Sin in Soft Focus: Pre-Code Hollywood, by Mark A. Vieira (Abrams, $39.95). If the still photograph reproduced in this book comports with what was shown on the screen, patrons of "The Iron Man" (1931) got an eyeful of Jean Harlow's chest through the flimsy top of her costume. And, in the interest of equal opportunity, the original, silent "Ben Hur" features a shot of a nude, muscular galley slave, manacled to the ship's wall for some infraction. If Cecil B. DeMille's "The Sign of the Cross" is visually more restrained, the dialogue includes such innuendo as Fredric March's introduction of a damsel as "Ancaria, the most wicked and, uh, talented woman in Rome." Then there was Mae West, who pushed the envelope of cinematic propriety again and again, as when she said, "Why, he'd be the kind a woman'd hafta marry ta get rid of." And Barbara Stanwyck, who slept her way up a skyscraper, all the way to the penthouse, where she was installed as a rich old coot's mistress. All these peccadillos -- and many, many more -- occurred in movies made before serious enforcement of the Production Code began in 1934. Things changed with the advent of censor-in-chief Joseph Breen, who, in the words of author Mark Vieira, "made Mae West an honest woman, Joan Crawford a virtuous shopgirl, Jean Harlow a `brownette,' and Norma Shearer a virgin." -- D.D.
High Exposure: Hollywood Lives/ Found Photos From the Archives of the Los Angeles Times ($24.95), edited by Amanda Parsons. Chosen from the archives of the Los Angeles Times, a newspaper that has had a particularly intimate relationship with Hollywood, these black-and-white photos capture a lost and lurid period in the symbiosis between the movies and the press. Their subjects range from posed occasions (Billy Wilder sitting behind an array of his Oscars in 1961; Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell sprawled side by side as they plant their palms in wet cement in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater in 1957) to impromptu intrusions (a dead Thelma Todd slumped in her car, Lana Turner doubled over with grief after a court appearance connected with her daughter's stabbing murder of Turner's lover). There is both cheese- and beefcake: On facing pages, Virginia Mayo seems to have accidentally lost her bathing suit while swimming (though, of course, the separation may have been staged), and Sal Mineo stands inside a barrel after fans allegedly tore off his clothes. The most puzzling picture shows Mae West standing next to a man in drag, made up and dressed to resemble her "in an attempt to capture an extortionist who threatened to throw acid in her face unless she delivered $1,000 to the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Bronson Avenue." I'm here to tell you that this "dame" wouldn't have fooled anybody. -- D.D.
The Movie Book (Phaidon, $39.95). Essentially a picture book of the players in the motion picture business, this photo collection elegantly encapsulates the 500 most influential artists in the cinema world. All the notable actors, directors, screenwriters, producers, makeup artists and cinematographers are represented here with carefully chosen stills that highlight careers in all their celluloid glories, from Jules Dassin (an American director forced to live in exile in Europe due to the McCarthy hearings of the '50s) and his mise-en-scene of Richard Widmark against the silhouette of St. Paul's Cathedral in the film noir classic "Night and the City" to Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, disguised as a hunchbacked midget while contemplating a bomb (pronounced "bum") with a burning fuse. Even for non-film buffs, this encyclopedia-ish tome should provide years of service as both a reference guide and source of reminiscence for movies and the players who made them. -- D.T.
Stanley Kubrick, Director: A Visual Analysis, by Alexander Walker, Sybil Taylor and Ulrich Ruchti (Norton, $35). An update of the original written by Alexander Walker almost 30 years ago, this is by far the most comprehensive guide to the reclusive director's work that includes such hits as "Paths of Glory," "Lolita," "Dr. Strangelove," "2001," "A Clockwork Orange," "The Shining" and the recent "Eyes Wide Shut." Drawing upon a personal friendship with Kubrick, Walker pieces together a rough portrait of the man, giving insight into the director's motivations. With almost clinical precision, each of Kubrick's films is analyzed, sometimes frame by frame. While Kubrick's career spanned more than 30 years, he carefully picked which films to make and then insisted on total control: He produced as well as directed, edited and shot his films. Although the number of his films is relatively small, only 13, the intensely varied subject matter provides a broad source of material. The book's real treasure lies in its intimate cross-referencing of fine details. Certainly not for the casual fan, this book is for anyone curious about Kubrick's personal reflections on evil, human evolution and the Steadycam. -- D.T.
Screams and Nightmares: The Films of Wes Craven, by Brian J. Robb (Overlook, $27.95).This is the inside scoop on the horror/thriller auteur Wes Craven and all his creations, from B-film bombs to A-list blockbusters. As they track his career of 30 years, from his nearly banned first hit, the cult classic "The Last House on the Left," to the internationally famous "Nightmare on Elm Street" to his latest horror endeavor "Scream 2," we are taken on a roller coaster ride of highs and lows. Dripping with fascinating details, Robb's book shows how the makeup and special effects of Craven's films almost singlehandedly launched an industry catering to the schlocky horror/thriller genre. References from the mocking, self-reflective, horror-movie-within-a-horror-movie "Scream" series are also explained in detail rich enough to satisfy even the most diehard (pardon the pun) fans. Full of photos and illustrations, unfortunately none of which is in color, the pages, like most of Craven's films, certainly invite the eye. Take, for instance, the original movie poster of "The Serpent and the Rainbow," which shows Bill Pullman's head partially engulfed by a large boa creeping out of the mouth of a rotting corpse in a bridal gown. Or savor the extremes of B-film tackiness with giant stills of Michael Berryman as the bald-headed, post-apocalyptic mutant Pluto from "The Hills Have Eyes," the story of a mutant family preying on a carload of innocents in the desert. Not for the squeamish, this is a treat for anyone interested in horror films, makeup and special effects. -- D.T.