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DVD SAVANT

The President's Analyst


The President's Analyst
Paramount Home Entertainment
1967 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 103 min. / Street Date June 8, 2004 / 14.99
Starring James Coburn, Godfrey Cambridge, Severn Darden, Joan Delaney, Pat Harrington, Barry McGuire, Jill Banner, Eduard Franz, Walter Burke, Will Geer, William Daniels, Joan Darling, Sheldon Collins, Arte Johnson
Cinematography William A. Fraker
Production Designer Pato Guzman
Art Direction Hal Pereira, Al Roelofs
Film Editor Stuart H. Pappé
Original Music Paul Potash, Lalo Schifrin
Produced by Howard W. Koch, Stanley Rubin
Written and Directed by Theodore J. Flicker

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.

Synopsis:

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. The CEA 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 Disney 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 the S.S..


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, duh.  4


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The President's Analyst rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 3, 2004


Footnotes:

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.
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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.
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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.
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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

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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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