The Harder They Come
|The Harder They Come|
|Directed by||Perry Henzell|
|Produced by||Perry Henzell
Chris Blackwell (exec.—uncredited)
|Written by||Perry Henzell
Trevor D. Rhone
|Music by||Jimmy Cliff
Franklyn St. Juste
|Editing by||Reicland Anderson
|Studio||International Films Inc.
|Distributed by||New World Pictures|
|Release dates||1972 (Venice Film Festival)
February 8, 1973 (US)
|Running time||120 minutes|
|Language||English, Jamaican Patois|
The Harder They Come is a 1972 Jamaican crime film directed by Perry Henzell and co-written by Trevor D. Rhone, and starring Jimmy Cliff. The film is most famous for its reggae soundtrack, which is said to have "brought reggae to the world".
Enormously successful in Jamaica, the film also reached international market and has been described as "possibly the most influential of Jamaican films and one of the most important films from the Caribbean".
Background and release
The film stars reggae singer Jimmy Cliff, who plays Ivanhoe Martin, a character based on a real-life Jamaican criminal of that name, better known as Rhyging, who achieved fame in the 1940s. Prior to filming the project had a working title of Rhygin. This then changed to Hard Road to Travel before finally being changed to The Harder They Come, prompting Cliff to write the song of the same name. The story very loosely follows the real Martin/Rhyging's life, updated to the 1970s, though the historical Rhyging was not a musician or drug dealer.
Cliff's previous acting experience had come from school productions. Other major roles in the film were played by Janet Bartley (Elsa), Basil Keane (Preacher), Ras Daniel Hartman (Pedro), Beverly Anderson, who eventually married Michael Manley who became the Prime Minister of Jamaica (Upper St. Andrew Housewife), Bob Charlton (Hilton), Jamaican actor Volair Johnson (Pushcart Boy), and well known Jamaican comedians Bim and Bam: Ed "Bim" Lewis (Photographer), and Aston "Bam" Wynter (drunken husband).
The film was a sensation in Jamaica because of its naturalistic portrayal of black Jamaicans in real locations and its use of local patois. According to Henzell, "Black people seeing themselves on the screen for the first time created an unbelievable audience reaction".
The film was released in February 1973 in New York City by Roger Corman's New World Pictures to little attention. It became more popular when it was played to midnight audiences nationwide the following April. However, the popularity of the movie was limited outside of Jamaica because the local patois spoken by the characters was so thick that it required subtitles, making it possibly "the first English language movie in history to require subtitles in the United States".
Ivanhoe, "Ivan", Martin is a poor Jamaican man in search of a job. He leaves his rural home after the death of his grandmother to live with his impoverished mother in Kingston. He meets Jose, who takes him to see a Spaghetti Western. Excited by urban life, he tries to get work, but fails. He finally gets a job after taking a broken bicycle frame and rebuilding it into a working bicycle, using it to run errands for a record producer. When the original owner of the frame insists that it is still "his" bicycle, the two fight, and Ivan slashes him with a knife, for which crime he is sentenced to a whipping. After this he interests the record producer in a song he writes and performs, "The Harder They Come", but he only gets 20 dollars for it. He dreams of stardom, but the stranglehold the producer has on the music industry condemns him to work for a pittance. Eventually, Jose (played by Carl Bradshaw), one of the first people he met after he moved to Kingston, offers him an opportunity dealing marijuana, moving the drug from the country to the city on a motorbike. When Martin complains about the pay and conditions, Jose informs on him to the police. On his next trip, a policeman tries to flag him to stop; he panics and shoots the officer. He meets a woman in a hotel. While he is in bed with her, the police surround the room and try to capture him. He shoots his way out, killing three officers.
On the run, he returns to shoot and wound the girl he slept with, in the belief she and Jose betrayed him. He then finds Jose and pursues him, shooting at him, but Jose escapes. He returns to the countryside, but the police catch up with him, leading to another shootout and escape. Ivan seeks support from his drug-dealer friends who help him hide out. The police officer leading the search cracks down on the drug trade, telling the dealers that he will not relax the pressure until they give Ivan up. Meanwhile the record producer re-releases Ivan's song, which rapidly becomes a hit because of his notoriety. Enamoured of his new fame, Ivan has photographs of himself made holding two guns in gangster poses, and sends them to the press. He steals a flash car and drives it round in circles.
Ivan is advised by one dealer friend to escape to Cuba. Seeing the ship he hoped to escape on leaving, Ivan swims out towards the speeding ship. However, he cannot grab onto the ladder dangled off the side, and he opens his eyes to find himself beached ashore. He sleeps in the shade of a tree then wakes, alerted to the presence of policemen with rifles. He exchanges shots with the police, while imagining himself as the hero of a Spaghetti Western, watched by an excited audience. Out of bullets, he comes out and brandishes his revolvers. The police shoot him many times and he drops. The film ends abruptly, cutting to a shot of a woman's torso gyrating to the sound of Ivan's song over the credits.
- Jimmy Cliff as Ivanhoe "Ivan" Martin
- Janet Bartley as Elsa
- Carl Bradshaw as Jose
- Ras Daniel Hartman as Pedro
- Basil Keane as Preacher
- Bob Charlton as Hilton
- Winston Stona as Detective Ray Jones
Novel derived from the movie
In 1980, Jamaican American author Michael Thelwell published a novel based on the movie, using the same title. It has been noted that Thelwell inserted many Jamaican proverbs into the novel that were not in the movie.
In 2005, The Harder They Come was adapted into a stage musical by the Theatre Royal Stratford East and UK Arts International in the UK, with a script overseen by Henzell. The show opened on 25 March 2006, boasting not only the original soundtrack but a couple of additions, including "The Ganja Song", written by Geraldine Connor. It later moved to the Playhouse Theatre and was performed in Toronto and Miami.
Plans are afoot for a remake of the movie, with a screenplay written by Chris Salewicz. The film is a joint venture between Henzell's daughter Justine, Xingu Films and Conquering Lion Pictures. Filming is due to begin in 2013.
Uses in other media
The film is referenced in a line of The Clash's song "The Guns of Brixton" from the London Calling album. Jimmy Cliff recorded a cover version of this song in 2011 and also in his 2012 much acclaimed comeback album, "Rebirth".
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- Barbara Mennel, Cities and Cinema, Routledge, 2008, p.170.
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- Hank Bordowitz, Every Little Thing Gonna Be Alright: The Bob Marley Reader, Da Capo, 2009, p.58.
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- Coteus, Stephen. 2011. "Touble never sets like rain": Proverb (in)direction in Michael Thelwell's The Harder They Come. Proverbium 28:1-30.
- Johnson, Richard (2012) "Keeper of the flame: Justine Henzell protecting her father’s legacy", Jamaica Observer, 11 November 2012, retrieved 11 November 2012
- "Reggae show The Harder They Come goes global". Evening Standard. Retrieved 2011-04-12.
- Pulver, Andrew (2011-04-11). "The Harder They Come set for modern reggae remake". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2011-04-12.
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