The temperature at last night's premiere screening of "Miller's Crossing" remained near normal. Yuppie pulses did not race, the windows did not steam.

Hundreds of women were there to eye the movie's much-touted leading man, Gabriel Byrne -- who looks like a young Peter O'Toole with coal-black hair and sounds like an Irish dream come true. But he canceled out after doing 48 eight-minute television interviews during an all-day press junket Sunday. ("He was melting women at 50 feet," sighed a 20th Century Fox representative.)

Byrne's no-show also deprived the crowd of a chance to rub shoulders with his wife, steamy actress Ellen Barkin ("The Big Easy," "Sea of Love").

"He's gorgeous. Talented. Irish," said actress Marcia Gay Harden, one of the cast members who attended the film's local premiere at the Cineplex Odeon Avalon.

Harden, a stage actress known locally for her work at the Olney Theatre, left Washington for New York about six years ago and is making her film debut as Byrne's love interest. Last night was the third time she'd seen herself on the big screen.

"It's appalling. It's absolutely appalling," she said. "I liken it to when you hear yourself on the answering machine."

The premiere, which raised $10,000 for FilmFest DC, was filled with more than 600 local movie buffs and friends who came to get a early peek at the film, which opened the New York Film Festival last week, and cheer on the movie's producers, local-boys-made-good Ted and Jim Pedas.

"I came for the Pedas brothers," said D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. "I'm very supportive of what they're doing. And they said it was a good gangster movie."

The brothers have teamed up once again with another brother team, Joel and Ethan Coen, who wrote and directed "Miller's Crossing." "They always come in on time and under budget," Jim Pedas said with a smile.

The boy geniuses, who also penned "Blood Simple" and "Raising Arizona," were slouched in a corner booth at Rossini's following the screening -- looking terrifically bored with the whole process.

"It's okay by me," said Ethan (33, short curly hair, wire rims, Lufthansa duty-free tie). "I'm enjoying myself."

His brother Joel (35, long curly hair, dark rims, black turtleneck) was less engaging.

"Ethan's the clever one," he said. "I'm the dull one." Long pause. Joel surveyed the crowd -- imagine a Washington version of a cocktail party in a Woody Allen movie -- and slouched even further in the corner. Not party animals? "We love them. We really do."

But the Coens write great dialogue. Everybody said so.

" 'What's the rumpus?' That's a great line," said Jim Pedas of the movie's catch phrase. "I use that on my wife now."

"I love the scene when I whack my son and say, 'Kids. Ya gotta be firm,' " said actor Jon Polito, who plays a mob boss in the movie. "It's like a great theater piece. I felt like I was doing a Shakespearean play."

As fans fluttered through with white wine, fried ravioli and meatballs, some slipped up to the stars and awkwardly asked for autographs. They were no match for the guy who staked out the theater and jumped into action as the crowd spilled out onto the sidewalk.

"It's time-consuming but I really get a high off it," he said, wriggling through to snag signatures from Harden, Polito and one of the Coen brothers.

And what did he think of the movie?

"Haven't seen it," he said. "Doubt I will. I'll wait till it comes out on video."