Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Johnny Yen's Fave Raves: The President's Analyst

Back in the old days, when vcr's were rare and expensive, and we had to get up and walk to the television to change the channel, there were certain movies that my brothers and I would look forward to on late-night television. One of these movies was The President's Analyst.

A couple of years ago, the movie came out on DVD. I was excited, and ordered it. Sometimes, movies like this can be a disappointment. What seemed really funny, cool or entertaining when you were 11 can be a little weak when you're in your forties. Happily, this was not the case for this movie.

The movie opens with Godfrey Cambridge, dressed in a ridiculous outfit, walking with a rack full of clothes through Manhattan's garment district. He suddenly stabs a guy and puts the body in a bin full of clothes. The plot unfolds from there.

It turns out that he's Don Masters, a "CEA" agent, who was on a mission. He returns to his home office-- body and all-- acting like a milk truck delivery man coming off of his shift. He's in a hurry because has an appointment that day with his analyst, Dr. Sidney Schaefer, played by the great James Coburn. He discusses what he'd done that day, and launches into one of the most brilliant on-screen examinations ever of the "n-word" and then outs himself as a CEA agent. But this is part of it all. Part of his mission was to go to therapy with Dr. Shaefer as part of a screening process.

It seems that the U.S. President, who's never shown in the movie, is under incredible pressure and stress in his job. It's been decided to provide him with an analyst to unload on.

It's one of those "Good on paper/bad in execution" ideas. It seems that in addition to unloading all his personal issues onto Dr. Shaefer, the President is telling the most sensitive national security secrets to him as well. This makes Dr. Schaefer the most popular man in the world among the world's intelligence agencies-- even Canada's-- and they are all hell-bent on capturing him. Hijinks ensue.

The movie has a stellar cast. Among them:
Will Geer- later, Grandpa Walton
Arte Johnson- Became a cast member of Laugh-In ("Very interesting-- but stupid!")
Severn Darden- an original member of Chicago's Second City troupe
Godfrey Cambridge
Pat Harrington- played the vain janitor on "One Day At A Time."
William Daniels- The pompous Dr. Craig on "St. Elsewhere."
Barry McGuire- Yes, the guy who sang "Eve of Destruction!"

The movie takes swipes at the cold war, power, hippies, straights, psychotherapy, conservatism, liberalism-- and the phone company. I'll leave it at that.

Severn Darden plays Soviet agent Kropotkin, who is CEA agent Don Masters' (Godfrey Cambridge) best friend. Being both cold war rivals and best friends, they get a lot of the best lines.

Though the cold war was an essential part of the plot, little has really changed since the Berlin Wall came down. Power still corrupts and makes people act stupidly, as our current administration seems bent on proving everyday. And this movie still stands up well after 40 years.


Skylers Dad said...

Isn't it a joy to re-discover a really well written movie or story that stands the test of time?

And speaking of the old days of before VCRs and get up to change the station, my folks bought one of the first color TVs on our block when I was young. The big deal was I got to invite my friend Jim over to watch the original Jonny Quest in color!! It was a big deal to a couple of little kids.

Erik Donald France said...

I loved this movie last time I saw it (twenty years ago?). James Coburn is the DUDE -- his best acting role may be in Affliction. Cool guy. Will have to check the DVD out -- thanks for the rave, man.

Chris said...

Thanks, Johnny! I've never heard of this, but will add it to my Netflix list right now. Sounds like my kind of movie.

busterp said...

I remember seeing it. Good old Godfrey, I haven't heard mention of him in years.

Coburn in "Our Man Flint" was great.

Skylers Dad said...

Oooh, Our Man Flint!

I loved that, and his watch that poked him out of his trance was way cool!

cheer34 said...

James Coburn has the coolest voice.

lulu said...

Oh my God. I totally forgot about this movie's existance. I remember staying up late to watch it at elast a couple of times with my Dad when I was in high school.

Thanks for the reminder.

Bubs said...

What a great and groovy movie. I remember seeing this when I was about 12 years old and thought it was the m ost cool and sophisticated thing I'd ever seen.

Johnny Yen said...

Skyler's Dad-
It is indeed!

One of the great things about DVD's is that they've made it profitable to put out movies and shows with limited audiences. Some of the great things that have come out have been The President's Analyst, as well as the old Kolchak: The Night Stalker show and others.

Did you know that Tim Matheson (Otter, in Animal House) did the voice of Johnny Quest?

I've got a funny story about color television and The Wizard of Oz that I'm going to blog about soon.

He was the coolest! Remember him in The Great Escape? The scene where the Germans almost discover one of the tunnels-- he's standing in the shower room fully clothed, and the soldier asks him what he's doing-- he responds "I'm a lifeguard." Only James Coburn.

Affliction is great-- he plays a horrible guy well in that.

I'm betting that you will enjoy it!

Cambridge died young, unfortunately-- he was only 43 or so when he had a fatal heart attack.

My mother actually talked to him once. She worked for an insurance company, and he communicated on the telephone with her regarding a claim. It's funny-- my mother and I share that-- many brushes with fame in very ordinary circumstances.

When my son and I went to the theater to see Monsters, Inc., I couldn't place the voice of the bad guy, Henry J. Waternoose. I went home and looked it up on the Internet Movie Database ( and it turned out to be Coburn's. That voice was so great and distinctive.

It's interesting that so many of the great voices of our time grew up in or near Nebraska: Coburn, Dick Cavett, Marlon Brando, Johnny Carson (Iowa).

You of all people will love it! It's as good as you remember.

I have a lot of similar memories, watching movies with my dad.

It bears watching again, if only for the scene near the end, where Coburn is handed an M-16, and takes on the entire phone company security force, which he does with relish, firing wildly, grinning, yelling "Take that, you hostile bastards!"