NEW YORK (AP) _ Let the sign at the Manhattan theater be a warning: ''Please note. 'Malcolm X - The Documentary' is not the film by Spike Lee.''

Some people walked away or demanded refunds once they learned of the difference, but others have been checking out the 1972 movie that has been re- released in the aftermath of Lee's epic-length feature, ''Malcolm X.''

The documentary, nominated 20 years ago for an Academy Award, is just 91 minutes and largely consists of the late African-American leader's speeches and interviews. Also included is some narration by James Earl Jones; newsreels of Malcolm X's widow, Betty Shabazz, and many civil rights and black power leaders; and footage of Ossie Davis' moving eulogy.

Marvin Worth, who produced Lee's film, collaborated on the documentary with the late Arnold Perl. They began it in 1969, four years after Malcolm's assassination, with the intention of making a dramatization. As Lee did, they based their project on the best-selling memoir ''The Autobiography of Malcolm X.''

''We felt there was a problem putting it out as a feature,'' Worth said. ''For instance, the scenes with Malcolm and (Nation of Islam leader) Elijah Muhammad behind closed doors - we couldn't get confirmation from anybody. We felt a big responsibility with this process and didn't want to include anything we weren't sure about.

''The last third of the movie, with the assassination, we had people who were weren't willing to talk about it. We then got the idea to do the documentary. I mostly went for the public figure, rather than the private man. I aimed for showing the evolution of the man and what he had to say. I wanted to do it with the public speeches.''

The film's structure is looser than Lee's movie, and the pace is faster. Malcolm X's childhood and his years as a street hustler and petty thief are briefly dealt with, as is his time in jail. Much of the documentary takes place after the late 1950s, when he first emerged as a national figure with the Nation of Islam.

Some parts inevitably show their age. For instance, you'll likely recognize Arthur Ashe and Muhammad Ali during a montage of black athletes, but you'd have to have a pretty good knowledge of sports to spot Oakland A's pitcher Vida Blue. Other footage includes such activists as James Farmer, Bayard Rustin and H. Rap Brown whose faces no longer are so familiar. Regrettably, no one is identified until the closing credits.

Nothing, however, seems outdated about Malcolm X himself. Not even Denzel Washington's performance in Lee's film could prepare you for the experience of watching the actual man, for the intensity and forcefulness of his arguments, for his crisp, direct speaking style, or the rueful laugh Humphrey Bogart might have envied.

A few segments stand out. In an early speech, Malcolm mocks whites as ''that old pale thing, that old sickly thing,'' practically spitting out the words as he points out the irony of whites ''laying out in the sun, trying to look like you.''

In a press conference near the end of his life, he is again at his sarcastic best. He tells the story of how French officials refused him entry into their country for a meeting with local black leaders.

''Maybe the planes got mixed up,'' Malcolm remembers saying to them. ''This couldn't be Paris, this must be Johannesburg.''