In Zurich, arriving there for the film festival and about to be given a tribute, Roman Polanski has been taken into custody by authorities remembering a 31-year-old arrest warrant. They were alerted by US authorities who have never given up on the case. Extradition is in the air, though it could take a few months. Is Polanski returning to the US? If he is, one of the those judges is going to have an awkward time.
Even in Los Angeles, however, the general public reading the news probably needed to be reminded what this was all about. The history of the movies, even its scandals, has receded a long way – it's all "Chinatown" now, and the newspaper editors wonder whether they can let that remark go or does it need to be explained?
The explanation comes quickly. It needs no more than a single paragraph. On 11 March 1977, Polanski was arrested in the lobby of the Beverly Wilshire hotel by Detective Philip Vannatter (a cop who would figure in the OJ Simpson case). The Polish film director was charged as follows: giving Quaaludes to a minor; child molestation; unlawful sexual intercourse with that minor; rape by use of drugs; oral copulation; sodomy. The girl was 13, though Polanski would say that she looked older.
The rape had occurred in the house of Jack Nicholson, a place Polanski used as he wished. In the legal negotiations that followed, Polanski never denied the charges, but they were dismissed under the terms of the plea bargain by which he pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor. With a view to proper sentencing, the judge – Laurence Rittenband – ordered that Polanski be confined for psychiatric examination. That led to 42 days' confinement in the Chino State Prison over the 1977-8 period. In that examination Polanski was passed as fit to stand trial. It was the director's understanding that the 42 days in Chino would satisfy punitive instincts. There might be a fine, too, but he would be freed. Then, just before sentencing, Polanski heard that Rittenband was ready to break the agreement – because he feared public criticism of a verdict that seemed too lenient on Polanski. And so, fearing further imprisonment, Polanski broke bail and flew by British Airways to London in February 1978. He has never been back in the US.
Perhaps the thing I've found most fascinating about this case was the side note that most articles make, in which they state that Polanski's wife and child were killed by the Charles Manson group in 1969. That probably reveals what I think about the case, but then, I suppose I'm not involved.