The world thinks of Henri-Georges Clouzot as the French Hitchcock. But what does the world know? The French, who are so much smarter, think of Hitchcock as the English Henri-Georges Clouzot.

They may be right. His reputation rests on two '50s masterpieces, "The Wages of Fear" and "Diabolique." But he was brilliantly active long before those two international breakthroughs, as his 1947 "Quai des Orfevres" shows.

It lacks the chilled maliciousness of "Diabolique" (two women plot to murder their boss, a headmaster at a private school) and it lacks the the on-the-rack tension and philosophical darkness of the famous "Wages" (four losers drive trucks bearing nitroglycerin across the Andes toward an oil fire), and is in many respects a lighter effort: It's somehow cozy, it lacks the bitter crush of hopeless existentialism, and it seems more related to backstage romantic follies than to any issue of crime. It is in fact a traditional mystery more reminiscent of Agatha Christie than the reigning film noir aesthetic of 1947. But it's fabulously entertaining.

A restored print is showing at the American Film Institute theater at the Kennedy Center through Feb. 16, and it should be seen if for no other reason than to time-travel back to Paris in 1947, before we Americans and TWA ruined her. Not that she was beautiful then, in any save a severe way. The war was just over, the streets were filthy and cluttered with little automobiles that seemed to run on coffee or chestnuts, the cobblestones gleamed in the wetness of a cold night. In the cheesy offices of the entertainment district, the yeomen of showbiz soldiered grimly onward, tunesmiths hacking out melodies, songbirds warbling for pennies, shrewd producers investing in this talent but not in that (sexual favors just might be involved in the business decision), gangsters prowling, everybody smoking, everybody coughing, everybody resigned and, best of all, everybody wearing coats. Indoors. Especially indoors. Why? Because it was cold and there wasn't much money for charcoal for the little stoves. It was hideous, it was bleak, it was scabby, it was . . . so French, so cool.

Clouzot effortlessly evokes this world as he works out the fates of a bunch of strivers and seekers and parasites. One of these chaps -- rich, perverted, hunchbacked and, most morally degenerate of all, warm -- ends up very dead. A seedy ex-Legion sergeant cop tries to straighten it all out, and you'd be right if you thought of Columbo crossed with Poirot with a little of fussy old Miss Marple thrown in -- but all French-like, see.

Though a few of the images are pure noir -- the Tenderloin at night, lights gleaming seductively, alleys yawning away darkly -- the plot is a little gimmicky. It's one of those things where at least two people think they dunnit, but it takes the brilliant detective to stun them by revealing who indeed dunnit.

Briefly, the thrush Jenny Lamour (Suzy Delair) hits it big with her ditty "Trala-trala" -- she sings with such vivaciousness she seems like Piaf on antidepressants -- and various hotshots begin to pay attention to her, inflaming her extremely jealous husband, piano player Maurice (Bernard Blier). The worst of these is a libertine movie magnate, Georges, played by Charles Dullin, and to see him is to want to squish him. He's odious, wormy, confident, creepy . . . in other words, tre{grv}s chic. Jenny lies to Maurice and goes to see Georges, ostensibly for a part; he makes advances, she slugs him and flees. Meanwhile, Maurice is planning to murder him, puts a clumsy scheme in effect and when he arrives finds him dead and sees how it will play out with him as chump. He also thinks Jenny did the deed. And I haven't even mentioned the lesbian and the gangster!

It falls to a wary old pro, Inspector Antoine, one of those sleuths who sleuth better than they dress, to figure it all out, tie it up in a knot. It's a great trip, but dress warmly, because you will be chilly.

"Quai" is in rotation with another exquisite restoration, of Akira Kurosawa's 1952 "Ikiru." This is not the Kurosawa of blood, thunder, battles in the rain across the plain with Shakespearean over- or undertones. Instead it's a quiet, even humble picture of modern courage, as a spiritually dead bureaucrat gets the best news he's had in 35 years: He's going to die. He tries to reclaim a life lost to trivia and bad decisions, and finally sets out on a humble course of moral regeneration. The great Takashi Shimura, who was Ward Bond to Toshiro Mifune's John Wayne in the Kurosawa stock company, stars.

Quai des Orfevres (102 minutes) and Ikiru (140 minutes) are unrated but contain adult material. In French and Japanese with subtitles at the American Film Institute's National Film Theater at the Kennedy Center.

Suzy Delair and Simone Renant in Henri-Georges Clouzot's noirish "Quai des Orfevres."Takashi Shimura in Akira Kurosawa's quiet gem from 1952, "Ikiru."