Putney Swope

This movie had been on my iPhone “Notes” list — you know, the list for stuff that’s not on the streaming services you subscribe to — for a helluva long time, and when I finally rented it from the library and started watching, I was dumbfounded. Who told me about this fucking great, weird little flick? How did they know I’d like it so much? Where did this come from?

And then, after a bit of internetting, it hit me. I’m a regular listener of WTF with Marc Maron, and both Louis C.K. and Paul Thomas Anderson, in their episodes, lauded the shit out of this movie. I must’ve figured that, if two of my favorite people in Hollywood liked it, I sure would, too. I love when maths work out.

Honestly, this movie is a little tough to describe. It’s better seen. But I’ll give it a brief try. It’s satire, cutting into Madison Avenue like Mad Men, but not like Mad Men at all. Arnold Johnson plays the titular Swope, an ad firm’s one black executive, accidentally elected to take over the company after the chairman dies. He turns the place jive, as jive as it can be, and eliminates all harmful clients (like those that want to shill alcohol, tobacco, and the like). And then the government gets a whiff of them, and things get wild.

The man behind this whole thing, Robert Downey, Sr., actually plays the voice of Swope, while Johnson plays the body. It’s odd. But he clearly had a deeper vision for his movies, which I only learned about after watching this thing. How fascinating, and kind of sensible, that one of today’s biggest movie stars has countercultural lineage. Sr. was a huge part of the Absurdist movement in the 60s and 70s, bent on critiquing the establishment one movie at a time.

I found a YouTube compilation of some of Swope’s one-liners, but these aren’t even my favorites …

.. these are:

“Mr. Swope, did you sleep with your wife before you were married?”
“Not a wink.”

“Who told you top open your mouth?”
“No one, it just happened.”

Just… see it. See it to break the monotony of movies-pandering-for-Oscars. (I’ll get to that in a future post.) See it to remember how great black and white movies are. See it to laugh a lot.

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