The cranes were still cranked up Wednesday morning, barricades were being nailed down, red carpet stretched and stapled, rain apparently averted — and idle speculation rippled along the Croisette.

“Trust me. Whoever has the biggest poster adorning the Carlton will in the end show up,” one fest vet insisted, referring to the monster billboard extolling Tom Cruise in Paramount’s upcoming “War of the Worlds.”

Rumor had it the actor was holed up in MonteCarlo for the upcoming GrandPrix car race and would hit Cannes, well, sometime next week.

Others pooh-poohed the whole idea: Why would he risk being upstaged by George Lucas, who will materialize at least on the Queen Mary 2 since he’s getting a big award and “Star Wars” is being screened on Sunday.

Still, in an edition that appears light on Hollywood star power, the Cruise rumor is enormously appealing.

But it’s not the only such idle chat which keeps early arriving festgoers amused over their pamplemousse and pizza.

The machinations within the main competition jury are always an intriguing subject of speculation: Will, for example, such forceful personalities as jury prexy Emir Kusturica see eye-to-eye, say, with feisty femme helmer Agnes Varda, or will there be a block of jury members who, post “Fahrenheit 9/11” want to move away from overtly political accolades?

As for the film market itself, there’s nothing quite as heady as, say, the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy roll-out a few years ago — those that got in early on that phenom made off like bandits — but there are beaucoup titles this go round from which to cherry pick. Judging from the number of really big boats floating around in the water, there are a lot of folks with money to fork out.

Among the Americans, both the Weinsteins and HBO come with new stories to tell, and hence are choice grist for the Croisette rumor mill.

Will, for example, the Weinsteins have a contest to find a more felicitous title for their new venture, currently known as the Weinstein Co. (Minimax, Maxmira, Harvey House)? More importantly, will they unveil further backing for their new indie effort when they host a distribs’ lunch?

HBO, on the other hand, will for the first time spell out just what former Newmarket topper Bob Berney is supposed to do for its newly unfurled alliance with sibling New Line. Apparently the Fine Line name is being retired, so a contest for a new name (Time Line, Shine Line?) may be in order there, too.