Putney Swope

Putney Swope

Putney Swope is a 1969 film written and directed by Robert Downey Sr. and starring Arnold Johnson as Swope.


Swope is the only black man on the executive board of an advertising firm, and is accidentally put in charge after the death of the chairman of the board. Following the unexpected death of the chairman, each member of the board believes that he, himself, should be elected to the board. However, the bylaws of the corporation prohibit voting for oneself for the chair, so each individual member votes in a 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."


The American director Paul Thomas Anderson often includes Putney Swope references in his films.

Though the movie is in Black and White, the commercials shown in the movie from Truth and Soul are in Color.

Fortune Teller Press released soundtrack material to Putney Swope for the first time in 2006. Music was composed by Charley Cuva, who also composed music for Downey's 1970 cult oddity Pound.

The director Robert Downey Sr. in a commentary on the DVD version of the film explains that Arnold Johnson, the actor who played Putney Swope, had great difficulty memorizing and saying his lines during the film shoot. Downey says he didn't worry too much about this problem because he had developed a plan to dub in his own voice to replace the problem line readings of Arnold Johnson.

And in fact, Downey's voice is dubbed in, making this a rather strange film, with a black actor playing the title role, and the white director speaking his lines. The strangeness is accentuated in that the film was seen at the time as a comedy that, while it satirized the excesses of black militant rhetoric, was even more harshly satirical of the white power structure.


  • "The changes I'm going to make will be minimal. I'm not gonna rock the boat. Rockin' the boat's a drag. What you do is sink the boat! And there's no sense sinkin' nothin' unless you can salvage with productive alternatives. And brothers, you can't change nothin' with rhetoric and slogans. Because if a man's really got the truth in his pocket, he doesn't talk about it. He hangs it out on a shingle where people can see it. So from now on, the name of this agency is TRUTH and SOUL."
  • "Putney says the Borman Six Girl is got-to-have-soul!"
  • "How many syllables, Mario?"
  • "I'm stacked up over LaGuardia, and I'm not coming down for anybody"
  • "My man uses Face-Off, he's really outasite.. and so are his pimples."

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