The leaves don't change color in Southern California, so Hollywood has come up with another way to tell when fall's arriving: It watches the movie theaters. Last weekend, Columbia Pictures officially kicked off the season by releasing a big-budget, serious adult movie. "Agnes of God" picked up some favorable reviews and some nasty ones, and it did big business in the eight theaters where it's playing. The movie made $220,642 in its first weekend -- and while that may not be much when you compare it to "Back to the Future's" $4.1 million, it works out to $27,580 per screen, which is almost 10 times the per-screen average of that blockbuster . . .

Mel Brooks' upcoming "The Doctor and the Devils" is assuredly not a comedy, though it stars model-turned-actress Twiggy, herself the object of many a punch line in years gone by. But the film, a drama about grave robbers in 18th-century England, apparently isn't quite as twisted as its original author intended, either. "The Doctor and the Devils" is based on the only screenplay the late Dylan Thomas wrote -- but Thomas' script, says one who worked on the production, "was pretty sick stuff." Brooks didn't add any gags, but he did "clean it up quite a bit," says the source . . . Meanwhile, screenwriter Roger Towne had a trickier job turning Raymond Chandler's "The Poodle Story" into a film. Chandler had only written 12 pages when he died almost 30 years ago, so Towne -- who wrote the screenplay for "The Natural" and is the brother of screenwriter-director Robert Towne -- has expanded those dozen pages into a film entitled "The Springs." The movie concerns a particularly important moment in the life of enduring Chandler detective Philip Marlowe, but Columbia Pictures hasn't started casting yet . . .

Her longtime boyfriend made the jump, so there's no reason she can't, too: Actress Sondra Locke makes her directorial debut with "Ratboy," a comedy that begins shooting late this month in Los Angeles and northern California. Locke also stars in the film; no word on whether longtime pal Clint Eastwood will be around to offer advice . . . And while Locke tries her hand at directing, actor Martin Sheen will take the reins as executive producer of a feature film for the first time. Sheen/Greenblatt Productions, of which Sheen is chairman, makes its first foray into features with "Judgment in Berlin," which is based on a book by U.S. District Court Judge Herbert J. Stern, the first federal judge to preside over an American trial held outside U.S. territory. The 1970s trial took place when an antihijacking pact signed by the United States and the Soviet Union forced the arrest and trial of several East Germans who hijacked a Polish airliner to West Berlin. In his book, Stern, a Jew, claimed that the German setting for the trial forced him to invoke Nazi laws put into effect by Adolf Hitler . . .

Will the supernatural comedy "Maxie" be a blockbuster or a flop? There's already controversy over that question in the pages of the Hollywood trade papers: Hollywood Reporter's business columnist Marvin A. Grove abandoned his usual subject matter this week to tell of the rave reception that greeted last week's screening of the Glenn Close-Mandy Patinkin film. Grove said the film was loved by preview audiences in Los Angeles and New York, that word within the industry has Close winning a best actress Oscar nomination for her twin roles as a San Francisco housewife and a look-alike ghost, and that the movie will likely produce a spinoff TV series. Strong words, when you consider that Grove's own paper had already said "Maxie" "opts out for syrupy sentimentality" and is full of "missed comic opportunities," and that Daily Variety had said much the same with a review that snapped, "A concoction like this needs lots of fizz, but the bubbly here has gone mostly flat, and what's left evaporates quickly." The Orion film opens Sept. 27, in case you want to see who'll have the last word.