|THE HARDER THEY COME (director/writer: Perry Henzell; screenwriter: Trevor Rhone; cinematographers: Frank St. Juste/David McDonald/Peter Jessop; editors: John Victor Smith/ Seicland Anderson/Richard White; music: Jimmy Cliff ; cast: Jimmy Cliff (Ivanhoe 'Ivan' Martin), Carl Bradshaw (Jose), Janet Bartley (Elsa), Winstone Stona (Detective Ray Jones), Bobby Charlton (Hilton), Lucia White (Mother), Basil Keane (Preacher), Ras Daniel Hartman (Pedro); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Perry Henzell; New World Pictures; 1972)|
|"Predated Bob Marley's success by
by Dennis Schwartz
The first film
from Jamaica made by Jamaicans is directed by
Perry Henzell ("No
Place Like Home"), who previously shot TV commercials.
The white Jamaican film-maker, a wealthy blond, whose
family owns a Jamaican plantation, financed the film
from his own pockets and co-writes it with Trevor
Rhone. The cast is all black. The film predated
Bob Marley's success by a year, as it introduced
reggae for the first time to an
appreciative American audience.
roughly blends together your usual gangster black
exploitation movie with a celebration of Jamaican
reggae music. The movie got international
recognition and went on to become an underground
sensation after shown at the 1972 Venice Film
Festival. It hit a nerve with viewers taken with the
unique Jamaican sounds and its gripping pulse of the
urban Jamaican scene unseen by tourists. Complaints
followed saying that the pic encouraged crime, and
three years after its release it was banned in
Jamaica. In cities like New York, it became popular
as a midnight movie and drew enthusiastic ganja
(marijuana) smoking crowds at the Elgin
digging it for both its radical politics and as a
film with mind-blowing music. The filmmaker denied
he had any Marxist intentions, something the pic was
critiqued for by some.
charismatic Jimmy Cliff plays Ivan, a reggae singer
from the country, who tries to make it in Kingston's
music business. He is rejected and when he can't get
his music recorded becomes a handyman for a preacher (Basil
Keane) recommended to him by his mom (Lucia
White). Ivan goes to prison over knifing someone
trying to steal his bicycle. Upon his release he stays
with the preacher's ward Elsa (Janet
Bartley), and puts all his energy into
trying to cut a record with the island's top record
mogul Hilton (Bobby Charlton).
The church doesn't appreciate his music's militant
social protest messages and he's fired. When Hilton
tries to buy his songs for practically nothing, at
twenty dollars, Ivan rebuffs him for trying to cheat
him. The producer retaliates by failing to promote his
record. The penniless Ivan feels he has no choice and
turns to dealing ganja under the untrustworthy dealer
kingpin Jose (Carl Bradshaw).
When Ivan's criminal rep grows, the cunning Hilton
promotes his record. The records sales grow rapidly at
the same time his crime rep grows. But things go
whacky when Ivan kills several cops after getting
double-crossed over payoffs to the police. With the
help of his Rastafarian friend Pedro (Ras Daniel
Hartman), he's about to escape on a boat to Cuba. But
Elsa betrays her ex-lover to the Preacher and he rats
him out to the police, who kill him during a shootout
at his hideout.
The electric performance by Cliff as the country-boy singer unable to handle the city slickers while striving only for riches and fame is highly entertaining, while the revealing neorealist view of the squalor in the shantytowns and the police corruption is shocking to behold. When you add on to that the stirring reggae sounds, this gutsy film looms as quite an accomplishment. But it's a film also with severe limitations, as its ego-tripping martyred hero is on a dead-end trip and his tenuous romanticized journey never gets to how it's the corporate structure in Jamaica that has a strangle-hold on the country's economy and its social structure.
REVIEWED ON 8/24/2015 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