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The Harder They Come
Jamaica 1973
Directed by Perry Henzel
Running time 103 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Although drawing from the true story of an outlaw “Rhyging” ("Raging") whose personal vendetta against the Jamaican police  made him something of a folk hero one can’t help but suspect that director Perry Henzel was heavily influenced by the romantically hero-izing style of  Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969) in transposing it to the big screen.

Part social commentary, part exploitation film The Harder They Come was a huge hit in its day and was largely responsible for bringing reggae music to a white audience. The music and the portrayal of the reggae scene which largely occupies the film’s first half is its greatest strength. Reggae superstar Jimmy Cliff plays Ivan Martin, a poor country boy and aspiring recording star who becomes a folk hero after fighting back against the corrupt Jamaican police. The fact that he was mainly angered by the fact that he wasn’t making as much money from selling weed as they were rather reduces our empathy but in 1973 this probably was much easier to gloss over.

The film is excellent insofar as it tracks Ivan’s short-lived music career. Featured are well-known Cliff songs like You Can Get It (If You Really Want), a song which has a rather ironic status within the context of this film, Many Rivers To Cross and Cliff’s recording of the title song live in the studio, as well as music by the Maytals and Desmond Dekker the story of the struggling artist is credibly dealt with. (Although Cliff himself had a long relationship with his producer, Leslie Kong, his first single was released when he was only 14 years old and by the time he was 16 he was a huge star on the Jamaican scene).

Once Ivan turns into a cop-killer the film falls off significantly, the music becoming a secondary issue to the schematically played-out story of his escapades. Fortunately Cliff is a charismatic figure with the scene where he has himself immortalized as a gunslinger in a photographer’s studio producing some classic images. Watch it for Cliff, the music and the depiction of reggae culture.  And if you've got some ganga on hand, all the better

DVD Extras: A Hard Road To Travel  - the making of The Harder They Come; One And All  - a featurette on the phenomenon of The Harder They Come; Music video of the title song; Interview with Jimmy Cliff, Perry Henzell and Arthur Gorson; Preview trailer; Slide show.

Available from: Umbrella Entertainment

 

 

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