Synopsis – When the token black man on the executive board of an advertising firm is accidentally put in charge, he renames the business "Truth and Soul, Inc." and replaces the regime of white ad men with his militant brothers.
From the first shot an impression is made that the movie is a student film with shoddy cinematography, awkward acting, and as much production value as knowledge in cinematic technique. Putney Swope makes Clerks look like Lawrence of Arabia. That’s one impression that is made, the other is that the movie playing out is both brilliant and important and induces laughter like few other movies ever have. Putney Swope proves that the strength of a story defines the movie viewing experience and Robert Downey Sr. (a prince) is a master storyteller. It’s strange to believe that Downey never developed the great career this movie, and his other no-budget experiments, hinted at once he started working with industry support, but at least he left us a body of creative work that continues to inspire those that want to push themselves as filmmakers.
The story follows an advertising agency that upon losing its chairman of the board to an untimely heart attack in the middle of a board meeting, accidently votes in the sole black executive, Putney Swope as his replacement. Up until his promotion he is only consulted on matters involving music, but quickly uses his new appointed power to replace the white staff with a militant black group rooted in the black power movement. At first, businesses shy away from working with the now renamed Truth and Soul, Inc. but quickly see the success Putney can generate. What follows is a series of hilarious advertisements that are just as effective in satirizing the commercials of the 1960’s as those of today, telling us that the industry Downey was criticizing hasn’t changed much.
This movie is not an easy viewing experience because it’s not just the edges that are rough, the whole thing feels like a skyscraper held together with glued popsicle sticks. But if you’ve seen enough movies and have grown weary of the standard formulas (different movies that always feel the same), this movie will be a refreshing shot to the system. The humor is definitely there and comes from a place of no fear. A movie like Putney Swope would be berated if made today and by the very same corner of society that praised it during its original release.
Watch Putney Swope and at the very least laugh at the funny parts. As for what the movie “means,” the director himself might not be sure (and has admitted to as much). I do know this: after watching movies like the one being discussed, it becomes that much more difficult to laugh at jokes such as those found in the Marvel cinematic universe. The reason is because Putney Swope does a pretty good job of shining a light on who’s making these big industry movies and how they’re being made. It’s not a stretch to compare The Avengers to selling soap.