Sunday, 7 March 2021

The President’s Analyst (1967)

The President’s Analyst is a delightfully oddball 1967 spy spoof/satirical comedy. And what is it satirising? The answer is, pretty much everything. It’s also a vehicle for the slightly off-kilter talents of star James Coburn.

Dr Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn) is a psychoanalyst and a very successful one. He receives an offer he can’t refuse (although as it turns out he should have refused it). He is offered the position of analyst to the President.

Now of course if you’re the President’s analyst you’re going to have to be cleared by the intelligence agencies - the CEA (obviously meant to be the CIA) and the FBR (obviously the FBI). When you start dealing with the spooks you’re dealing with a world of paranoia and you can become a little paranoid yourself. Sidney becomes very paranoid indeed. He thinks there are spies everywhere and that they’re out to get him. The joke is, there really are spies everywhere and they really are out to get him. The American intelligence agencies are out to get him. So are the KGB. And the Chinese. And the British. And the intelligence agencies of several African countries. Even the Canadians are out to get him.

Sidney’s problem is that everybody has an analyst, except him. Every psychoanalyst has his own analyst (that was more or less the rule). But because of national security concerns Sidney isn’t allowed to have an analyst. So he has nobody with whom he can discuss his own problems and his ever-growing paranoia.

He can’t talk to his girlfriend Nan (Delaney), because he’s not allowed to sleep with her because of national security concerns (and because he talks in his sleep). He can talk to her on the telephone but the ’phone is probably tapped. His office is bugged. His home is bugged. His car is bugged. If he goes to a restaurant it’s bugged. Everywhere is bugged.

Sidney runs away from the craziness. He wants to just calm down and be among normal people. But everywhere he runs to he finds more craziness. The weird people who look crazy really are crazy, but the normal people who don’t look crazy are crazy as well. And it doesn’t matter where he goes, it will be bugged. And wherever he goes, there are going to be spies after him.

We also discover that spies need to talk their problems through as well. They need analysts to deal with the craziness of the world of espionage.

James Coburn was always at his best playing offbeat characters in offbeat films, especially offbeat comedies (such as the wonderful spy spoof Our Man Flint). As you’d expect he shines in this movie. Sidney Schaefer is a weird hyper-confident hyper-active sort of guy but he’s really just trying to make sense of a world in which nothing makes sense. He doesn’t want to do any harm to anybody. He just wants to be a psychoanalyst and marry his girlfriend Nan.

Writer-director Theodore J. Flicker had an interesting career, enjoying his biggest successes in television. He was probably just too offbeat to become a really big success in Hollywood and even though everyone in Hollywood was trying to make zany movies in 1967 The President’s Analyst was just too strange and unclassifiable for both audiences and most critics.

You might expect a 1967 spy spoof/satirical comedy to appear very dated today but oddly enough this film isn’t dated at all. That’s because it’s satirising everything. It isn’t satirising liberals or conservatives, it’s satirising everyone who has a political agenda. It aims its barbs at normal straight people and at hippies. It’s not sending up the FBI or the KGB, it’s sending up the whole paranoid world of spies.

That might have been its problem in 1967. It doesn’t seem to have any political agenda other than mocking people who are obsessed with political agendas, and it doesn’t aim its barbs at the Americans or the Russians or the Chinese, it aims those barbs at everybody. It’s satirising the whole paranoid mindset.

What this means is that the satire is just as effective (and relevant) today as it was in 1967. We still have politics and we still have spies. We still have craziness.

Paramount’s Region 1 DVD (which is still in print) offers a very good anamorphic transfer.

This is a very clever very funny movie. The satire is merciless but because it’s directed so widely it’s rather good-natured. Everybody is crazy in this movie. It’s one of the more interesting and effective 60s spy spoofs. It’s zany without being merely silly. The revelation at the end, that there’s an organisation more sinister and more terrifying than any spy agency, works perfectly.

There are so many good moments in this film - the spies stalking each other as Sidney canoodles with a hippie girl, the nice-guy KGB agent with both mommy and daddy issues, the hijacked telephone booth, the nice ordinary suburban couple who are deadly killing machines. And there are surprisingly few false notes. The jokes come thick and fast and they’re consistently funny.

This is a very underrated movie. The President’s Analyst is very highly recommended.


Tbone Mankini said...

First caught this on American TV,maybe SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES, who obviously thought it was the 3rd Derek Flint film i.e. Bond knock off, tho to be fair, the Flint films were probably the best of that bunch....this one was SOOO bizarre and funny and weird, it stuck in my head and made it a return viewing nearly every time it was broadcast... much later, I found the VHS and DVD versions had replaced the Barry McGuire songs, due to rights issues I think.... hopefully that will get sorted someday...

dfordoom said...

Tbone Mankini said...
"the Flint films were probably the best of that bunch"

Yes, I'd go along with that. It was a golden period for James Coburn.