I was just looking through one of my folders when I found this. I am sure it was never published, and I don’t think I ever blogged it. Anyway, here it is:
The other night, in the midst of a period of discussions of L’Affaire Polanski, where I am of the leave-the-old-scoundrel-alone persuasion, we caught, via On-Demand, the semi-charming 1987 release, “In the Mood” (Patrick Dempsey, Talia Balsam, Beverly D’Angelo), based on true events.
It seems that, in 1944, Elaine Monfredi (Balsam), a twenty-one-year-old, unmarried mother of two in Compton, California, ran off it to Arizona with her fourteen-year-old neighbor, Ellsworth “Sonny” Wisecarver (Dempsey), and married him. The honeymooners were arrested, returned to their home state, and, though Monfredi celebrated Wisecarver as “an ideal husband… (who) is kind, considerate and doesn’t believe in hitting women,” had their marriage annulled. Felony charges against Monfredi were dropped and she was placed on probation, with a condition being that she attend church once a month. Wisecarver’s parents sent him to live with a strict uncle.
In 1945, Eleanor Delaney (D’Angelo), the twenty-five-year-old wife of a Marine stationed in Japan, ran off with Wisecarver. The couple was tracked down, arrested, and after Delaney, who had boosted Wisecarver as “more of a man at sixteen than a lot of men are at thirty-five,” reconciled with her Leatherneck, all charges against her were dropped. Wisecarver, however, whom the press — having by now taken as much interest in him as if he had been riding shotgun beside Tiger Woods in his MVA, had dubbed “The Woo Woo Kid” and “The Compton Casanova,” was sentenced to the California Youth Authority until he turned twenty-one. A year later, he escaped and fled to Las Vegas, where he married a seventeen-year-old Mormon. No effort seems to have been made to extradite him.
Legal moralists argue that, in addition to rehabilitation, which has pretty much dropped from the picture due to budgetary considerations, and deterrence, whose efficacy has always proved a wobbly in the documentation department, a proper function of the criminal law is the gratification of society’s desire for revenge upon those whose conduct is so offensive it threatens to rend the basic fabric of the community. A problem for me with this approach is that what offends whom seems to vary widely from place to place and, indeed, decade to decade. In fact, with all due respect to cultural diversity, when you get down to certain orthodoxies – and here I nod both toward Mecca and Jerusalem, not to mention the Vatican – many deemed offenses seem to stem from collective societal psychoses that exposure to the light and air that frequent rendings would bring about would do a world of good.
But to return to late-1940s Compton, it is true that Wisecarver, unlike other persons of more recent interest, never claimed to have been forced or drugged into submitting to anyone’s advances. But he was, at all times, the minor victim in the picture, and if there was abuse, it was – by statutory definition – perpetrated upon him by the predatory cravings of his adult partners. Yet, as Wisecarver could not help noticing, the only one who went to jail was he. It could be that the judge thought he was not punishing Wisecarver but acting in his best interest by removing him as an object of temptation for other lustful creatures. But it may also be – as I suspect is often the case when the law is called in to regulate sexual matters – that the judge was acting out the people’s wish to slap down those it suspects of having more fun than the rest of us.