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A Tawdry Case Closes in on Roman Polanski

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It has become, irretrievably, a case of life imitating pulp. No sooner had Roman Polanski been busted last March on charges of drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl than Hollywood began gearing up for a lurid courtroom melodrama. Though his trial is not scheduled to begin until June 29, the diminutive (5’5″) Polish film director has already seen the coming attractions. Arriving at Santa Monica Superior Court for a preliminary hearing, Polanski was besieged by reporters and cameramen. Tieless and expressionless, he later sat quietly during the routine pretrial sparring between prosecution and defense lawyers.

But if Polanski has been embarrassed by the charges against him, he has shown no inclination to play Caesar’s wife. When 16-year-old German actress Nastassja Kinski popped into town recently for a stint at the Actors’ Studio, the director showed up at the airport to greet her, then raced off at the sight of German reporters. “At home they are writing terrible things about us,” complained Nastassja. Polanski, she said, is merely “a very good friend.” She was one of the models Polanski used when he guest-edited a recent issue of the French Vogue.

Despite the nonstop pretrial publicity in the case, presiding judge Laurence J. Rittenbrand seems unperturbed. “I’ve handled other celebrity cases,” says the 72-year-old jurist, “and this doesn’t look like anything other than a routine rape case to me.” Rittenbrand, a bachelor who keeps two leather-bound scrapbooks filled with newspaper accounts of his past trials, is a member of the star-studded Hillcrest Country Club and has numerous friends in the film industry. He dismisses the notion that Polanski can’t get a fair trial in Los Angeles. “People here are more sophisticated than anywhere else in the country,” he says, “and from what I’ve been able to gather, public opinion is divided on who is at fault. There are those who think Polanski a devil, and others who wonder why a mother would let her 13-year-old daughter go around with a 43-year-old film director anyway.” Adds the judge evenly, “I think the case will be tried on the evidence.”