Monday, February 4, 2008

The President's Analyst

(1967) Written and Directed by Theodore J. Flicker Starring James Coburn, Godfrey Cambridge, Severn Dardeen, Joan Delaney, Pat Harrington

I've always had a taste of satire, and The President's Analyst is a gem of a satire of the 1960s. In general, satires on the era were made years afterwards, when some perspective can be developed as to the issues of the time. This is one of the few satires that was made during the era it satirized, and is a funny movie, to boot.

Dr. Sidney Shaeffer (James Coburn) is hired to be the psychiatrist to the president (who isn't seen, but clearly has similarities with Lyndon Johnson). And the president is willing to tell him everything.

The problem is that when you know everything the president is thinking, you become a target for people who want to know what you know. Shaeffer is soon trailed by the Soviet agent Kropotkin (Severn Dardeen) and gets the CEA (not a typo) involved in protecting him, with agent Don Masters (Godfrey Cambridge) involved in the security. And there's a third force, TPC, who also has sinister plans for Shaeffer.

Shaeffer is on the run, spending time with hippies and generally trying to go back to a normal life when TPC captures him, and the two agents have to effect his rescue.

The film's actors really make it a treat. Coburn plays Schaeffer with a kind of gravelly charm, but the real gems are Cambridge and Dardeen as the agents. I've loved watching Godfrey Cambridge. Cambridge was a fine standup comedian who turned to acting, and always tried to be cast in roles that white actors could play (carrying it so far that he played the son of the very Jewish Molly Picon in the Broadway flop, How to Be a Jewish Mother. Suspension of disbelief could only go so far.).

Dardeen is also superb at the Russian agent who's become a little too westernized. One of his lines always stuck with me, and turned out to be a little bit prophetic:

Logic is on our side: this isn't a case of a world struggle between two divergent ideologies, of different economic systems. Every day your country becomes more socialistic and mine becomes more capitalistic. Pretty soon we will meet in the middle and join hands.

Pat Harrington also is great as the somewhat odd head of TPC (which everyone hates).

The film did fairly well. Coburn was at the height of his box office fame, which helped. Flicker was never able to do something similar, and returned to TV, where he created Barney Miller. Cambridge did some sterling work in Cotton Comes to Harlem and othe films before dying prematurely of a heart attack. Dardeen worked regularly in TV and film, but rarely got an important part.

The movie was ahead in its time in seeing the Cold War as something as silly as it seems today. Even TPC isn't around any more (in the same way). But it's a delight of a comedy that needs to be more widely known.

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