The President's Analyst (1967)
The young, strong James Coburn was at the absolute height of his own particular cool in The President's Analyst, a film that warrants second-breath mention behind The Graduate and even Dr. Strangelove as a monumental Sixties improvisational comedy.
Reviewed by Shawn Badgley, Fri., Jan. 24, 2003
THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST (1967)
D: Theodore J. Flicker; with James Coburn, Godfrey Cambridge, Severn Darden, Joan Delaney, Barry McGuire, Eduard Franz, Walter Burke, William Daniels.
Oh, Coburn. The cigar Indian with the shark teeth. The stud who could do the Duke or Jimmy Stewart, or sometimes both at once. Here, he adds a little Peter Sellers in what was by far the funniest role of his career, and one whose vehicle runs surprisingly well after all these years. Coburn's New York City therapist, Sydney Schaefer, is recruited by patient and secret agent Don Masters (Cambridge, in a quietly near-perfect performance) to serve as the president's personal psychiatrist. "The president's analyst," Schaefer later says to himself outside of the Whitney, the first stop on a farewell romp around the Big Apple (set to an unspeakably putrid-on-purpose Barry McGuire ballad). "Beautiful." The film: Yessir. The gig: No, sir, not by a long shot. What starts as an honor and a thrill -- a furnished Georgetown cottage with his lady, Nan (Delaney, almost as pretty as Marianne Faithful); a convertible; the dreams and fears and desires of the most powerful man in the world -- becomes a one-way ticket to his own insanity. This is where Flicker's satire, whipping through the ineptitude of the FBI and CIA to Canadian jealousy to the Summer of Love to The Phone Company's monopoly, earns its second-breath mention behind The Graduate and even Dr. Strangelove as a monumental Sixties improvisational comedy. The paranoia that swallows Schaefer up is best visualized by the red light that follows him everywhere he goes (along with the spies and assassins): When it flashes, it's the signal that the nameless, faceless chief needs him. By the time it's showing up in his soup, he's fatigued beyond reason, so fucked up that even Flicker's warped, explosively variegated sequences can't match up with Coburn's crazy eyes, tantrums, and big sick grins. It's a joy to behold, and when Schaefer tricks White House tourists the Quantrills (with the always sharp Daniels as dad) into taking him away from it all, The President's Analyst just falls apart and gets funnier, more inventive, riskier. Flicker could write dialogue and convey the American imagination better than most, so it's sad to note that the rest of his unremarkable career would be relegated to the small screen. This, however, is nowhere near as sad as watching a young, strong Coburn at the absolute height of his own particular cool and noting that he would soon be ravaged by rheumatoid arthritis only to suffer a fatal heart attack 35 years later.