Saturday, November 3, 2012

GOOD GODFREY!

There have been a number of movies about  contemporary presidents (real and imagined)  but my favorite remains THE PRESIDENT'S ANALYST, a 1967 satire starring the late James Coburn as the title character and the late great Godfrey Cambridge (below) as the secret agent who is both his protector and an ex-patient. Coburn plays a hipster shrink who gets tapped to be the POTUS's private confessor, but the pressure of the job gets to him and before long he becomes hopelessly paranoid, yet unable to quit due to the security risks. When he goes AWOL he soon finds himself the target of the CIA, FBI, Soviet spies, international kidnappers and even sinister forces in the private sector. As goes the old joke goes: 'just  because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you...'

My caricature of Godfrey Cambridge, done in 2008, probably last time I watched the movie...

It's a fun and sometimes surprisingly salient movie, portions of which are kind of daring for the time. The audience never sees the actual un-named president, but the dialog suggests a JFK type (not LBJ or Nixon for sure). Warning: The relationship scenes are painfully bad, but they at least attempt something out of the norm. Worse are the scenes set in a hippie commune, which I can vouch for as being embarrassing even back when the film was new…(think Dick Shawn in THE PRODUCERS but without the wink). There also appears to be some labored post-dubbing to re-name the CIA and FBI as ersatz surrogates, which is both funny and depressing at the same time.

Still the good outweighs the bad. The script is frequently funny, smart, subversive, surreal and dark by turns. There's a  groovy (and sometimes parodistic) music score by Lalo Schifrin of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE fame. Some of the cameos include Barry ("Eve of Destruction") McGuire, Will Geer (Gran'pa Walton) and LAUGH-IN's Artie Johnson. Another highlight features the inimitable William ("plastics") Daniels as the head of a "normal" suburban family Coburn uses for cover in his beltway escape. The climactic sequence is remarkably relevant today, and boasts the dual bonus of a wry, icy turn by Pat Harrington ("Schnieder" on the 70's sitcom ONE DAY AT A TIME) played against some perky animation by DePatie/Freleng studios (who were co-incidentally employing Harrington as the voice of THE INSPECTOR right around the same time).  And throughout the movie you get to see Godfrey Cambridge and the also brilliant Severn Darden (as a Russian counter-spy) in two of their best and most featured roles. Both died way too young and are not as widely remembered as they should be. Cambridge's amazing voice and expressive acting grew out of his years as a ground-breaking counter-culture standup comic, one of the best of the best. Darden, whose deft, versatile characterizations pop up on a number of sitcoms from the era, was one of the original Second City players, as was T.J. Flicker, the writer-director of this movie.

Captive Coburn contemplates cute cartoon. Cool!

3 comments:

Pete Emslie said...

You seem to know far too much about this film, Mr. Finn. I may have to alert The Telephone Company about you...

Will Finn said...

Yes sir, Mr. Hughes! ;)

Mick said...

I heard that James Coburn had the most teeth in hollywood at one stage... I'll keep an eye out for this film