Robert Downey's "Putney Swope" versus Sam Greenlee's "The Spook Who Sat By The Door" [film]



Some stories should be told many times and we have the capacity to tell many. But, if you had to choose ... ? Putney Swope (1969) and The Spook Who Sat By The Door (1973) are two "inside man" classics from the 70s era. Greenlee's "Spook" joins the CIA as a affirmative-action hire, only to return to his neighborhood with the skills he acquires to train youth into freedom fighters, while Downey's "Swope" is a token black "music director" at a Madison Avenue advertising firm who becomes the chairman of the board after a heart attack kills his predecessor and his fellow board members accidentally vote him as replacement. Both are classic cautionary tales of taking down the system from the inside.




The story takes place in the early 1970s in Chicago. The CIA has been required for political reasons to recruit African-Americans for training. Only one of them, Dan Freeman (Lawrence Cook), secretly a black nationalist, successfully completes the training process. He becomes the first black man in the agency and is given a desk job -- Top Secret Reproduction Center Sections Chief. Freeman understands that he is the token black person in the CIA, and that the CIA defines his function as providing proof of the agency's supposed commitment to integration and progress. Therefore, after completing his training in guerrilla warfare techniques, weaponry, communications and subversion, Freeman puts in just enough time to avoid raising any suspicions about his motives before he resigns from the CIA and returns to work in the social services in Chicago. Upon his return, Freeman immediately begins recruiting young black men living in the inner city of Chicago to become “Freedom Fighters” teaching them all of the guerrilla warfare tactics that he learned from the CIA. They become a guerrilla group with Freeman as the secret leader. (wiki)









Putney Swope, the only black man on the executive board of an advertising firm, is accidentally put in charge after the unexpected death of the chairman of the board: each board member actually believed that he, himself, should be elected Chairman, but the bylaws of the corporation prohibit voting for oneself, so each individual member voted his 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." (wiki)