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Jack Mathews, longtime movie critic for the L.A. Times and the New York Daily News, saw and heard it all during his years in Hollywood. In his new column Rough Cuts, he takes a hard look at the inner workings and the outer trappings of the movie industry -- both then and now.

Last Friday, after British actress Charlotte Lewis accused fugitive pedophile Roman Polanski of having sexually abused her in his Paris apartment when she was 16 years old, the most incongruous image popped into my head: that of the late Walter Matthau, at a luncheon long ago, in a restaurant long gone.

Jack Mathews, longtime movie critic for the L.A. Times and the New York Daily News, saw and heard it all during his years in Hollywood. In his new column Rough Cuts, he takes a hard look at the inner workings and the outer trappings of the movie industry -- both then and now.

Last Friday, after British actress Charlotte Lewis accused fugitive pedophile Roman Polanski of having sexually abused her in his Paris apartment when she was 16 years old, the most incongruous image popped into my head: that of the late Walter Matthau, at a luncheon long ago, in a restaurant long gone.

In 1977, Polanski fled the U.S. rather than face what he thought would be an unfair sentence for his admitted statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl. His actual crimes were much more shocking. He'd wooed the girl away from her star-struck mother on the pretense of using her as a model for a magazine layout, and instead took her to Jack Nicholson's Mullholland Drive house, where he plied her with champagne and a muscle-relaxing drug and then had anal and oral sex with her.

And now Charlotte Lewis, who would later have a small role in Polanski's 1986 comedy-adventure 'Pirates,' has come forward, stating that she is doing so to convince authorities holding Polanski under house arrest in Switzerland to give him up to the Los Angeles District Attorney's office extradition request. She did not go into the details of her alleged attack by Polanski except to say that whatever he did, he did "in the worst possible way."

Where does Matthau fit into this story? Well, at that luncheon at the landmark Chasen's in Beverly Hills, Matthau and his wife Carol Grace were regaling their table companions with tales from the North African set of 'Pirates,' in which Matthau had the lead role of Capt. Bartholomew Red. Every time either of the Matthaus mentioned Polanski's female companion, they called her "the fetus." As in, "After we finished shooting that scene, we went to lunch with Roman and his fetus."

The indelible reference to Polanski's predilection for underage girls made its point with Hollywoodites (and a reporter) for whom Polanski's transgressions with a 13-year-old were still fresh. And 33 years after the scoundrel fled the country, his crimes and his cowardice are still fresh in my mind.

Over the years, there have been several attempts by Hollywood insiders and their legal teams to somehow dissolve Polanski's fugitive status and allow him to return to work in the homeland of his profession. He is unquestionably one of the great filmmakers of his generation; isn't it self-defeating to banish him from the kingdom?

Not for me and, I suspect, not for many people who have raised a girl. Some of Polanski's more thoughtless supporters have actually referred to his victim's admission that she had had sex once before as some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card for pedophiles. Polanski was 44 when that assault occurred.

Other of his supporters think he has suffered enough, having to live in protected luxury in France and travel only to countries with no extradition treaty with the U.S. (That Swiss film festival where he was finally nabbed, whoops.) In Cannes this weekend, no less a fellow cradle robber than Woody Allen attempted to make that case in an interview with the French radio station RTL.

"It's something that happened many years ago," said Allen, who famously married an adopted Asian teenager that he had helped raise with Mia Farrow. "[Polanski] has suffered ... he has paid his dues ... he's an artist, he's a nice person, he did something wrong and he paid for it."

There are so many wrong-headed things crammed into that statement it's hard to know which to attack first. Where is the evidence that he has suffered? He's lived freely and continued his career. He even won an Oscar for directing the 2002 'The Pianist.' Oh, that's right, he didn't get to go the Vanity Fair party afterward.

And how has he paid his dues? His admitted felony required jail time, not a sacrifice of his table at Morton's. He had served only 42 days of a slap-on-the-wrist 90-day sentence and was probably facing no more than the remaining 48 days when he ran, though he had genuine reason to believe it would be more.

An artist? A nice person? Since when are those mitigating circumstances for a fugitive? He's not Dr. Richard Kimble, he's Roman 'Short Eyes' Polanski. And he's paid for it how?

When Polanski was up for that Oscar eight years ago, his victim, now self-identified as the middle-aged mother of four Samantha Geimer, wrote an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times in which she reiterated the terror of her ordeal but said that "the publicity surrounding it was so traumatic that what he did to me seemed to pale in comparison."

The rest of her statement read like something a studio publicist might have written on behalf of 'The Pianist.' She said that Polanski was a victim himself, of a judge who seemed ready to renege on a plea deal that her lawyers had agreed to, and that what Polanski did to her was irrelevant to his career. Indeed, like an admiring film critic, she encouraged Academy voters to weigh Polanski's work on its merits rather on his notoriety.

Immediately, industry insiders and, sadly, some journalists took Geimer's column as a statement of forgiveness and used it to whip their horse all the way to the finish line. 'The Pianist' lost the Best Picture Oscar to 'Chicago,' but Polanski triumphed as Best Director.

My problem with Geimer's public support of Polanski is that her experience is atypical of that of most child abuse victims. She won a $500,000 settlement in a civil case she brought against him 10 years after the crime, and her decision to go public with her identity is the main reason she has remained in the limelight she now abhors.

I'm glad Geimer received a settlement; that's as close as we'll ever get to hearing an admission of actual wrongdoing by Polanski. And I am really glad she's as well-adjusted as she appears to be. But she does other abuse victims a disserve in speaking on her attacker's behalf.

And I have just a couple of words for Woody Allen: shut up.