The President’s Analyst: A Paranoid Lark


A political satire that impressed me mightily as a teenager (and less so thereafter), Theodore Flicker’s genial exercise in comic paranoia re-emerges, for no apparent reason, a reasonably fit and funny artifact from the age of grooviness.

Fresh from his Bond parody In Like Flint, James Coburn—a simian, slyboots hipster with the scariest widescreen smile since Gene Kelly—plays a New York shrink recruited to serve as confidant for the world’s most powerful man. It doesn’t take long for this self-regarding swinger to go mad and, pursued by all manner of spies, domestic and foreign, he hits the road—ultimately donning red shades and a Beatles wig to join a bunch of hippies. In the movie’s best extended gag, Coburn frolics in the meadow with a compliant flower child, as oblivious to the succession of agents eliminating each other as he is to folk rocker Barry McGuire droning on about “the changes that keep goin’ down.”

The President’s Analyst opened in late 1967, during the same season as Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate, and provides a candy-colored bridge between The Manchurian Candidate and the conspiratorial thrillers of the early ’70s. The movie’s style is of its moment—a veritable Nehru suit of zoomy, kicky montage interludes, ambient Pop Art, and Fun City locations. Indeed, shooting the sequence in which Coburn flees the fuzz past Café Wha? into Minetta Lane, the star was clobbered by a real cop. “Policeman’s Ad Lib Steals Movies Scene,” The New York Times reported—a notion that must have tickled Flicker, the mastermind behind the early-’60s improvisational cabaret known as the Premise. In essence, The President’s Analyst is an extended Premise riff (psychoanalysis being a favorite butt), and the cast includes several Premise vets, notably Godfrey Cambridge as a CIA agent and Severn Darden as a Russian spy. That the latter is among the movie’s more sympathetic characters reinforces the notion of the Cold War as Soviet-U.S. co-production, a setup for Flicker’s final vision of America’s soft totalitarianism, a Tinkertoy anticipation of The Matrix.