If you're looking for a movie that shocked the filmgoing public with its outspoken take on race relations in corporate America circa 1969, look no further than this Robert Downey debut effort. Made on a shoestring in black... more » and white, this film begins with a wonderful moment of racial discomfort. The board of directors at a Madison Avenue ad agency must elect a new chairman, and, in the maneuvering to make sure that enemies don't get votes, all the board members accidentally cast their ballot for the board's token black man, Putney Swope (Arnold Johnson). Swope immediately cleans house and transforms the agency into New York's hippest shop with a Black Power mentality and a willingness to tell previously unspoken truths in advertising. Though it looks dated today, it is a fascinating time capsule of the period and still contains its share of outrageous laughs. --Marshall Fine« less
"I tried to be more subdued, but honesty is the best policy. Yes, I've seen Citizen Kane, Rules of the Game, Black Orpheus, and Apocalypse Now. They're all wonderful, but none is so all encompassing as Putney Swope. As the liner notes say, it's "relevant to everything." Every time I watch it, I see something else in it. I cannot imagine the space/time gap (or drugs) that inspired the creativity of the screenplay, but it has not been matched. The performances, for the most part, are equal to the script. Admittedly, it's not for everyone. My wife and I have occasionally subjected couples to "the Swope test," which requires married couples to view it together. At least two divorces have occurred, because one partner laughed at every line, while the other saw no humor at all. But the partners who both enjoyed it will stay together always. In short, a miracle."
This film is Treasure
Joel | Los Angeles | 06/10/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It is 1970; I am 19 years old and it is my first date with a girl named Angel (her last name). I am a sophomore at SFVSC and the week before my date, my buddies and I saw Putney Swope at the Fox Theatre in Westwood.With my laughing muscles in my face and stomach still aching from the lactic acid built up during the movie, I called Miss Angel and invited her out. She was a prissy little girl and I thought that Swope would be a quick way to cut through her pretentiousness. I put her on notice after asking her "how gross do you go?" in preparing her for the film. She accepted the challenge.I picked her up in my bright yellow brand new Ford Maverick. She sneered at the lack of leather or power windows or status car crests.About halfway through the movie she leaned over to me and asked me to take her home. She hated it and hated me. Being a gentleman I determined that she had adequate bus fare and sent her back home. The movie is my absolute favorite. A depiction of reality demonstrating that regardless of a person's paint job, we are all the same on the inside.I along with my college buddies never let a visit pass without some reference to this movie.It was a valuable lesson in our lives.The passing of Arnold Johnson last month adds a touch of sorrow to tonight's gathering of my buddies as we celebrate our 50th birthdays.The Borman 6 girl sure does have soul. See the film and learn about Chairman Mario, Mark Focus, President Mimeo, Wynn Sony, Victrola Cola, Lawrence of Nigeria and Face Off."
Insanity in every frame...
Robert Rabiee | New York, NY United States | 01/10/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The true beauty of this film lies in the fact that Downey is able to pack so much insanity in so tight a space. Every frame of this picture is spilling over with madness worthy of the Marx Brothers at their anarchistic best. Just dig the names, man! We have Mark Focus, Mr. Victrola Cola, Mr. Ethereal Cereal...my God, it's the 1960s at its dark, psycho-delic best. Sure, it's a bit dated, but come on - it's an artifact, as telling of the times as "Magical Mystery Tour" or "Gimmie Shelter."Incidentally, unlike most "racial comedies" of the 1960s, Downey allows his pointed satire to skewer both black and white (think Hal Ashby's "The Landlord"). All in all a perfectly insane picture; maybe not a cinematic classic, but certainly the damn funniest products of "alternate" cinema to date."
Joel | 06/15/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Most older movies seem tame. Not this one! "Putney Swope" doesn't pull any punches and is STILL ahead of the times as far as portraying race relations in an honest and funny way.A word of caution: This movie is extremely low budget and extremely irreverent. Much of it seems made-up from moment to moment. But there are some hilarious, brilliant moments in this."
A great comedy that gets better after 25 viewings.
Robert Rabiee | 12/08/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Downey's masterpiece is both a comedy, in a ha-ha way (it's got so many priceless, huge laughs, it's hard to see anything else) & in a grander, Shakepearean way. Swope's rise & fall owe, in equal parts, to both "the system" & his own (and maybe everybody's) shortcomings as a person. The very moment he begins his descent ("You & me, Swope...You & me" he says to a mirror) is ambiguous: is he doomed b/c he decides not to trust anyone who doesn't kiss up or is he doomed b/c he trusts too many self-interested souls for too long? Putney trashes advertising, race-relations, politics (with a midget president who looks a lot like Reagan -- this was 1969!), big-business, Mensa, gender blah blah blah. And yet, for the all the big message stuff, it's a film w/a heartbeat. It's intimate & personal. I promised myself I wouldn't write about Putney b/c it seems impossible; it's very hard to do justice to a film whose every shot (even the most awkward) seems perfectly suited to the moment. Watching this movie obsessively (w/friends, of course) rewards w/new insights nearly every time out. Jeez, it's been months -- I'm due to watch it again soon."