The President’s Analyst: Spoofing Spies, Hippies and the Phone Company

The President's Analyst: (1967) Starring James CoburnNOTE: The following article is MovieFanFare’s contribution to the out-of-sight 1967 in Film Blogathon co-hosted by The Rosebud Cinema and Silver Screenings. You can find the complete–and oh, so groovy–list of participating bloggers here.

One of the most absorbing and darkly humorous films of the 1960s, The President’s Analyst is a gonzo 1967 satire that tackles a wide variety of subjects ranging from International politics to racism, from gun control to undercover intelligence, and from the free love movement to the phone company. The phone company? More on that later.

James Coburn is the title character, a successful New York psychiatrist named Sidney Schaefer who is invited by patient Don Masters (Godfrey Cambridge) to work as the personal shrink to the president of the United States. Masters is, in fact. a government agent who has been Investigating Schaefer between psychiatry sessions {which encompass some disturbing, racially oriented dreams), particularly looking Into his work assassinating Albanian agents in the garment district of Manhattan.

Coburn takes the gig and moves to a nifty government-appointed home in Georgetown, the trendy D.C. neighborhood, where he is joined by his commitment-weary girlfriend Nan (Joan Delaney). The President's AnalystAt first, Schaefer seems happy with the situation, serving as a soundlng board for the most powerful man in the tree world. But because of his erratic schedule, the president can have no set appointments, leaving Schaefer on call at all times. Soon after their first session, Schaefer gets another call…and another…and another. The commander-in-chief needs lots of psychiatric attention and Schaefer grows frustrated with the frequency and timing of the calls. Sensing his irritability, two federal agents decide that the secrets being told to Schaefer are so delicate that Nan must move into a hotel rather than risk hearing classified information if Schaefer talks in his sleep.

Dr. Schaefer begins having delusions, and soon nightmares and paranoia set In. He believes enemy agents. Nan among them, are after him and that he’s constantly being watched and bugged. As quitting the job is out of the question, he seeks advice from his own analyst and mentor {Will Geer), but the doctor is nowhere to be found.

The President’s Analyst Is a fairly straightforward satire until Schaefer begins to wig out. Watching the ultra-cool Coburn become unhinged is downright unsettling. As the character slides Into a state of distrust and loses control of his tightly controlled life. The film seems to be losing control as well: It becomes more episodic and more absurd but also more daring: the line between what Schaefer is Imagining and what Is really happening to him becomes blurred. The film tackles an abundance of subjects, and writer/director Theodore Flicker, a veteran TV director who would later work regularly on Barney Miller, lines up his targets and blows them away in rapid succession with gusto.

James Coburn in The President's Analyst (1967)Consider: Schaefer goes AWOL from the White House, joining a family of tourists on a trip back home to Seaside Heights, New Jersey. But this self -professed liberal family–a gun-toting dad (played by William Daniels of  The Graduate and “St. Elsewhere” fame), a karate-obsessed mother (Joan Darling), and a teenage son whose hobbies include wiretapping–are not textbook “leftists” by any stretch of the Imagination. In these sequences, the film dissects the values of middle-class suburbia and liberalism and shows that, well, they are not so middle class or liberal.

While seeking shelter from hit men in New York’s Chinatown, Schaefer holes up in an RV populated by a druggie rock group and their groupies. Free love and the flower power movement are given a good satirical thumping here, with Coburn (who, ironically. was an early LSD experimenter} looking hilariously out of place, donning a Beatles-style moptop wig while hiding out with the hippies. The number of spies and assassins out to either kill or kidnap Schaefer grows larger as the film goes on. In one of The President’s Analyst’s most memorable sequences, Schaefer makes love to Snow White (Jill Banner), a fetching hippie chick, in a field or flowers. At the same time, he’s being spied on by several assassins, each unaware of the others, whose various weapons are eventually used not on Schaefer but on each other. The sequence’s punchline is a real kicker, a hilarious but sobering commentary on the futility of espionage and attempts to protect U.S. citizens from “forces of evil. “

The Russian agent Kropotkln (Severn Darden), who attempts to convince Schaefer to defect after failing to kill him in this scene, is downright sympathetic, eventually confessing some deep-rooted problems to his analyst. In 1967, with the Cold War still raging, this is pretty daring stuff, showing a human side to our enemy behind the Iron Curtain. Just say “nyet” to such caricatures here!

