"Mad" Avenue Films: "Putney Swope"
By Kurt Brokaw, Culture Editor
1969: At the time he wrote and directed "Putney Swope," Robert Downey's father was 32, a well-regarded indy filmmaker. Thus this is a young white director's satiric take on how blacks see themselves both in the corporate world as well as in tv commercials.
Downey is not Melvin van Peebles, who would have brought a much edgier and angrier perspective. Putney is the token black in a major Madison Avenue shop. Overnight he becomes Chairman of the Board, dismantles the white structure, hires a black staff sporting long dashikis and big Afros, and renames the agency Truth & soul.
The TV ad send-ups are, for the period, certainly in-your-face, and the largely unknown cast does a lot of heavy lifting to act out Downey’s not-so-keen instincts.
By comparison, Spike Lee's more recent Bamboozled," located over on Sixth Avenue in the television industry, is a far more devastating satire that takes no prisoners.