Putney Swope

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Putney Swope
Putney Swope (1969 poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Downey Sr.
Written byRobert Downey Sr.
Produced byFred C. Caruso
Richard A. Roth
StarringArnold Johnson
Joe Madden
Antonio Fargas
Allen Garfield
Mel Brooks
CinematographyGerald Cotts
Edited byBud S. Smith
Music byCharley Cuva
Herald Productions
Distributed byCinema V
Release date
  • July 10, 1969 (1969-07-10)
Running time
84 minutes
CountryUnited States

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 from voting for themselves, board members voted by secret ballot 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 black employees 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,[1] at Cinema II in New York City, grossing $32,281 in its first week.[2] The film opened in Los Angeles on January 21, 1970.[1] The film's controversial theatrical release poster showed a raised hand with the image of a girl replacing the out-thrust middle finger. The Los Angeles Times declined to print the advertisement, and it was not reprinted by the Los Angeles Herald Examiner after initial complaints.[3] In Chicago the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Today refused to publish it, and it was pulled by the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News, although they later published the advertisement without the girl as the middle finger.[4] Roger Ebert was embarrassed by the Sun-Times' censorship. The film set a house record of $16,000 at the 3 Penny Cinema in Chicago when it opened in February 1970; and, in Los Angeles, it was felt that the controversy also gave a boost to the film.[4][3]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD on May 22, 2001, by Rhino Home Video.[5][6] The film was released on Blu-ray on July 2, 2019, by Vinegar Syndrome.[7]


The character Buck Swope from Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights, portrayed by Don Cheadle, was named as a homage to this film.[8] Robert Downey Sr. also made a small cameo in Boogie Nights as the owner of a recording studio.[9] The character Wing Soney, a Chinese businessman, was the inspiration for Cosmo, the Chinese character throwing firecrackers during the drug deal scene.[10]

Anderson, Louis C.K., and Jim Jarmusch have cited the film as an inspiration for their approach to filmmaking.[11][12]

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 Avalanches' 2016 album Wildflower.

Putney Swope was preserved by the Academy Film Archive in 2019.[13]


  1. ^ a b c Putney Swope at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ "Rain, Moon Monday Balance B'way; 'Daddy,' 'Rider' Good 40G Starts; 'Midnight Cowboy', 8th, Wham 48G". Variety. July 23, 1969. p. 8.
  3. ^ a b "Censorship Here Deemed B.O. Boost". Daily Variety. February 11, 1970. p. 13.
  4. ^ a b "'Putney' Ads Pulled From Two Chi Papers For Censorship After Approval". Daily Variety. February 11, 1970. p. 13.
  5. ^ Tribbey, Ralph (April 12, 2001). "DVD NEWS BRIEFS: Rhino Bows 'Swope'; 'Proof of Life' DVD; 'Jungle Girl' Found; Kino's 'Richard III'". hive4media.com. Archived from the original on April 21, 2001. Retrieved September 1, 2019.
  6. ^ Tribbey, Ralph (May 7, 2001). "Rhino Follows Up 'Tranformers Movie' Sales Shocker With Two More Special Editions on May 8". hive4media.com. Archived from the original on May 28, 2001. Retrieved September 8, 2019.
  7. ^ Putney Swope Blu-ray Release Date July 2, 2019, retrieved 2021-07-26
  8. ^ McDonald, Tamar Jeffers (2016). "The New Hollywood, 1981-1999". In McLean, Adrienne L. (ed.). Costume, Makeup and Hair. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. p. 146. ISBN 9780813571539. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  9. ^ jeremykirk13 (September 13, 2012). "37 Things We Learned From the 'Boogie Nights' Commentary". Film School Rejects. Retrieved March 13, 2017.
  10. ^ "Putney Swope - (Movie Clip) Wing Soney". Tcm.com. Retrieved 2012-12-10.
  11. ^ "Louis C.K. on WTF with Marc Maron". 2010-10-04. Retrieved 2014-12-15.
  12. ^ "Paul Thomas Anderson on WTF with Marc Maron". 2014-01-05. Retrieved 2014-12-15.
  13. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.

External links[edit]