The President’s Analyst (1967)

Country: United States
Directed by Theodore Flicker
James Coburn, Godfrey Cambridge, Severn Darden, Barry McGuire, Joan Delaney, Walter Burke, William Daniels
Music by Lalo Schifrin

The President’s Analyst is an unusual and amusing spy comedy. It managed the two card trick of not only tapping into the sixties spy boom (like Coburn’s Flint flicks), but it also added something else. Now what the something is, is very hard to describe. It’s almost indefinable, because there are so many ideas scattered throughout this film. There’s everything from ‘freedom of expression’, ‘home security’, ‘privacy’, ‘racism’ and reliable ‘utilities services’. And I am sure that there are quite a few more themes lurking in there somewhere. This heady mixture amounts to one trippy little film, but one that is still very American. The British were no strangers to presenting ‘psyched-out’ swinging spy films – movies like Otley, Sebastian and even The Beatles Help tapped into the growing subculture – but the Americans were a lot slower to embrace the idea. Sure there were quite a few American spy comedies, but most were straight laced comedies – if that makes sense?

Due to the scattershot approach this film takes, it is wildly uneven, but don’t let that deter you from tracking a copy down. This is one film that must be watched if you love sixties spy films. Now having said that, it’s not a film that everyone will enjoy, because it does lack focus – but I think it should be seen because it is a bookend to American spy films. This is so hard to put into words – regular readers will have read some of my reviews for Eurospy films. Generally I describe them as muddled, confused, trippy and a great deal of exuberant fun. I believe that The Presidents Analyst is the most Eurospy of the American spy films of the sixties. It is muddled, confused, trippy and a great deal of exuberant fun.

The film starts with a spy named Don Masters (Godfrey Cambridge) paying a visit to his psychiatrist, Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn). Masters is a CEA agent and he has a lot of issues. During this session he recalls a nightmare he had where he rams a knife into the heart of an Albanian double agent. Schaefer is almost shocked to here the brutality of Masters’ story, but then quickly realises that working as a spy and killing people is a great way to vent feelings of hostility. Masters goes on to reveal that he isn’t just a patient, but he had in fact been assigned to Schaefer, and the sessions between the two men were an evaluation process.

The President of the United States is over-worked, over-burdened ans over-tired and requires a new analyst. Schaefer has been selected to be that man. Initially he loves his responsibility and his role as the man The President turns to in times of stress. But as time goes by, Schaefer becomes a receptacle for all the President’s angst and bitter confusion.

Whenever the President needs Schaefer’s services, any time of the day or night, he summons him with a flashing red light. Schaefer is gradually worn down. Each time he leaves the Oval Office he looks more jaded. His eyes are red and his hair is mussed. He looks like he has gone fifteen rounds with a heavy weight boxer.

Schaefer begins to slowly unravel. He becomes agitated, snappy and aggressive. Soon he adds paranoia to the cocktail. Next he begins to see spies everywhere and they are all after him. Unable to take it any more, he decides to do a runner and escape with a tourist group who are being shown through the Whitehouse.

Now Schaefer’s paranoia is for real. The Chinese, Russians, Cubans, CEA and FBR are all after him because of the secrets that he has inside his head. He takes refuge in the tour bus of a hippy musical troupe.

In some ways this film is the antithesis of Coburn’s successful Flint films. Schaefer stars off smooth and in control, just like Flint, but then he begins to unwind and the nervous twitches and mannerisms kick in. The President’s Analyst is a very flawed film, but I am a big fan of James Coburn and have watched a large chunk of his cinematic legacy, and I would go out on a limb and say this is his best performance. It is even more remarkable when you consider the time that it is made and the films that Coburn chose to make around it. I know Coburn received an Oscar for best supporting actor for his work in Affliction, but that was really for services rendered to the industry over a long period of time. As an actor, this is his crowning glory – unfortunately due to the eneveness throughout the film, it was never recognised.

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