PUTNEY SWOPE — THE CRITERION COLLECTION
Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.
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Mike and I drink FLYING DOG NUGGET IMPERIAL IPA and discuss Robert Downey Sr.'s best known film.
Robert Downey Sr.’s best-known film is a stunning piece of transgressive racial, political, and anti-capitalist satire. Downey’s contrasting use of black-and-white (for the film’s core narrative) and color sequences (for sardonic commercial episodes) accentuates the picture’s unprejudiced point of view.
“Putney Swope” is a '60s cinematic Molotov cocktail thrown equally at the establishment and the anti-establishment during an era when the hippies took on the suits with a vengeance.
The droll allegory is set in the late ‘60s advertising world of Manhattan’s Madison Avenue. Arnold Johnson plays the title character, a token black on the board of a big ad firm. Unable to vote for themselves, and disbelieving their fellow directors will vote for Putney, the board vote in our soul brother anti-hero after the reigning chairman dies on top of the boardroom desk.
Robert Downey Sr. dubbed Johnson’s voice with his own, purportedly because Johnson couldn’t memorize his lines. The disorienting effect of hearing Downey’s appropriately gravely voice coming from the poker-faced Johnson, adds an eerie tonal layer to the movie.
Naturally, our number-one-soul-brother Putney Swope renames the company “Truth and Soul, Inc. the tyrannical boss mandates that the agency will not create ads for “war toys, cigarettes, or alcohol.” Still, his newly discovered power goes straight to Putney’s head even as the company produces some truly inspired interracial commercials, including an especially ribald one for an acne cream called “Face Off.”
Considered a cult film, “Putney Swope” resonates in 21st century America, where racial tensions have exploded, and corporatization has turned modern culture on its head. Downey has a blast flipping racial stereotypes, all the while exposing a plethora of hypocrisies built into the American capitalist system.
Downy Sr. throws so many thematic and ideological darts that you need to watch the movie a few times to catch them all. This is one zingy satire. Come caffeinated.
Rated R. 84 mins.