The President's Analyst (21-Dec-1967)
Director: Theodore J. Flicker
Writer: Theodore J. Flicker
Keywords: Comedy, POTUS, Cold War, Hippies
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Review by RPO (posted on 25-May-2009)
Let's face it, we live in a world of paranoia: paranoia about terrorism, paranoia about the economy, paranoia about big business, paranoia about our own government and who's really running the country. Movies about these paranoias are big box office right now, but perhaps the best movie ever made about paranoia in our everyday lives was made over forty years ago -- a little gem from 1967 called The President's Analyst.
James Coburn stars as Dr. Sydney Schaefer, one of Manhattan's finest psychoanalysts. One of his patients is a man named Don Masters (played by Godfrey Cambridge), who is an agent for the CEA. He feels a strange remorse that his job is killing people but he feels no guilt about it and fears he's psychotic. Having finally learned the truth about his patient's occupation, Schaefer exclaims: "It explains your utter lack of hostility. You can vent your aggressive feelings by actually killing people! It's a sensational solution to the hostility problem." As it turns out, Masters has been analyzing Schaefer for the CEA. It seems the President has so many pressures on him that he needs a relief valve, someone he can talk to who can be trusted. Cocket (the head of the CEA) thinks Schaefer is the right man for the job, but Lux (head of the FBR) has his reservations. Schaefer accepts the job, and spends the rest of the day taking one last look around Manhattan. (I know this movie is one of Ken's favorites, but now I'm going to tell you something that he may not even know.) He ends up at an all-night underground movie theatre, where he meets Nan Butler (played by Joan Delaney). There is an instant attraction as they talk, and she ends up going home with him where they make love the rest of the night. (All of this was cut from the movie at the last minute -- don't tell me I don't do my homework.) The next morning Schaefer decides he's in love with her, and insists that Nan be moved to Wasington with him or the deal is off.
It turns out that even with only one patient, being the President's analyst is no piece of cake. There is a red light that flashes every tme the President needs him, and Schaefer must go every time it goes off no matter what he's doing. (There's a scene in a restaurant where he's eating a bowl of soup and the red light comes flashing from the bowl.) The more he meets with the President, the more nervous he becomes because he's not allowed to tell anyone about the sessions. The FBR moves Nan out of Schaefer's house because he talks in his sleep, making her a security risk. Schaefer realizes his home is bugged, and his paranoia increases. Soon he thinks he is seeing spies everywhere, even when he's alone with Nan (who turns out to be a spy for the CEA). The paranoia gets to be too much, and Schaefer sneaks out of the White House with a tour group and convinces a family to take him home with them to New Jersey so they can be part of a presidential poll. The word leaks out that he has run away, and every government in the world sends their best agents to capture him so they can extract information from him. The FBR, on the other hand, send their best field agent Sullivan (played by Arte Johnson) to assassinate him. The chase is on, with Schaefer doing his best to remain annonymous while the whole world is trying to find him.
This film is an absolute delight to watch from beginning to end. James Coburn, who had two unsuccessful comedies in a row prior to this film, absolutely shines as the paranoid-driven psychiatrist ("If I was a psychiatrist, which I am, I would say that I was turning into some sort of paranoid personality, which I am!"). Godfrey Cambridge, looking slimmer than usual, is fun to watch as one of the only American agents who wants Schaefer captured alive ("If I don't resume my analysis pretty soon, I'm gonna flip out."). All of the field agents for the FBR dress exactly alike and are all exactly 4'11" tall. But the big surprise in this film is Severn Darden as KGB agent Kyodor Kropotkin, who countermands his orders to force Schaefer to defect to Russia after Schaefer convinces Kropotkin he hates his father (who is also his commanding officer). In a movie made in the very midst of the Cold War, it is Kropotkin who delivers the most prophetic line ("Logic is on our side: this isn't a case of a world struggle between two divergent ideologies, of different economic systems. Every day your country becomes more socialistic and mine becomes more capitalistic. Pretty soon we will meet in the middle and join hands.") But it is not the Russians who are the bad guys here. It's all much more sinister than that. The real threat to our country is -- ahhhh, but that would be telling.
This is a movie that belongs in the collection of any fan of conspiracy theory films. Besides being a brilliant satire of conspiracies, it is also a brilliant satire of American life in the late '60s. And in terms of its message -- well, it was decades ahead of its time. The message delivered in this film about American life and government applies as much to today as it did back when it was made. Find it, watch it -- you will enjoy it.
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