“If I was a psychiatrist, which I am, I would say that I was turning into some sort of paranoid personality, which I am!” — Dr. Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn) in The President’s Analyst (1967)
Let’s just be absolutely honest about something. Judging from what they regularly get caught saying and from some of the policies that they support, a good deal of politicians could probably use some sort of professional help. That’s probably especially true of the men who sit in the Oval Office. It can’t be easy to have to hide so many secrets, tell so many lies, and be constantly aware of how close the government is to actually collapsing. We’ve had 44 Presidents and I imagine all of them probably could have used someone to talk to.
But here’s the thing. We spend so much time worrying about the well-being of the President that we often don’t stop to think about the people who have to listen to them speak on a daily basis. I imagine that being the President’s therapist must be a thankless job. Not only do you have to spend hours listening to someone who you may not have voted for but, at the same time, you can’t share any of the information that you’ve learned.
That would certainly seem to be what’s happening with Dr. Sidney Schaefer (James Coburn), the title character of the wonderfully psychedelic 1967 satire, The President’s Analyst. At the start of the film, Sidney is a supremely confident psychiatrist. He can calmly and rationally deal with all of his patients problems and, in order to keep from getting overwhelmed, he has his own analyst (Will Geer).
One of his patients is Don Masters (Godfrey Cambridge), an agent for the Central Enquiries Agency (CEA) who is first seen casually murdering a man on the streets of New York. (When Sidney discovers that Don is an assassin, he’s thrilled and impressed to discover that Don has managed to channel all of his hostility into his job.) What Sidney doesn’t realize is that Don is testing him to see if he’s up to the job of serving as the President’s analyst.
At first, Sidney is thrilled with his new position but he soon discovers that being the closest confidante of the leader of the free world has its downside. For one thing, Sidney is viewed by suspicion by Henry Lux (Walter Burke), the head of the Federal Bureau of Regulation (which, in this film, is exclusively staffed by people who are less than 5 feet tall). Even beyond being targeted by the FBR, Sidney struggles with not being able to see his own therapist and discuss what he’s been told by the President. Soon, Sidney is becoming paranoid and is even convinced that his girlfriend is a spy.
(And, of course, she is.)
So, Walter does what any sensible and paranoid person would do. He makes a run for it. Pursued by the FBR, the CEA, and a Russian assassin (a funny performance from Severn Darden, who also played Kolp, the sadistic torturer in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes), Sidney hides out with everyone from a group of hippies to a family of heavily armed, karate-trained, middle class “militant liberals.”
(The father of the militant liberal family is played by William Daniels, who decades later would play Mr. Feeney in Boy Meets World.)
Of course, there’s an even bigger conspiracy at work than even Sidney realizes. The real threat is the TPC and I’m not going to tell you what that stands for. You need to see the movie.
And really, The President’s Analyst is a film that you really should see. What makes this film truly special — beyond the clever dialogue and the excellent performances and the great direction — is that it’s both a product of when it was made and a timeless portrait of power and paranoia. It’s a time capsule that still feels incredibly relevant.