You may leave here for four days in space, but when you return it’s the same old place
The President’s Analyst survives as one of Coburn’s absolute gems, and a precious artifact of the post-modern age. Written and directed by the woefully overlooked Theodore J. Flicker (one of the instigators of television’s Barney Miller), the scenario transports the young, progressive psychiatrist Sidney Schaeffer (Coburn) from his private Manhattan practice to the White House of L.B.J. Initially astonished by his good fortune, Sidney quickly burns out from being on call twenty-four-seven. Paranoia creeps in once he begins to recognize on the street all the undercover spies the President’s been confiding to him about. And those spies want Sidney, because he knows the President’s secrets.
It didn’t make much of an impression upon release, and at first glance The President’s Analyst appears as yet another of the countless politically motivated comedies of the day. But Flicker’s sharp dialogue hasn’t lost its edge, and his post-dubbing of ‘FBR’ and ‘CEA’ over any mention of the FBI or CIA is an ingenious afterthought that’s still laughably misconstrued by overzealous conspiracy nuts as an actual textbook case of government interference. Thus, the film not only satirizes its obvious targets and sacred cows, but the simple-minded idealism of its leftwing radical supporters to boot.
With an eclectic cast that includes Severn Darden (“No Russian, please, I’m spyin’”), Godfrey Cambridge (quite haunting during the “Here Comes the Nigger” passage), Joan Delaney, Pat Harrington, Will Geer, William Daniels (“Total sound!”) and Walter Burke, Flicker added folk singer Barry McGuire as a hippie bandleader. Essentially a one-hit wonder thanks to the chart-topping “Eve of Destruction,” McGuire was a gravel-voiced, would-be Dylan who’d fallen from the public eye before The President’s Analyst went into production. His presence in the film is generally marginal, except for the beautifully crafted scene of spies killing one another to his song, “Inner Manipulations.”
That song has been missing from the film for years, and only recently reappeared on Paramount’s DVD edition. When they issued it on VHS nearly twenty years ago, Paramount had to remove “Inner Manipulations” because of copyright issues. Which leads to the subject of the different edits of The President’s Analyst: there’s the original theatrical version; an early-70’s version for network television that includes scenes that were not in the theatrical release; an entirely different edit for cable-TV in the 80’s; and the VHS edition. Since we don’t have all of them on hand to investigate, we’re assuming the DVD edition is the same as the original theatrical version as both share equal running times.
My fondest memory of The President’s Analyst is the time I saw it as part of a paranoia double-bill with Francis Coppola’s The Conversation. It was toward the end of winter in 1975, at Manhattan’s Elgin Theatre. I’d spent the earlier part of the day hawking my fanzine, Magic Theater, door-to-door in the downtown’s countless bookstores and comic shops. I sat through The Conversation first and saved Flicker’s film to relish last. Other than a good capsule review published in the magazine Castle of Frankenstein (which included a photo from one of those scenes that were not in the theatrical print), The President’s Analyst was still floating below media radar, a true cult item. And I can still recall that vivid 60’s Technicolor in Panavision stretching across the Elgin’s screen as if it were yesterday, along with the light February snow that began to fall afterward on my way back to Penn Station.
Buy The President's Analyst on DVD.
Barry McGuire’s Inner Manipulations
Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction