Required Viewing: PUTNEY SWOPE

One of the things that has disappointed me in the resurgence of the career Robert Downey Jr. is that a little of that spotlight hasn’t reflected over to his father, director Robert Downey Sr. Having seen some of his early films, I can understand why they have a cult following, but really wish that they were getting wider exposure to and acclaim from film fans.

Yo’ll have a chance to see one of those early films tonight as TCM is airing Downey Sr’s 1969 broad social satire Putney Swope late night at 2 am, Eastern. When the chairman of the board of a big advertising company unexpectedly dies, the one black member of the board, the titular Putney Swope, is elected to replace him. Through a quirk in the company by-laws, no board member is allowed to vote for themselves for the position, so they all separately voted for the person they thought no one else would. Once in charge, Swope fires a majority of the firm’s white employees, changes the name of the company to “Truth and Love, Inc.” and decrees they will no longer create advertisements for alcohol, tobacco and war toys. This leads to t he obvious step of the government declaring Swope a threat to national security.

A stinging shot at black militants, the entrenched rich white elite of the country, advertising and the nature of power to invariably corrupt, Putney Swope is really a neglected gem of it’s time. Although the film is mostly in black and white, the satirical commercials that are scattered through out are in color, as you can see from the sample below.

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About Rich Drees 7040 Articles
A film fan since he first saw that Rebel Blockade Runner fleeing the massive Imperial Star Destroyer at the tender age of 8 and a veteran freelance journalist with twenty-five years experience writing about film and pop culture. He is a member of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle.
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May 14, 2010 7:22 am

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