TIME movies

The (2nd) Biggest Mistake Roman Polanski Ever Made

Roman Polanski at Oktoberfest
Director Roman Polanski smokes a cigarette and drinks a beer at Oktoberfest, Sept.29, 1977. Istvan Bajzat—dpa/Corbis

The photo that forced Polanski to flee

Roman Polanski made a lot of mistakes in 1977. The famous director of Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby, who had escaped the horrors of the Holocaust as a child and endured the brutal murder of his pregnant wife at the hands of the Manson Family, was on trial for the Quaalude and champagne fueled rape of a 13-year-old girl.

Thanks to Judge Laurence Rittenband, who allegedly loved the media frenzy the trial inspired, Polanski was granted permission to leave the country in exchange for a guilty plea to the least legally damning of the six charges he faced: illegal sex with a minor.

So Polanski flew to Europe to begin filming the massive action epic The Hurricane, but made an unfortunate pit stop in Germany for Oktoberfest, where he was photographed by paparazzo Istvan Bajzat. The image of Polanski, leisurely smoking a cigar, flanked on all sides by young girls and giant beer steins, was a game-changer in a case already rife with legal inconsistencies, and solidified Polanski’s public perception as a freewheeling womanizer.

Polanski was ordered to return to the US, where he was immediately sent to Chino State Prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation, of which he served 42 days. Less than three months later, just hours before he was to stand trial, Polanski fled to Europe, where the 81-year-old director still lives and works.

Polanski’s newest film, a racy adaptation of the stage play Venus in Fur, has its U.S. release today, June 20.

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