Judge Paul Corupe is quite thankful that the 1960s finally ended.
"Listen, if I were an analyst—which I am—I would say I was rapidly turning into a paranoid personality—which I am."—Dr. Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn)
James Coburn came into his own as a popular leading man with Our Man Flint and In Like Flint, two of the more popular spy spoofs from the mid-1960s. In the face of madcap world takeover plots and kidnapped presidents, unflappable ladies' man Derek Flint always rose above the insanity that surrounded him. As a send-up of James Bond, Coburn's portrayal of Flint was almost perversely levelheaded: the ultimate straight man for a world gone insane.
Cult favorite The President's Analyst tries to telegraph the same kind of deadpan character that Coburn brought to life in the Flint films to a manic cold war satire in the vein of Dr Strangelove. But as opposed to Kubrick's classic, the results here are violently uneven, making for a film which is often just as focused as it is oblique, and as hilarious as it can be dreary.
Facts of the Case
Brilliant New York psychiatrist Dr. Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn, Fistful of Dynamite) is understandably excited when he learns his services are in need at the White House. With his live-in girlfriend Nan (Joan Delaney, Don't Drink the Water), Schaefer moves to the capital under the auspices of "CEA" spy Don Masters (Godfrey Cambridge, Cotton Comes to Harlem) and cranky "FBR" head Henry Lux (Walter Burke, Support Your Local Sheriff!). The job proves more than Schaefer can handle though; he's constantly on call, tailed by enemy spies, and unable to confide in anyone about the classified therapy sessions.
To escape this torment, Schaefer slips in with a White House tour group, and convinces a family of sightseers to give him flight to New Jersey. With a host of foreign powers after him, Schaefer resists kidnapping and assassination attempts by donning a wig and joining a hippie rock band. Soon, the race comes down to just Don Masters, a Russian spy named Kropotkin (Severn Darden, They Shoot Horses, Don't They), and a third, even more sinister party.
The President's Analyst is the sole notable film directed by Theodore J. Flicker (Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang). Primarily known for his work on TV, Flicker was handling spy material on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. when he began penning and directing his own films—outlandish 1960s espionage spoofs like The Troublemaker, which was co-written by Buck Henry. His script for The President's Analyst is definitely a step up from his earlier work—the film is witty and daring, even provoking government agencies to demand that Flicker alter the names of the organizations in his film to the less literal (but still obvious) "FBR" and "CEA."
Occasional comic misfires and a strange musical montage of Schaefer touring New York tourist attractions can't detract from the solid first half of the film. Strongly written and wonderfully satiric, Dr. Schaefer's appointment as the President's analyst and his inability to deal with the pressure that comes with the position is the clear high point of the story. But once Sidney makes his escape and finds himself the target of nefarious world powers, the film meanders and becomes a victim to its own increasingly madcap sensibilities. Dr. Schaefer's brief stint with the psychedelic rock band (as the gong player, no less) is confusing and pointless. It seems only to exist to allow Flicker to tack on a new love interest and incorporate an indulgent and oh-so-1960s LSD orgy scene with token "mind-bending" cinematography. During this cumbersome hippie stopover, the film barely resembles the entertaining farce on modern life it began as.
Still, when The President's Analyst is funny, it's absolutely inspired. A brilliant parody of animated 1960s corporate filmstrips can be seen at one point, and William Daniels (The Graduate) steals the entire show as the head of a gun-toting "liberal, but not left wing" suburban family devoted to karate, civil rights, and "total sound" home stereos. Compare these hilariously understated moments with self-conscious gags such as a placing Schaefer's Presidential on-call alarm in the bottom of his soup bowl, and you can see how the film often goes too far over the top. A scene in which spies from all over the world repeatedly attempt to assassinate an oblivious Schaefer—but only succeed in killing each other—probably would have worked in a Pink Panther movie, but it certainly doesn't here.
Also working against the film is the fact that much of the humor in The President's Analyst simply doesn't translate well today. A joke about the potential danger of Libya now seems more prophetic than humorous, as is the apparently ludicrous suggestion that there are "Canadian spies." Many of the subtler jokes will be lost on modern audiences simply because the references have now become too obscure. I'm sure that not too many people today would understand why all the FBR agents are played by actors under five feet tall, so instead of being funny, it just comes off as another example of Flicker's surreal sensibility.
James Coburn is a delight as Renaissance man Sidney Schaefer. Although usually lost when the film plays up occasional slapstick antics, Coburn's wry portrayal of the confident, self-made man breaking down into a neurosis-laden fugitive hiding under a bad Beatle wig is just an example of ideal casting. Although being a straight man tends to limit Coburn's comedic output in his campy '60s films, I think it's safe to say that what Inspector Clouseau is to Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, Derek Flint is to Dr. Schaefer, albeit on a slightly lesser level.
The President's Analyst is a film that makes full use of the large widescreen canvas, and certainly benefits from a Paramount's solid anamorphic presentation. Detail is good, brought out with bright colors and deep blacks. Some deep focus shots weren't as sharp as I would have liked, but contrast is good and only slight grain is detectable. The Dolby Digital mono sound is a no-frills track, but both the dialogue and Lalo Schifrin's score, certainly one his strangest, are clearly rendered. No extras are included on this release, which will probably be a disappointment for the film's many fans. However, one nice surprise is the reinsertion of a musical performance by New Christy Minstrel Barry McGuire who plays Old Wrangler, one of the hippies. This scene was omitted from earlier releases and TV prints of The President's Analyst due to copyright issues.
No doubt the screwball plot of the The President's Analyst made for a better screenplay than a film, as the bizarre jokes and divergent plotlines seem funnier in concept than in actual practice. Despite some truly brilliant moments in this sporadically entertaining film, Coburn's Flint movies are generally more consistent and work better as zany satires of cold war politics.
If I were a DVD judge—which I am—I would say that this film is suffering from split personalities—which it is. The President's Analyst is to be released to the state mental hospital pending further observation.
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