Pauline Kael and quite a few others have developed sharp, dynamic, analytical ways of talking about movie-star presences on film; so one comes to this ""thematic anthology"" from the National Society of Film Critics hoping for a veritable gallery of illuminating star studies. Unfortunately, only a handful of the 67 brief (1-10 pages) portraits here--which follow ten introductory pieces on the changing nature of movie-stardom--are on that level. The rest are journalistic profiles, obituaries, uninspired film reviews, and (what the world hardly needs more of) interviews with the stars themselves. Moreover, there's no relationship between the relative seriousness or importance of the performers and the sort of treatment they get: while Molly Haskell is wryly perceptive on Doris Day, for instance, Montgomery Clift is represented by a low-level Rex Reed review of a Clift biography (""When his work slipped away, Monty's life turned on itself like a cat eating its young""). The few stand-outs: Richard Corliss on Garbo (balancing her artistry against that of the cameramen); Penelope Gilliatt on W. C. Fields (and, much too briefly, Monroe); Janet Maslin on Streisand (who ""slips into melody almost as cravenly as she hides behind excessive elegance""); Charles Champlin on Cary Grant (though Kael's recent Grant piece is a hard act to follow); Stephen Farber on Paul Newman's ""compelling image of a man chiselling detachment out of intense pain""; and Stephen Harvey on Fred Astaire. The four Kael selections are either fragmentary or largely unrelated to movie-stardom--strangely poor choices from her highly star-oriented canon. And only one everyday review really works as a stardom-study: Vincent Canby on Loren and Mastroianni in A Special Day. As for most of the rest, it's sturdy enough on a middle-brow journalistic level. But so many of these stars have been written about so much better elsewhere that this highly uneven compilation seems especially--and unnecessarily--disappointing.