopping 1,330 pages with more than 19,000 movie reviews.

Steven H. Scheuer's similar 1,227-page, 19,000-review "Movies on TV and Videocassette" also landed in bookstores last week, and it must be said that Scheuer's book is looking much better than editions published in the past few years. In fact, it's probably his best yet.Despite that, it still doesn't reach Maltin's high standards, though it's certainly not for lack of trying.

Each year it seems Scheuer copies something from Maltin, and this year it's the exact letter-by-letter alphabet sequence, which Maltin adopted in last year's edition of his book.

Both books are made up of capsule reviews but the difference in attention to detail is probably best summed up by an embarrassing mistake on the back cover of Scheuer's book, where it says, "From the newest box-office smashes - `Dick Tracy,' `Die Hard 2,' `Total Recall,' `Back to the Future, Part III,' and `Days of Thunder' - to all-time greats from the past . . . ."

Open the book, look up those titles and "Die Hard 2" and "Back to the Future, Part III" are both missing.

All of them appear in Maltin's book.

There are a few recent independent films, such as "To Sleep With Anger," "Without You I'm Nothing" and "Wild Orchid," that have found their way into Scheuer's book but are omitted from Maltin's.

But Maltin has an incredible number of recent releases that are missing from Scheuer, including "Ghost," "Ghost Dad," "Presumed Innocent," "Problem Child," "Navy SEALS," "The Freshman," "Arachnophobia" and more.

Maltin and his team take great pride in being dyed-in-the-wool, nit-picky, get-all-the-details-and-get-them-right film freaks. Some of their concerns - specific, down-to-the-minute running times and exact titles, including whether or not the word "The" correctly starts off a title - may seem a bit much to the average moviewatcher.

But it's that kind of dedication that year after year makes Maltin's book so enjoyable to film buffs as well as the casual reader.

The irony here, of course, is that Scheuer's book came first - by a decade. But more than 20 years ago, Maltin, at the tender age of 17, convinced a publisher he could do a book like Scheuer's and do it better. And he's been doing it better ever since.

Each brief capsule review in Maltin's book is jam-packed with information, from trivia about the early work of actors who have since become stars to bits of information that are unique, ironic or simply interesting.

Maltin also includes this year a list of mail-order video companies, most of which are strictly sales outlets, but some that also rent by mail. These pages are particularly valuable for anyone looking for hard-to-find, out-of-the-mainstream movies.

The one drawback of both books is that they do not include any of the movie ratings. Since ratings are a part of nearly all movies released since 1968, and since so many people use the ratings in determining whether or not to rent certain videos, it seems a valuable enough service to be included. (How hard would it be to add G, PG, PG-13, R or NC-17 to the appropriate film reviews?)

At $6.95, Maltin's book is a dollar more than Scheuer's this year - in the past they've been the same price.

But since Maltin has managed, after more than two decades and with competition expanding to incredible proportions, to keep his the best of the many movie review books on the market, he's worth the extra dollar.

The 1991 edition of "Leonard Maltin's TV Movies and Video Guide" has a blue cover with a picture of Maltin prominently displayed over the title and is in most bookstores.

- THE MAIL ISN'T ALWAYS friendly, of course, as with an anonymous note scribbled on a copy of my recent review of "Narrow Margin," which came in the mail last week:

Chris Hicks,

I don't understand your comments and opinions. This movie was one of the best I have seen for a long time. I have been going to movies every Saturday for over 50 years, so I know a good show when I see one.

You called a Patrick Swayze movie a "turkey" a while back and it was not a turkey. It had Ben Gazzara in it.

I'm not going on your opinion anymore.


Ordinarily I just let letters stand on their own in this column, but this writer didn't even have the common decency to include his/her name.

The Patrick Swayze movie referred to was "Road House," of course. And I didn't just say it was a turkey. I named it as the worst movie of 1989.

And another thing, if having Ben Gazzara in the cast automatically makes a movie worthwhile, how do you explain "Sidney Sheldon's Bloodline"?

- QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Michael Keaton, currently starring in "Pacific Heights," talking with Luaine Lee (Scripps-Howard) about his biggest hit, "Batman":

"It wasn't a movie. It was a phenomenon. I think it got silly. It just got wild. So what? It's a movie. The kids loved it, were crazy about it, and it got out of hand. And what're you gonna do about it?"