“Putney Swope” (1969) dir. Robert Downey



Robert Downey Jr.’s father Robert Downey Sr. is one of the best and most subversive filmmakers of the last 50 years. “Putney Swope” is considered his masterpiece and it’s an extremely funny (albeit very odd) satire on race relations, the media, and the world of advertising.

When a CEO for a large advertising firm dies from a heart attack, the sole African-American member of the board, Putney Swope (played by Arnold Johnson) gets accidentally elected CEO unanimously by the other board members. This is due to the white board members voting for Swope as a tactic to prevent one of their rivals from getting elected, not realizing that everyone else is doing the same thing. As soon as Swope gets elected, he fires everyone and changes the name of the company to Truth and Soul.  The commercials Swope’s new company produces are a huge success, mainly due to their frequent profanity and nudity.  However, despite the new changes and Swope’s promises to do things with more honesty and integrity, he turns out to be just as corrupt as his predecessors.

The tone of the film is very bizarre and when you first watch it, it will take a while to get used to it. However, once you do, you’re in for quite a ride.  No matter what you hold sacred, this is a film WILL offend you, even though you’ll probably find yourself in hysterics. It’s a film that never fails to make me nearly piss my pants laughing. A subversive comedy masterpiece

P.T. Anderson is a huge Downey Sr. fan, not only hiring Downey for a small, but pivotal role in “Boogie Nights” (the recording studio owner who says “YP” and “MP”), but also naming Don Cheadle’s character “Swope” and having a character randomly throwing firecrackers in the air for no reason.

In this clip, the man in the Arabian headdress is none other than Antonio (Huggy Bear) Fargas.

This clip shows two of Swope’s commercials.  The first one is not safe for work due to some brief nudity.  The second one features actress Martha Plimpton’s mom (Shelley Plimpton) in a politically incorrect singing duet with her African-American boyfriend, played by 70s pop star Ronnie Dyson (“Why Can’t I Touch You?”).