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The President's Analyst (1967)

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Just to show I do see films by someone else 🙂 There was a string of paranoia films involving government conspiracies in the late 60s and early 70s. The Parallax View is possibly the most famous, but this one's the best.

Concept: It's not paranoia if they are out to get you.

We pull back from an enormous zoom on an American flag, with a disclaimer that the FBI FBR and CIA CEA did not approve of this film. We're somewhere in New York's garment district. One spy passes a folder to another and they walk off. An African American, Geoffrey Cambridge, is pushing a rack of clothes along. He gets to one of the spies, stabs him and drops the body into the bottom of the rack. Meanwhile psychoanalyst James Coburn is on a couch, talking to his analyst, before listening to a string of clients himself. The last one is Cambridge. He talks about killing the Albanian double agent, comes out as a CEA agent and says that he's bugged the office. They go to his car where Coburn is told that he's to be the President's analyst. His reaction is to do the NY sights, have sex with his divorcee girlf, and propose.

Washington airport. The CEA director and the head of the FBR tell him he'll be topmost secret, and the FBR objects to his sexual morals – having sex with someone he's not married to. Soon Coburn's driving an electric buggy down the underground tunnel between his new office and the White House for the President's first session. He's about to start with his girlf, when he's summoned for another session. And again. And again. And again. Before long, the FBU have the girlf taken away to a hotel – Coburn violates the National Security Act by talking in his sleep.

Soon, Coburn's noticing people looking at him. Even when no-one is, he thinks they are. He goes to lunch at a restaurant with his girlf and complains that now he has no analyst he can talk to. He can't quit, because everyone will be after him to get the President's secrets. He fakes being shot and sees that everyone else in the room is pulling guns on each other, including his girlf. He wakes up from the nightmare and rings her. It turns out that his girlf is indeed recording him, although she's not happy about it. It's time to get out.

Coburn joins a party of tourists on the White House tour, and tells William Daniels' New Jersey family he's surveying their opinion on behalf of the President. As he leaves with them, he's being watched by the FBR and everyone else. Soon the Russians, Vietnamese, an African nation, and the British want him alive, to get the President's secrets. The FBR want him dead. The CEA are bugging the FBR and would prefer him alive, but Cambridge is ordered to kill him if anyone else is going to get him. Coburn is finally caught, but by whom?

When the FBR finally catch up with Coburn, there's a problem: the agent with the licence to kill has run out of bullets killing someone else. It'd take too much time to get more – he's promised his wife he won't be working late – but the other agent can't lend him his gun, because it's against regulations: "Field manual C, page one one two, paragraph heading 'Having licence to kill', sub-paragraph three." Coburn's protestations that he's a citizen of the United States who hasn't broken any laws and "there's a constitution that prevents you going around killing people!" are ignored. "I don't know what you did, I don't know what you didn't do. All I do is follow orders … The FBR does not make mistakes."

What's good: Theodore J Flicker's direction is fine, even if he does love his zooms a bit much. But his script is wonderful, especially given the politics of the time it was written. Take Cambridge's session with Coburn when he talks about learning about niggers – he was five, and a bunch of his schoolmates started yelling, 'Run, run, here comes the nigger'. He joined in, running up to his older brother. "And he hit me. Then he did something worse – he told me what a nigger was. .. I hated him and I hated me." So it's perhaps not surprising that his best relationship is with the Russian spy rather than anyone in the FBR ("Hope you don't mind if I have to eliminate some of your FBR…" "Mind? Surely you jest!")

The family boast of being liberals, sponsoring the 'Negro doctor' to be allowed to live in their neighbourhood – the 1968 Civil Rights Act which banned racial discrimination in housing would not be passed until next year – and complain of the right wing neighbours who dare to fly the flag every day: "Real fascists, ought to be gassed!" The son is bugging the home phone with his junior spy kit, reports Coburn to the FBR, and is delighted with their planned murder. "You going to kill (him)?" "Yes son, we're going to kill him." "Oh boy!"

There's also a great section where Coburn is making out with someone in a field, and there's a string of killings as various spies eliminate the competition, get close and are eliminated in turn. They've spent too much time killing each other for the survivor to get him.

Coburn, who'd done the 'Flint' series of Bond-spoofs, is good, but much of the rest of the cast is wonderful, particularly Cambridge.

What's not so good: While the basic plot and much else remains bang up to date, some sections have dated, particularly the hippies and their music.

The interior scenes on the boat were clearly shot nowhere near water.

It could also easily be ten to fifteen minutes shorter without losing anything significant.

Music: One of Lalo Schifrin's orchestral scores, trying to be 'swinging' and 'hip'. It's ok.

Miscellany: It's sometimes obvious that the actors are talking about the FBI and CIA – the change to the fictional organisations was done in post-production after complaints by the FBI.

You can tell it was made by Paramount – the sound effects used for the lift doors are the same as used in their Star Trek TV series.

Overall: It's absolutely a film of the late 60s, but take out the hippies and it hasn't dated. The President is even worrying about Libya, and the Russian spy talks about how his spy father could be Premier of Russia with a bit more ambition. That's before we get to inter-service rivalry, the problems of bureaucracy, the US agencies' unconstitutional assassinations and bugging of everyone, and how the enemies of the US benefit from American actions…

Like Brazil, it's almost a documentary now, but unlike Brazil, amongst the deeply cynical black humour, there's hope. The Russian spy predicts, "Every day your country becomes more socialistic, my country becomes more capitalistic. Pretty soon we will meet in the middle and join hands." And everyone still hates the phone company.

TL;DR Very cynical, very funny, but also very hopeful.

Film: 4/5
DVD: 2/5

Widescreen, the picture is somewhat desaturated (turn the colour settings up!) It'd be fascinating to hear the director / author talk about it – was the initial killing filmed via 'candid camera' with real New Yorkers going past? – but nope.

UK DVD, and cheaper US and European imports:

Written by Ian

July 6th, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Posted in Cinema,DVDs

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