47 FILMS: 40. PUTNEY SWOPE
In our continuing series of ’47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams’, we look at Robert Downey Sr.’s cult classic Putney Swope.
Gravelly voiced Arnold Johnson is Putney Swope, the only black man on the board of a Madison Avenue advertising firm. When the boss dies, he is accidentally elected to run the company. He implements a series of radical changes, including renaming the company “Truth and Soul, Inc”. He insists on rejecting clients such as tobacco firms and war toys for kids, and uses his street wise ways to inject something fresh into the culture. All the adverts are in color against the film’s stark black and white. It’s a hilarious bunch of jibes and yet ducks and weaves, always moving. Almost Brechtian in its refusal to give a straightforward narrative, Putney Swope is like a surreal episode of Mad Men directed by a combination of Louis CK and Spike Lee.
Made in 1969, the film represents underground counter-culture film-making at its best. As bold and original as its protagonist, go for it man.