Continuing my jaunt through the 1960s (first, with Easy Rider) I now had the opportunity to see another product of the times, as it were–the 1967 satirical comedy film The President’s Analyst. As its title suggests, the film concerns physchiatrist Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn, better known for his films In Like Flint and the like), who becomes the analyst to the President of these United States. Actually, the President doesn’t matter much in this film; we never see more of him than his office door. The whole plot resolves around Schaefer running away from his duties and joining some hippies, pursued by Russians, Chinese, and various world powers (even the Brits) who want his knowledge of the President for themselves. Also after him are the FBR, who want to kill him, and the CEA, who are apparently the good guys in this film. Strange, huh?
For a satirical comedy, the film often veers from long segments of overall seriousness to random jump cuts and non sequiturs. In fact, after watching the film I’m not sure what the reason was for making it. At the climax of the irratically paced film we learn that when all the world’s nations have failed to capture Schaefer, the telephone industry nabs him instead with their insidious plot to replace all that wiring with brain phones (I kid you not). Apparently the screenwriters had a grudge against the phone company, to the point they would turn them into megalomaniacal robots that Coburn and co. slaughter at the end of the film? If you’re looking for a semblance of a plot, it’s chucked out the window long before the film’s third act.
But for all its failures in the comedic department, it wouldn’t be fair to deny The President’s Analyst some respect for a good scene or two. Perhaps the best sequences come earlier, where Schaefer is escorted through a series of doors, long hallways, announced by blaring red sirens, to the president, and comes out with a gleeful expression on his face that can only be seen, not described. In fact, it was the touches (the doors open with the same swoosh sound effect as from vintage 60s Star Trek) that made the film fun to watch. That, and Coburn, who pretty much single-handedly carried the film through its silly twists and turns. When the good doctor slowly becomes paranoid, his reaction to being followed (combined with sharp editing and a three-note suspenseful musical motif) are simply entertaining.
Eventually, Schaefer gets out on the road, and while making love to a girl called “Snow White”, the various legions of international spies crawl through the tall grass towards their position, only to be killed in increasingly bizarre ways. The two lovers leave for the camp, leaving a Russian disguised as a farmer in the field, surrounded by beaten trails and dead bodies. It’s a hilarious shot, and a bit of a frozen encapsulation of the entire film: I’m not sure what I watched… but I liked it.
For a moment, I was tempted to brand this film ‘underhyped’, given its good critical reception but dismal original receipts. However, due to its serious issues in construction and pacing, as well as its plain silliness, I give The President’s Analyst the coveted …Huh? verdict instead.
Final read: A film best watched with friends. You know, fun kinds of friends.