Putney Swope

PLOT:

Putney Swope, the only black man on the executive board of an advertising firm, is accidentally put in charge after the unexpected death of the chairman of the board: each board member actually believed that he, himself, should be elected chairman, but the bylaws of the corporation prohibit voting for oneself, so each individual member voted his secret ballot for the person that no one else would vote for: Putney Swope.

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

REVIEW:

With all the negative racial tension that is swirling around the country this past week, I thought this would the perfect time to watch a racial satire. Enter Putney Swope, a 60s satire from filmmaker Robert Downey, Sr. which delves into the advertising world, the portrayal of race in Hollywood films, the white power structure, and nature of corporate corruption. Does it accomplish its task of being a funny satire?

What is this about?

Robert Downey Sr. directs this whip-smart satire of race relations and corporate culture in 1960s America that explores what happens when the sole black executive at a major New York City advertising firm (Arnold Johnson) finds himself in charge. In addition to replacing his all-white board with an all-black slate of new members, he also changes the firm’s name to the more descriptive Truth and Soul Inc.

What did I like?

Satire. At the time this was made, cooperate America was mostly white male. The film takes that notion and turns it on its head by having a board of all white men vote unanimously for the lone African-American member, who then fires them all and changes the way business is done, for better or worse.

Contrast. Much of this film is in black & white, and I’m not referring to race. However, the commercials, which tend to be the funniest parts, are in color. While they may appear out of nowhere, seeing these scenes in color helps the audience know that they are not part of the film, but rather just ads the company is running.

What didn’t I like?

Plot. I had trouble keeping up with the so-called “plot”. Once the opening is over, one has no clue what the hell is going on. One minute we’re in the offices, the next there is something involving the president, then there is some kind of conspiracy to overthrow Putney. It was just too much to take in, and none of it was coherent enough to make a plausible plot. I wonder if this was just someone who was drunk and/or high who wrote this.

Voice. I was reading that the actor who played Putney Swope, Arnold Johnson, had trouble remembering his lines, so director Robert Downey, Sr. dubbed his lines for him. Call me crazy, but if your star can’t remember his lines, then you either need to get him help or find anther star. Dubbing seems to be a cop out. Then again, judging by the quality of the finished product, there might not have been much left in the budget.

Putney Swope…what can I say to sum this up? Well, it isn’t bad, but it isn’t good either. For that matter, it isn’t good enough to be average. There is potential, to be sure, but it just doesn’t seem to work the way they thought it would. I was reading a few reviews about people raving about how good and funny this film is. I just didn’t seem to get the same feeling. As such, I can’t and won’t recommend this, unless you’re one of those that is into forgotten cult flicks. Otherwise, it is best left to the bottom of the bargain bin.

2 1/2 out of 5 stars

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2 Responses to “Putney Swope”

  1. Phyllis Miller Says:

    When I saw this film, I thought it was hysterical. I am not so sure how I’d feel about it now.

  2. […] Unlike Putney Swope, a film that also has random sketches interspersed amongst the “plot”, this one […]

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