Friday, July 15, 2011

The President's Analyst

It's hard to know when you are ahead of your times. Just ask Theodore J. Flicker. 1967 seemed like a pretty good year for an extremely satirical film about the CIA, FBI,crazy gun culture, insane politics, race relations, and the entire concept of the Cold War as a half-bogus game.

But the movie The President's Analyst came and went with barely a whisper. Too bad. Though it is not one of the major cinematic high points of the 1960s, it is certainly one of the decade's funniest and strangely accurate reflections of the era. Besides, it also had the ironic ability to tick off J. Edgar Hoover which is a greater honor than any twenty Oscars.

 It's a pretty straight forward tale about a New York shrink (James Coburn) who is recruited by a government agent/hit man (Godfrey Cambridge) into becoming the personal analyst to the president. Along the way, Coburn has a nervous break down while fleeing from assassins sent after him by every nation on earth, goes on a hippie excursion through the Great Lakes region and finds himself getting a new patient courtesy of a KGB agent (Severn Darden) who discovers that he needs his doctor more than his country. He also has to keep one step ahead of the near midgets from the FBI who carries some of the biggest guns ever seen in the pre-Dirty Harry age.

Oh yeah, that was the part that especially ticked off J. Edgar. The bureau director in the movie is a diminutive and tightly wound borderline psycho who only hires agents who are shorter than himself and routinely issues orders in the name of the "as yet unborn." Hoover was not amused and placed the production under FBI surveillance.   

The President's Analyst plays like a Mad Magazine parody of the social turmoil of the late 1960s. The film also contains an incredibly good performance by Cambridge who remains one of the most under appreciated performers of the period. Cambridge had originally been a dramatic actor who turned to stand up comedy as his "day job" and is able to smoothly shift between farce and seriousness without ever batting an eye. Also on display in a brief role is the young William Daniels whose skill at theater of absurdity is in full force as a liberal who will put away his guns as soon as the conservatives surrender their weapons.

As a director, Flicker is occasionally clumsy with his transition cuts and the movie has a slightly uneven sense of pacing. But Flicker was, most likely, the only filmmaker around who could follow his own crazy logic. The result is brash, often hysterically accurate, and one of the few movies that can match the warped humor of something like Dr. Strangelove.

Besides, this flick is also the definitive cinematic statement about the phone company. In some ways, the ending is more accurate now than it was then.

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