"The French Detective" doesn't justify making a beeline for the K-B Janus, but if you have nothing better to do, it might squeak by as tolerable entertainment.

The city of Rouen provides a picturesque backdrop for the routine police story contrivances. The leads are amusingly incongruous sidekicks: the diamond-in-the-rough character-actor Lino Ventura,who suggests a cross betweem Lee J. Cobb and Spencer Tracy, as the cagey, conscientious, veteran policeman and a brashly immature, twinkly-dimply Patrick Dewaere as his callow junior partner.

The plot is spun out around a murder case singularly lacking in mystery. During a municipal election, a volunteer worker for one candidate is bludgeoned to death by a thug hired by another candidate, a suspicious smoothie played by Victor Lanoux. When a cop arrives on the scene, he's promptly murdered, too.

The identity of the killer is never in doubt. Ventura's problem is linking the first killing to Lanoux, whom he dislikes and suspects of using political connections to weasel out of responsibility. Then Ventura is promoted to bureau chief in Montpellier to get him off the case and to interject a time limit that will supposedly make his investigation more urgent.

One feels obliged to point out that the urgency turns out to be beside the point. Instead of showing Ventura wrapping up his last case before being kicked upstairs, the story closes on a note of grandstanding anticlimax. Finally begged by his helpless superiors to wrap things up, the hero chooses to walk away and leave the denouvement in their fumbling hands. It's difficult to see what purpose such a gesture serves.

The director, Pierre Granier-Deferre, cannot be accused of being a stickler for subtleties. He imposes a punchy, blatant style that's a little like reading a story punctuated exclusively by exclamation marks. Even a specialist in underplaying lide Ventura is called upon to indulge in cheap dramatic gestures, like smashing glass doors at Lanoux's headquarters and roughing up potential informants.

On the other hand, "The French Detective" is always too crass to become boring . Sometimes it's even crass enough to be profanely diverting.