Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Perhaps the best all-round political satire of the '60s, The President's Analyst soared over
audience heads in 1967 - and probably still does. The talented Theodore J. Flicker did this studio
picture and the independent The Troublemaker using a lot of unaligned, hip theater talent.
Perfectly judged and timed, what might have been a collection of stand-up routines coheres into a
quasi spy spoof that turns out to be uncannily prescient on several scores. It's fall-down funny
and makes good points about spies, hippies, high technology and government intrusions
into our privacy.
After his star breakthrough as
Our Man Flint, James Coburn
threw himself into some interesting offbeat projects with varying degrees of success. The
President's Analyst shows an intelligent star letting a brilliant writer-director take a
good idea and run with it.
Dr. Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn) gets the nod to serve as LBJ's analyst but
finds the job impossible because he cannot unburden his psyche after absorbing the President's
daily problems. Ethan Allen Crocket of the CEA (Eduard Franz) and his professional associate
Dr Lee-Evans (Will Geer) try to help Sidney but the diminuitive head of the FBR Henry Lux (Walter
Burke) disapproves of Sidney's living with his girlfriend Nan Butler (Joan Delaney). Eventually
Sidney becomes paranoid enough to go on the run, hiding out with the Quantrills (William Daniels,
Joan Darling), an "average American family" who prove to be gun-toting wackos in a polarized political
climate. Real spies from all over the world indeed try to kidnap Stanley while the midget agents
from the FBR have orders to kill him as a security risk! Luckily, Sidney has two loyal allies, CEA
hit man Don Masters (Godfrey Cambridge) and Russian superspy V.I. Kydor Kropotkin (Severn Darden).
Skit comedies based on talent gathered from theatrical comedy groups had a pretty spotty record in
the '60s. Philip Kaufman's Fearless Frank comes to mind. It put this film's Severn Darden and
Joan Darling with Jon Voight in a comic strip plot about gangsters and a super-cyborg but was
an underfunded, unfocused mess that rarely found time to be funny. In The President's Analyst
the stand-up skits are sublimated into a terrific story that moves like a house afire. We no sooner
are introduced to a parodic vision of Washington's competing security agencies than we move on
to White House jokes and a devastating lampoon of trends in suburbia. The script always jumps to
the next level before ideas become stale and actually finds something profound to say in its wild
Science Fiction ending.
Coburn got to flex a bit of his own personality here, playing a gong-ringing good-guy shrink and
amiable straight man to a cast of crazies. This is Godfrey Cambridge's best role; he starts with a
sympathetic soliloquoy about racism in his childhood and has us in his pocket from then on. He's best
pals with his opposite number, Severn Darden's garrulous, friendly KGB top spy who turns out to be
sincerely in need of Dr. Schaefer's psychoanalysis.
Everybody has room to shine in the film's fresh sketch material. Joan Delaney comes on
like a submissive love object and then balks at the perceived constrictions of marriage. Barry
McGuire's hippie guru impersonation is priceless, as is Jill Banner's love child. Best of all are
William Daniels and Joan Darling as the pistol-packing, karate-chopping "good" liberals proud to
be called typically American while they suggest that gassing would be too good for their "fascist"
neighbors. Their son bugs Sidney's phone calls and alerts the FBR; when the first spies attack,
Sidney escapes because the Quantrills retaliate as a coordinated killing team.
The President's Analyst knows no boundaries when it suggests that Americans might be spied
upon by their own government. Sometimes we wonder if Flicker had the use of a crystal ball. Sidney
has a zinger line saying that the sanctity of a psychiatrist's office is sacred, which always gets a
gasp because of the Daniel Ellsberg/Pentagon Papers break-in that happened a couple of years later.
is presented as a liberated Ivy league think-tank with women sitting on the floor and men smoking
pipes, but the FBR is a terror organization run by a zealot midget who only hires agents shorter
than he. Like Edgar J. Hoover, he has messengers entering his office trace a certain pattern on the
rug to approach his desk. FBR agent Arte Johnson snaps out that he's just following orders in perfect
Joe Friday cadence, while his "squire" assistant advises young Bing Quantrill not to use ethnic slurs. 1
Spies chase spies as if Antonio Prohias were in charge; in a great scene an international
cross section of killers wipe each other out trying to get to Sidney first, as he and his hippie
girlfriend are getting acquainted in a field. 2
Just when we wonder if the show is running out of steam, Flicker pulls out his science-fiction trump
card, a Visit with Mr. Lincoln - like robot (Pat Harrington). It condescendingly explains
to Dr. Schaefer why it's imperative he help The Phone Company influence the President in a scheme to
implant communication devices into every newborn child and depersonalize them with numbers instead
of names. Not only does this perfectly skewer the corporate-serving Epcot mentality seen in the
Tomorrowland disc, it connects
The President's Analyst with concepts as varied as Forbidden Planet, cell phones and
the Internet. Have you never wondered if cell phones could be implanted in our bodies, like
The Outer Limits' Demon with a Glass Hand?
