Robert Downey Sr. Explains Why No One Wanted ‘Putney Swope’ — Watch

In an outtake from upcoming documentary "Searching for Mr. Rugoff," the late Robert Downey Sr. talks about how his breakout film almost didn't find a buyer.
"Putney Swope"
courtesy of The Everett Collection

The late Robert Downey spoke with veteran distributor-turned-director Ira Deutchman for his upcoming documentary “Searching for Mr. Rugoff.” The film is the story of Don Rugoff, owner of theater chain and distributor Cinema 5. Rugoff was key to the careers of many filmmakers, including Costa-Gavras, Lina Wertmuller, and Downey, who speaks here about how Rugoff swooped in to buy “Putney Swope” when no one else would touch the low-budget satire of Madison Avenue advertising agencies.

“I don’t understand it, but I like it,” Rugoff told Downey. Aided by an extraordinary marketing and ad campaign still remembered today, “Putney Swope” became the rare American independent film to be treated like a top foreign-language art film.

Among Downey Sr.’s early micro-budget directorial efforts were “Balls Bluff” (1961), “Babo 73” (1964), “Chafed Elbows” (1966), and “No More Excuses” (1968). The director was also an actor, with performing credits in films such as “Boogie Nights” (1997), “Magnolia” (1999), and “The Family Man” (2000), plus many more titles. As a director, his final work was on the 2005 documentary “Rittenhouse Square.”

Downey Sr. also worked with his son, Robert Downey Jr., on a number of films, such as the 1997 romantic comedy “Hugo Pool,” written and directed by the Downey Sr. and co-starring his son opposite Alyssa Milano and Patrick Dempsey. Yet “Putney Swope” remains Downey Sr.’s masterpiece and was chosen for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2016.

“Searching for Mr. Rugoff” opens on August 13. Initial dates include the Paris Theater (New York), Royal (Los Angeles), and Coolidge Corner (Boston). Check out the exclusive clip, available only on IndieWire, below.

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