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Escapade in Japan
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,Escapade in Japan

Escapade in Japan

Blink and you'll miss Clint Eastwood in Arthur Lubin's Escapade in Japan (1957), in which the up-and-coming actor goes unbilled despite his character having an actual name: Dumbo. The role and the film were typical of Eastwood's lot at the start of his career, a period of apprenticeship in which he played a jet pilot who tangles (successfully) with a giant Tarantula (1955) and a comic relief laboratory assistant in Revenge of the Creature (1955) who is upstaged by a white rat. Unable to pay his rent entirely though acting, Eastwood supplemented his income with menial work; while laboring off the books at a gas station, he met the first man in Hollywood to see promise in him: Arthur Lubin. A veteran director of several Abbott and Costello comedies, Lubin thought Eastwood had potential but lacked a tangible craft. He urged the young hopeful to take acting classes and brokered a $75 a week contract from Universal, as well as auditions (albeit unsuccessful) for bits in The Seven Year Itch (1955) and Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops (1955). (Universal dropped Eastwood in October 1955, kicking him out of the studio gates alongside fellow contract players David Janssen and Burt Reynolds.) Lubin eventually slotted the actor into one his "Francis the Talking Mule" films and gave Eastwood his first significant role, as a love-struck Rough Rider in the comic western The First Traveling Sales Lady (1956).

Arthur Lubin had played a pivotal role in grooming Clint Eastwood into a bankable star yet Eastwood would leave his mentor behind as soon as his career gained momentum. Escapade in Japan was Eastwood's last film for Lubin and his services were tendered in the space of a single day, netting him $175. (By point of comparison, Eastwood earned $750 for Ambush at Cimarron Pass, in which he was billed below star Scott Brady, who earned $25,000.) Top-billed were Academy Award® winning actress Teresa Wright and stage and film actor Cameron Mitchell, cast as the parents of a young boy (Jon Provost) who has survived a plane crash off the coast of Japan. His scenes shot entirely within the confines of Universal Studios, Eastwood did not join the cast and crew for the transatlantic trip on a TWA Constellation on September 26, 1956. Billeted in Kyoto, the cast worked exhaustively on location six days a week. In their scant off-time, Wright toured the Japanese countryside with her cameras, Mitchell learned kendo and was made an honorary captain of the Kyoto Racket Club tennis team, and juvenile star Jon Provost missed Halloween, Thanksgiving, both his father's and older brother's birthdays, and the start of first grade. Like Eastwood, whose luck would soon change with a featured role on the weekly western Rawhide, Provost would find lasting fame by joining the cast, and later assuming the lead, of the CBS series Lassie in its fourth season.

Hanging over the production of Escapade in Japan like the proverbial dark cloud was the fact that parent studio RKO was on its last legs. Howard Hughes had bought a controlling share of stock in 1948 and his eccentricities and indulgences had kept the profit margin in the red under his ownership. Unable to gain full control of the studio, Hughes sold off his interest to the General Tire Company, which recouped two-thirds of the $25 million sale price by offering the RKO film library for TV broadcasts. Uninterested in making movies, General Tire ceased production in 1957 and sold the RKO lot to Desilu Productions for $6 million. While all this business was still in the negotiation stages, Arthur Lubin was speeding up the pace of principal photography for Escapade in Japan to ensure that his cast and crew's return airfare would be covered. Lubin got his people back to Hollywood, where the passengers were informed upon landing that they no longer had studio contracts. Universal picked up distribution rights for the orphaned Escapade in Japan, which had its world premiere in Clint Eastwood's home town of San Francisco in October 1957.

Producer: Arthur Lubin
Director: Arthur Lubin
Screenplay: Winston Miller
Cinematography: William Snyder
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Walter Holscher
Music: Max Steiner
Film Editing: Otto Ludwig
Cast: Teresa Wright (Mary Saunders), Cameron Mitchell (Dick Saunders), Jon Provost (Tony Saunders), Roger Nakagawa (Hiko), Philip Ober (Lt. Col. Hargrave), Kuniko Miyake (Michiko Tanaka), Susumu Fujita (Kei Tanaka).
C-93m. Letterboxed.

by Richard Harland Smith

Clint: The Life and Legend by Patrick McGilligan (St. Martin's Press, 1999)
American Rebel: The Life of Clint Eastwood by Marc Eliot (Harmony, 2009)
Clint Eastwood: A Biography by Richard Schickel (Vintage, 1997)
Aim for the Heart: The Films of Clint Eastwood by Howard Hughes
Charles McGraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy by Alan K. Rode (McFarland & Co., 2008)
Cameron Mitchell interview by David Del Valle, Psychotronic Video No 19, Winter 1994
Timmy's in the Well: The Jon Provost Story by Jon Provost (Living Legends Publishing Group, 2009)
RKO Radio Pictures: A History of the Original Motion Picture Studio by James P. Snyder