❉ Nick Clement presents his assessments of cinematic gems and cult oddities.
Surreal doesn’t begin to cover the 1967 ultra-oddity The President’s Analyst, which of course now is scarily prescient on many levels. This movie is so good that I’ll never understand how or why, outside of the film likely making no money and pissing off various members of government branches, writer/director Theodore J. Flicker didn’t become even more prolific as a feature filmmaker (he has tons of television credits). Supremely stylish and conceived as if the film were dosed with a sheet of high-powered blotter-acid, James Coburn starred as a sly and cryptic government shadow figure with strange ties to the Oval office. Flicker was one of the early purveyors of improvisational comedy, and there’s a sense of anything-goes creativity in each scene of this nearly impossible film to describe or summarize. Coburn is some sort of super-secret psychiatrist who is hired by the U.S. government to be at the beck and call of the President, acting as his private confidant and shrink. Never sure of who he can trust or what the day will bring starts to take a mental toll on him, and the way Coburn projects outward stress combined with live-wire humor is exciting to watch unfold. And then there’s THAT PHONE and THAT FLASHING RED LIGHT, which if you’ve seen this weirdo-offering, you know why I’ve capitalized the letters in those two words.
The President’s Analyst was released at the absolute height of anti-establishment provocations, and was preceded in 1964 by Stanley Kubrick’s far-more-celebrated Dr. Strangelove. That film changed the game for filmmakers and audiences, with Kubrick ripping apart any and all notions of what could or couldn’t be made fun of in an intelligent manner; it delighted into scaring you with how smart and absurd it was about something so completely scary. Everything about The President’s Analyst feels sketchy, from the fact that we never actually see the president unless it’s in reflection, to the ideas of personal confusion and surveillance, with a sense of nervous hostility that seeps through the pores of this movie like paranoid body fluids. At a moment’s notice, Coburn has to drop what he’s doing and tend to the president’s various issues, and as a result of his ultra-questionable job, he becomes increasingly paranoid about his safety and of all those around him, including his foxy girlfriend, the gorgeous Joan Delaney. What’s more, it seems that a variety of agents from various countries’ secret agencies are all trying to steal the secrets they all feel he must have stored in his head. Potentially deadly hijinks ensue.
William A. Fraker’s bold and time-capsule cinematography lent a strange visual atmosphere to the entire piece (the opening shot is extraordinary), while Lalo Schifrin’s memorably jaunty and off-kilter musical score helped to contribute to the anything-can-happen vibe. Ahead of its time in many respects regarding the direction of our government and the civil liberties of American citizens, the satire in the film still hits hard, while the more obvious bits of humor also tickle the funny bone. Coburn’s comedic timing in this film was tack-sharp, Fraker’s camerawork super-inventive, and the general sense of anarchy and strangeness is palpable in nearly every scene. The behind the scenes shenanigans involved with the post-production process and what became of Flicker as an artist is entertainingly detailed in Larry Karaszewski’s very awesome Trailers From Hell episode, which is available for viewing on YouTube or at the Trailers from Hell website.
❉ Nick Clement is a freelance writer, having contributed to Variety Magazine, Hollywood- Elsewhere, Awards Daily, Back to the Movies, and Taste of Cinema. He’s currently writing a book about the works of filmmaker Tony Scott, and co-operates the website Podcasting Them Softly.
❉ He is also a regular contributor for MovieViral.com, a site dedicated to providing the best news and analysis on viral marketing and ARG campaigns for films and other forms of entertainment.