My intentions,"" writes Denby, ""were to suggest the depth and variety of American film criticism. . . and to put together a book of good prose that could stand on the shelf next to comparable volumes [in the other, older arts]."" Except for Robert Warshow and the now justifiably legendary James Agee, who wrote when film had already begun to mature, the earlier critics--1915-47--will be read mostly with historical curiosity. Too many of the films they addressed--except some silent comedies--haven't endured and will be known only to archivists; too many of the aesthetic issues which preoccupied them are superannuated (is sound, for instance, inimical to the growth of the medium). And apart from Potamkin's review of The Passion of Jeanne D'Arc, detailed attention to particular films is conspicuously absent. Vachel Lindsay, Gilbert Seldes, Erwin Panofsky, Otis Ferguson, William Troy, and Harry Alan Potamkin are those represented. But the names of Simon, Kael, and Sarris--and somewhat less so, Macdonald, Kauffmann, Farber (Manny, not Stephen), Tyler, Corliss, Gilliatt, Haskell, or occasional writers like Sontag and Schrader--put before a roomful of enthusiasts might lead to bloody, if not mortal, consequences. Still, a few fleeting judgments can be offered. Macdonald's review of The Greatest Story Ever Told proves that a genuine wit can make Hollywood vulgarity a source of high merriment. Kael's Bonnie and Clyde, lively and knowledgeable, will confirm her reputation as, alternatively, the best or simply the most idiosyncratic of critics. Sarris' ""Toward a Theory of Film History"" will either even him up in two-of-three falls after Kael's devastating attack (reprinted here) on his earlier statement of auteur aesthetics or will finish him off, depending on the reader's decision. And Simon's ""A Critical Credo"" posits standards for what critics must strive to achieve if Denby's hypothetical shelf is to be filled.