Re-released this week on DVD, complete with a new commentary track by Downey, Putney Swope is a subversive comedy that tracks the rise to power of token black advertising executive Putney Swope (Arnold Johnson, with Downey providing the voice). When the president of a powerful ad agency suddenly dies, the board of directors must elect a new president. The only catch is that no one can vote for themselves, so everyone votes for the black guy, thinking no one else will vote for him. As the head of Truth and Soul Inc., Swope ushers in a new agenda of surreal advertising committed to honesty. The bizarre commercials produced by Swope's agency are laugh-out-loud funny lampoons of the ad campaigns used to peddle all manner of products.
In an era when sitcom-style jokes drive much of what passes for comedy in film, Putney Swope is a reminder of a time when intelligence outweighed flatulence in the pursuit of humor. Thirty-seven years after its initial release, Putney Swope remains a hilarious tale of integrity and corruption infused with the racial politics of the day, making Downey's biting satire one of the funniest films of all time.