Sag Harbor Cinema Screens ‘Putney Swope’ in Honor of Director Robert Downey Sr.

A scene from Robert Downey Sr.'s 1969 film "Putney Swope" which will be screened at Sag Harbor Cinema beginning July 30.
Beginning Friday, July 30, Sag Harbor Cinema (SHC) celebrates the late Robert Downey Sr. with a screening of his anti-establishment satirical comedy, “Putney Swope” (1969). The film stars Arnold Johnson as Putney Swope, a Madison Avenue adman who is inadvertently elected to head the agency. The most popular film made by Downey Sr,. this offbeat classic follows the antics that ensue after Putney Swope, the token Black man on the board of a Madison Avenue advertising agency, is inadvertently elected chairman. Putney summarily fires the “whiteys,” replaces them with Black Power apostles, renames the company Truth and Soul, Inc., and proceeds to wreak politically incorrect havoc.

Labeled “a scathing, hugely energetic and scattershot satire” by The Guardian, Downey’s most noted work is a filmmakers’ favorite and among its admirers are the Coen Brothers, Jim Jarmush and Paul Thomas Anderson.

Despite its initial unpopularity with distributors, “Putney Swope” became a cult classic and was chosen by the Library of Congress to be part of the National Film Registry in 2016. Recalling the initial reactions to the film, Downey said: “There was one distributor left who hadn’t seen it. A guy named (Al) Rugoff, who owned Cinema Five and all these theaters uptown. He said, ‘I don’t understand it, but I like it.’ He took the film and opened it in about a month in one of his theaters. Cinema Two. A big deal, and damn right. It sold out.”

“Robert Downey Sr. belongs to the original fabric of American independent cinema,” says SHC’s Artistic Director Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan. “The profound irreverence of his work, and its creative energy remain an inspiration for artists and audiences alike. I am thrilled to be able to share Putney Swope with our public.”

Downey’s counterculture masterpiece is an eccentric rumination on race and advertising, using non-actors and his wife’s paychecks to support the film. More than 50 years after it originally sprang from the underground scene of New York in the 1960s, “Putney Swope” was restored by the Academy Film Archive and The Film Foundation, with funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation. “Putney Swope” is rated R and is an American Genre Film Archive release.

The Sag Harbor Cinema is at 90 Main Street, Sag Harbor. For screening times, visit