The ultimate put-down, however, is saved for the “Phone Company,” a thinly disguised Bell Telephone, portrayed here as a universally hated, corrupt operation. Run in a secret lair by a robotic man in a three-piece suit (Pat Harrington, Jr., AKA Schneider of One Day at a Time), the Phone Company uses blackmail and bugging as standard operating procedure.

It’s no wonder The President’s Analyst has been causing trouble since Paramount first released it, about the same time as The Graduate hit theaters, in 1967. For example, the FBI and CIA were reportedly steamed over being portrayed as murderous AND incompetent. So they used pressure to have Paramount change their acronyms film changed to FBR and CEA. Meanwhile, any mention of them in the film’s dialogue appears to have been dubbed over. The funny takeoff on J. Edgar Hoover–portrayed here as a cranky, megalomaniacal little man who sits in a big chair giving out orders–certainly didn’t help relations with the Feds either. The powers-that-were forced the studio to change dialogue or the soundtrack and alter a scene or two.

Will we ever see the complete. unexpurgated version of The President’s Analyst again? If not, we can only draw one conclusion: It’s a conspiracy!

  • Larry C

    I loved this movie. I remember seeing it when it was first released. Godfrey Cambridge was absolutely terrific and died way too young. The mid 60’s was a great time for quietly subversive movies. And, this film has aged well. It is still as much fun to watch today as it was when it came out. And, the revelations about NSA/government spying make it just as relevant today.

    • movieirv

      great point about the relevance. the film holds up incredibly well. and it continues to surprise–you think it’s siding with the counter-culture, then it turns around and satirizes it. I think this is one of Coburn’s best performances, too.

      • Larry C

        I didn’t mean to slight Coburn. He really had an excellent decade in the 60’s. He even co-starred in another marvelously subversive film; ‘The Americanization of Emily’. I think Coburn played so many bad guys on TV that we were surprised by his deadpan comedic personality. You should do a column on ‘subversive’ films of the 60’s. Don’t forget ‘The Russians Are Coming…’

        • rogerscorpion

          I LOVED ‘Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round’. A consummate caper film–with a twist ending. My fave Coburn starrer.

    • rogerscorpion

      This is a great film. Now that I’m older—I seriously get the humor—like ‘Get Smart!’.

  • Pingback: The 1967 in Film Blogathon: Day #1 | The Rosebud Cinema

  • Patricia (Caftan Woman)

    Okay. Darned old blogathons anyway. I keep finding movies that I haven’t seen yet, but really should. I’ll have to pencil it in for sometime in December!

  • Jenni

    I wrote about another 67 film starring Coburn, In Like Flint. He was a busy guy that year and I am assuming he did the Flint movie to ease up from being the President’s Analyst!

    • movieirv

      jim was THE man for much of the 1960s: very prolific, always taking challenging roles (unless he wanted to just hang around with hot chicks like the flint movies), he was a renaissance type guy. http://www.moviefanfare.com/james-coburn/

  • The Rosebud Cinema

    This sounds really interesting, I’ll definitely check it out now that I’ve read this. Nice write-up and thanks for taking part in the blogathon!

  • Emperor Nero

    On my top ten list of intelligent movies of all time. Its one of those movies you can watch several times and see something you didn’t catch before. Coburn was an excellent choice for the lead. Glad this one got a little attention. Anyone who has not seen this movie yet will enjoy it a lot and see a lot of relevance to issues of today.

  • J.p. Van Gordon

    I think the agencies involved in bowdlerizing TPA are fooling themselves if they think the kind of people who would watch the film aren’t going to “get it.” The message is still clear and it is definitely one of the best “protest” films of the era. See “In Like Flint,” and the other one for more inside humour about covert agencies… Even “Head” with the Monkeys had its moments… I’ll never forget Davy Jones seeing the “eye” in the bathroom mirror…

  • jd

    The frightening thing is today people would be clamoring for the the phone company’s C.C.