Putney Swope  

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"Putney Swope is a 1969 film written and directed by Robert Downey, Sr. and starring Arnold Johnson as Swope. It is a comedy satirizing the advertising world, the portrayal of race in Hollywood films, the white power structure, and nature of corporate corruption." --Sholem Stein

"There's none of the slash and outrage and original wit say, of a Putney Swope in this film."--Judith Crist, New York Magazine, May 4, 1970

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Putney Swope is a 1969 satirical comedy film written and directed by Robert Downey Sr. and starring Arnold Johnson as the title character, a black advertising executive. The film satirizes the advertising world, the portrayal of race in Hollywood films, the white power structure, and the nature of corporate corruption.

In 2016, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".



Putney Swope, the only black man on the executive board of an advertising firm, is accidentally put in charge after the sudden death of the chairman of the board: prevented by the company by-laws to vote for themselves, in a secret ballot, most board members voted for the one person they thought could not win: Putney Swope.

Renaming the business "Truth and Soul, Inc.", Swope replaces all but one of the white employees with blacks and insists they no longer accept business from companies that produce alcohol, tobacco or toy guns. The success of the business draws unwanted attention from the United States government, which considers it "a threat to the national security".


In an interview on the DVD version of the film, Downey states that Arnold Johnson had great difficulty memorizing and saying his lines during the film shoot. Downey says he was not concerned because he had developed a plan to dub in his own voice to replace Johnson's.

Though the movie is in black-and-white, Truth and Soul's commercials are shown in color.


The film opened on July 10, 1969 at Cinema II in New York City and grossed $32,281 in its first week.


The character Buck Swope (portrayed by Don Cheadle), from Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights, was named as an homage to this film. Robert Downey Sr. also made a small cameo in Boogie Nights as the owner of a recording studio. The character Wing Soney, a Chinese businessman, was the inspiration for Cosmo, the Chinese character throwing firecrackers during the drug deal scene.

Paul Thomas Anderson, Louis C.K., and Jim Jarmusch have cited the film as an inspiration for their approach to filmmaking.

The song "Shadrach" by the Beastie Boys, from their 1989 album Paul's Boutique, mentions the film in the lyric "Music for all and not just one people, and now we're gonna bust with the Putney Swope sequel". Dialogue from the film is sampled on the The Avalanches’ 2016 album Wildflower.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Putney Swope" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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