Sunday Feature-Week 8:Putney Swope (1969)
Title: Putney Swope
Tone: Off-beat, absurd, and often overlooked media/social satire
Director-Robert Downey Sr. (yes, Robert Downey Jr’s old man)
Cast- Arnold Johnson, Joe Madden, Antonio Fargas
What: Putney Swope is the only black member on an executive board of an advertising company. Following the untimely death of the chairmen of the board, each member votes in a secret ballot for who they want elect as the new chairmen. Each board member believes that they should be elected but are not allowed to vote for themselves, therefore each member votes for the one board member they think no one else would vote for, Swope.
- An often overlooked satirical gem, Putney Swope is a daring, biting, and completely silly film which criticizes and satirizes the portrayal of blacks in media, white power structure, and the nature of corporate America.
- Arnold Johnson (Swope) had difficulty remembering his lines during the production of the film and would often flub his lines during takes. In order to rectify this, Robert Downy Sr dubbed over Johnson’s voice with his own. Robert Downey Sr’s dubbing is actually one of the best aspects of Putney Swope, his loud, whiskey soaked,gritty dubbing makes the character of Swope all the more unforgettable.
- Putney Swope is often referenced in the films of Paul Thomas Anderson, most notably in Boogie Nights (1997) wherein one of the main characters is named Buck Swope and also contains a scene where a young boy is sporadically setting off firecrackers and a character remarks “Oh, that’s Cosmo… he’s Chinese.” this references a nearly identical scene in Putney Swope.
- Although at times a bit dated by today’s standards, Putney Swope is still a relevant and ballsy satire of Hollywood, commercialism, and how media perpetuates racial stereotypes. Furthermore, Robert Downey Sr’s quick paced, free flowing, and raw directing style makes for an overall unique and extensively quotable cinematic work . Below is a nice little clip from the film, the first commercial that Swope produces as the new chairman of the board, enjoy!