The President's Analyst
The opening disclaimer that the F.B.I. and C.I.A. did not cooperate with filming gives a fair indication of how far against the status quo the storyline goes, with psychiatrist Sidney Schaefer (Coburn) recruited to serve as the new analyst for the loneliest man alive, the President of the United States. Everyone he meets, from black patient Don Masters (Godfrey Cambridge) to his new girlfriend, Nan (Joan Delaney), conceals a hidden allegiance, and the insanity of the new position (as well as his dangerous habit of talking in his sleep) provokes Schaefer to run for his life. Unfortunately the powers that be have other ideas, as the American secret governmental police, the Soviet Union, the Chinese, and even "The Phone Company" clash against each other to get information out of him first.
Despite drawing a large amount of critical praise for a comedy (even earning a four-star review from fledgling film reviewer Roger Ebert), The President's Analyst has remained more of a cult item than a widely recognized classic. Though the jabs at hippie culture and mod fashions still identify it as a late sixties release, the film is far more interesting as the precursor for the increasingly paranoid, anti-governmental films which flooded out of Hollywood in the following decade (e.g., The Parallax View  and All the President's Men ) in the wake of Watergate, Vietnam and other society-shaking debacles.
Of course, the film's relatively low profile may also be due to the ire it raised with the C.I.A. and the F.B.I., who were cited by name throughout the film. All references had to be relooped before the release, changing the agency named to the "F.B.R." and "C.E.A.," with the actors' lip movements clearly out of synch. That thin ruse didn't work, of course, and much to the displeasure of an increasingly alarmed government, everyone knew exactly what the film was talking about.
The anti-authoritarian attitude of The President's Analyst also had an odd effect on star Coburn, who had already demonstrated a taste for oddball projects thanks to his roles in The Loved One (1965) and What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966). After this he went on to a memorably bizarre turn as a sinister surgeon in 1968's Candy, but his most impressive work (apart from the film under discussion here) still lay ahead of him with a truly staggering run of classics in the 1970s: Sergio Leone's Duck, You Sucker (1971), Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), Richard Brooks' Bite the Bullet (1975), and Walter Hill's Hard Times (1975), to name but a few. Unfortunately the 1980s proved to be far less glorious, but he made a surprise comeback with his harrowing role as Nick Nolte's poisonous father in Paul Schrader's Affliction, for which he earned a 1999 Academy Award® for Best Supporting Actor.
Though The President's Analyst is packed with memorable supporting character actors, two in particular bear mentioning. One of the most interesting actors of the "blaxploitation" era, Godfrey Cambridge started out as a stage actor, earning a Tony Award nomination for his role in Purlie Victorious (a role he reprised in his feature debut for the atypical Hammer Films adaptation, Gone Are the Days!, 1963). He worked his way up as an actor doing comedic bits on television, but his most memorable work lay in films, especially the lead role as a white man who suddenly turns black in the 1970 cult comedy, Watermelon Man. He also appeared in such successful black action films as Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970) and Friday Foster (1975) before his untimely death in 1976 at the age of 43.
Cambridge's espionage opposite in the film, Russian agent V.I. Kydor Kropotkin, is played by another theater veteran, Severn Darden, one of the original and most influential members of Chicago's Second City. He went on to appear in practically every hit TV show in the 1970s and 1980s, occasionally switching over to the big screen for an odd supporting bit in films such as Mike Nichols' The Day of the Dolphin (1973). Though most viewers may not remember his name, his face is easily recognizable to anyone who has spent time watching their fair share of TV series reruns.
Primarily a television director, Theodore J. Flicker was surprisingly making his feature debut with this film after working on such TV shows as The Dick Van Dyke Show and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. However, he adapts to the demands of a complex, multi-layered satire surprisingly well and demonstrates an able command of the scope frame, though he never attempted so ambitious a project again. His subsequent features included the scattershot 1970 AIP campus comedy Up in the Cellar and the drive-in favorite Soggy Bottom, U.S.A. (1980), but his primary work was in television for most of his remaining career.
For a major studio film, The President's Analyst has had a particularly strange history since its tenure on the big screen. TV showings and some preview prints contained a much-discussed additional scene in which our hero meets Nan at a movie theater showing a hysterically pretentious underground movie (we only see their reactions but not the movie), but the scene was deemed illogical given the nature of Nan's true motives and dropped from most circulating prints; it has never resurfaced on any home video incarnation.
When the film arrived on VHS and laserdisc in the last century, it was also one of many films to run afoul of music rights issues (a problem which also befell a huge number of films in the AIP and Universal libraries), and while Lalo Schifrin's swinging score (sadly still unreleased in any audio format) remained intact, the important vocal work by protest singer Barry McGuire (a former New Christy Minstrels singer best known for "Eve of Destruction") was excised from the film, with most shots of McGuire cut out and replaced with generic music instead. Unfortunately this tampering destroys the hilarious sequence with multiple assassins closing in on a field as McGuire sings on camera, a memorable high point which plays like an even more absurd variation on the multi-spy kill-a-thon in A Shot in the Dark (1964) by way of "Spy Vs. Spy." (Bizarre trivia note: McGuire only appeared in one other feature role, as biker Scarf in 1971's drive-in oddity, Werewolves on Wheels!) Fortunately the dawn of DVD and new widescreen transfers for TV broadcast cleared up the music issue dilemma, and The President's Analyst was restored for new audiences to finally experience it in its full, utterly deranged glory.
Producer: Stanley Rubin
Director: Theodore J. Flicker
Screenplay: Theodore J. Flicker
Cinematography: William A. Fraker
Art Direction: Hal Pereira, Al Roelofs
Music: Paul Potash, Lalo Schifrin
Film Editing: Stuart H. Pappe
Cast: James Coburn (Dr. Sidney Schaefer), Godfrey Cambridge (Don Masters), Severn Darden (V.I. Kydor Kropotkin), Joan Delaney (Nan Butler), Pat Harrington (Arlington Hewes), Barry McGuire (Old Wrangler), Jill Banner (Snow White)
C-103m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Nathaniel Thompson