Flicker sagely sees Cold War rivalries as easily resolved, and reserves for his primary villain a
vast corporation set on "improving" life by insinuating itself deep into our lives - in this case,
invading our bodies and making biological alterations. 3
The key moment in The President's Analyst is when Severn Darden offers Sidney an M16 to
hold off The Phone Company's private army. Pacifist Sidney at first refuses until Darden
insists: "You wanna change the world? Take the gun!" This one-off joke is pretty scary as
it acknowledges that even here in America, effecting social change is a frustrating process that
takes decades and makes do-gooder liberals look ineffective. The opposition is more likely to use
force as a first option. As it is, non-violent Sidney is quickly seduced by his machine gun and
becomes an instant Che Guevara.
Theodore Flicker's funny-but-chilling conclusion is great Science Fiction; in an It's a Wonderful
Life setting of celebration and harmony, more Phone Company automatons are sharing our joy on
their spy screens, shedding sincere robot tears for our Yuletide happiness. There hasn't been a
better satirical image on film of the Brave New World of the future.
The IMDB tells us that one White House tourist is none other than Universal Scream queen Kathleen Hughes
(It Came from Outer Space), and that
a waitress at the LSD party is Dyanne Thorne, several years before her notoriety as Ilsa, She-Wolf of
Paramount's DVD of The President's Analyst is a stunner with great color and clear audio.
The enhanced widescreen images make sense of compositions sliced up in flat TV presentations and
even the tacky LSD wig-out and Sidney's spy-crazy nightmare come off as visually inventive. Bill
Fraker's excellent images switch between New York normalcy and spy paranoia without a stumble.
As is typical with this studio, there's not even a trailer on board, and the package text trivializes
the content of the film by trying to make it sound like a simple comedy thriller. One reason The
President's Analyst does so well is that even in the wildest skits, everyone plays straight
without trying to milk laughs from the camera. Contemporary critics commented on some of the wild
content but I think The President's Analyst went over a lot of heads. Even the Playboy
critic used one of his two paragraphs to make a big point about the lack of realism in Dr. Sidney's
"stroll" around New York, that takes him from Central Park to the top of the Statue of Liberty. Well,
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The President's Analyst rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 3, 2004
1. A not-so secret fact is
that the FBR and CEA were originally identified by their real names; apparently pressure was brought
to rename them after the film was shot. Thus every line where FBR or CIA is spoken has been redubbed,
often very audibly. If you watch actors' lips, they're really saying FBI and CIA. Interesting that
movies can mock the Army, the Navy, Congress and even the President (if it's in certain interests)
but our secret police systems can enforce a ban on spoofery.
2. This is backed by a Barry McGuire song (a hilarious, good one) that
was replaced in some TV versions of the film. It's intact here.
3. My son Daniel pointed out what might be an early hint of The Phone Company's
omniscience - during the NYC shootout and spy chase, one agent finds himself trapped and unable to
escape .... from a phone booth.
4. A note from David Small, 6/5/04: Glenn, I am thrilled
to hear that The President's Analyst is finally on DVD. My father was a psychologist
and the film was a great favorite of ours. I grew up in Greenwich Village where some of the
film was shot ("Please, no Russian - I'm spying!") Also, the film simultaneously appealed
to and challenged our liberal biases. It was great!
An interesting footnote: The one time I saw it on commercial television, it
had a deleted scene in which Coburn's character meets Nan Butler for the
first time. They're sitting side by side at the screening of an
artsy-fartsy underground film (the kind of screening where I spent much of
my wayward youth.) Coburn finds it hilarious and can't help laughing, to
the fury of the self-important audience around him. It's a
funny but ultimately confusing scene because it gives the impression that
Coburn's meeting the girl is random, and that Coburn pursues her rather
than the other way around. Since we later learn that she is a CEA agent
assigned to keep an eye on him, it doesn't make sense. It's obvious why it
was cut for the theatrical version, and I can only assume it was re-inserted
for television in order fill out the proper time. Cheers, David
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson