By Scott A. Cupp
This is the 154th in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films
Comedy is such a personal thing. Films some people, find to be hilarious, I find to be offensive, juvenile, or just not funny. I’m looking at you Adam Sandler! Nothing you have done is funny to me, so I make it easy on both of us and avoid your movies like the plague. Same goes for Ben Stiller, Kevin James, Seth Rogen, Melissa McCarthy and most of today’s “comedians.”
Now that I have gotten that out of the way, I want to recommend a very funny comedy. The President’s Analyst is certainly one of my favorite films. It is a product of its time and the rampant paranoia makes it seem like something Philip K. Dick might have done.
Dr. Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn) is a prominent New York psychiatrist. One of his patients is Don Masters (Godfrey Cambridge), a spy with the Central Enquiries Agency (the CEA). The opening scene of the film shows Don killing an Albanian spy while pushing a cart through the street of the garment district in broad daylight. Don drops off the cart with the dead body to some handlers so he can make his appointment with Dr. Schaefer. Don then tells Sidney how he feels about this action during his session and waits for the doctor’s reaction.
This turns out to be the final piece in the vetting of the good doctor to become the personal analyst for the president. He is told that everyone needs someone to talk to and he has been selected for the role.
Sidney and his girlfriend Nan (Joan Delaney in her first film role) are moved to Washington, DC, much to the disgust of Henry Lux (Walter Burke) the head of the Federal Bureau of Regulation (FBR), who has moral objections to the living arrangement.
Soon Sidney has more secrets in his head than is good for him. He can’t discuss them with anyone, and he becomes the target for various foreign powers. When it is discovered that he talks in his sleep, Nan is removed from the house. He can still see her, but he cannot go to sleep with her.
Then the fun really begins. Sidney starts to see spies and plots everywhere. Unfortunately for him, the spies and plots are real. He tries to escape by insinuating himself into the household of the Quantrills (a very young William Daniels and Joan Darling), a pair of gun-toting liberals. The Quantrills’ son wiretaps Sidney’s attempt to call the president for help and turns him over to the FBR, which naturally has orders to kill him.
Sidney escapes in the van of a rock band called Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (fronted by Barry “Eve of Destruction” McGuire and Jill Banner). Luckily, the doctor finds some peace and love here. While dallying with Snow White in a grassy field, we are shown how insane everything is with spies attempting to capture him killed by other spies who have the same intent. When Sidney and Snow leave, the field looks like a battle scene. Spies have been garroted, stabbed, shot, killed by poison dart and more. It is a marvelously surreal and funny scene.
Don, meanwhile, is teaming up with Kydor Kropotkin (the wonderful Severn Darden) to rescue Sidney. Kropotkin rescues Sidney from the Puddlians, rockers who work for the Canadian secret service. While fleeing with Sidney, Kropotkin finds himself undergoing analysis and liking it. Soon he is a patient.
I’m going to not reveal the ending, which deals with one of the most nefarious of all spy groups and features Pat Harrington in a great role. But Sidney, Don, Kropotkin, and Nan (who was also turns out to be a spy) have to try to save the world.
It a frantic, paranoid satire that is as relevant today as it was nearly 40 years ago. I’ve watched this film many times and given it to many friends. One way to judge how close our friendship will be is in seeing how they react. Those who don’t get it are never going to be close friends.
I love The President’s Analyst, and it’s pretty readily available if you need to see it. And, If you like those guys I singled out in the first paragraph, it’s likely you won’t like this one. As I said before, my taste is in my mouth. And I like it there.
Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.