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Have Figure Will Travel

1963, Starring Susan Baxter, Carol MacKenzie, Marge Anderson, John Calhoun. Directed by Leo Orenstein (Mayfair).

Are you ready to "take off the clothes of hypocrisy and part the curtain of shame and guilt"? Then grab your sunscreen and hit the high seas of Lake Ontario for Have Figure Will Travel, an early 1960s Canadian nudist colony travelogue that proudly breaks the bare flesh taboo. Though nudist colony-set "nudie cuties" from the likes of enterprising businessmen Russ Meyer and David F. Friedman had begun popping up on big screens south of the border throughout the swinging '60s, no one has ever acknowledged that Canadians too dabbled in this once highly controversial genre. While there may be little to differentiate this film from any of its American counterparts, the fact that Have Figure Will Travel is a Canadian production is reason enough to earn it a unique place in our cinema history.

Have Figure Will Travel's towel drops in Fenwick, Ont.'s long gone Sun Valley Gardens, where we meet Carol (Carol MacKenzie) and Susan (Susan Baxter), a pair of sultry nudists who convince their prudish pal Marge (Marge Anderson) to join them for a cruise to Florida. But what they don't tell her is that they plan to hit some nudist retreats along the way, hoping she'll eventually lose her inhibitions and embrace their sun-kissed lifestyle. Commandeering Susan's dad's 50-foot yacht, they start their journey in Lake Ontario, eventually making their way down the Hudson River, towards New York City. After a day hitting the Park Avenue boutiques, they venture north to Sunshine Park in New Jersey, where Marge is still too embarrassed to shed her clothes, despite a cordial welcome by the feverishly dedicated club members. Before long, the trio hits the waves again, making just one more stopover in Charleston, South Carolina to see the tourist sites before proceeding to their Florida destination, Sunny Acres. It's here that Susan and Carol hope they can finally convince shy Marge to join in their naked, frolicking fun.

Like most "adults only" nudist films from the 1960s, Have Figure Will Travel actually isn't very naughty at all--there are several topless cheesecake shots, but most of the bared flesh in this film comes courtesy of females proudly displaying their flabby bums as they walk away from the camera. Except for a few apparent slips, naughty bits are always covered with strategically placed limbs, towels, and in one bizarre scene, a duck. Though the three main actresses' visible bikini tan lines belie their supposed love of naturism, the colony members they visit are apparently real-life enthusiasts of all ages and sizes, who play volleyball, swim and go fishing in the unashamed buff, lending this film a little authority in the face of other films which cheated by populating their sunshine camps with often haggard-looking topless dancers.

Curiously, Have Figure Will Travel was directed under the pseudonym Alan Overton by Leo Orenstein, a playwright and a veteran CBC director/producer who was known for his dramatic pieces on anthology programs like Quest, Encore and CBC Television Theatre. Hard to imagine how he got roped into directing this paper-thin script by Ted Leversuch, a British filmmaker who was to become Canada's most prolific purveyor of cinematic sin in the 1960s, with forgotten films including French Without Dressing and Sex and the Lonely Woman Part 2. Just be glad that Orenstein decided to take this assignment, as he has given us a clear missing link between Julian Roffman's breakthrough 3-D feature The Mask and the racier '60s output like Adulterous Affair and Naked Flame. Have Figure Will Travel can be seen as a slyly naughty nautical film that ultimately sowed the seeds of our national sleaze the first bona fide Canadian "exploitation" film ever made.

Spending most of its running time out of the country, Have Figure Will Travel may not be very identifiably Canadian in its storyline, but it often plays like a serious NFB travelogue, spending more than its fair share of screen time on the girls' wide-eyed tour of America's East Coast and boating procedures, including a lengthy segment explaining the Oswego River locks. While the girls do strip down a few times on the boat--including laughable scenes of Carol making breakfast in the buff and doing nude yoga--the film seems to be just as interested in getting some great shots of the countryside as it is in the three young protagonists. Additionally, the American sights on the girls' trip down south are presented through distinctly foreign eyes, from a horse and buggy ride in Central Park to the strictly touristy romp around Charleston, complete with an out-of-place mention of the city's slave-trading past. Add some jaunty music and tongue-in-cheek narration by John Calhoun, who waxes insistently about the spirited freedom of nudity, and it's hard to deny the film's affinity with the NFB documentary tradition, even if it's for a purpose that would probably have John Grierson choking on his afternoon tea.

Did Canada's modern film industry really start in 1964 with Don Owen's Nobody Said Goodbye as has widely been established by cultural critics, or is there a secret film history that has remained hidden in the shadows of our national identity? A true Canuxploitation landmark, Have Figure Will Travel is one of the few films that dares to unbutton the stuffy, starched collars of Canadian culture to finally reveal the naked truth.

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