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The Harder They Come

January 21, 2011

576. The Harder They Come
Directed by Perry Henzell
Jamaica, 1973
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Ally
First viewing

Synopsis:

Ivanhoe “Ivan” Martin (Jimmy Cliff) moves to Kingston and struggles to find work. He proves to be a talented reggae singer, but can only release a record by signing away the rights to music mogul Hilton (Bob Charlton), who pays him a meagre $20. His friend Jose (Carl Bradshaw) introduces him to the marijuana trade and Ivan eventually becomes a violent outlaw.

Essential Scene:

Ivan auditions for Hilton, performing “The Harder They Come” in the studio:

Well you tell me of a pie up in the sky
Waiting for me when I die
But between the day you’re born and when you die
They never seem to hear even your cry

So as sure as the sun will shine
I’m gonna get my share, what’s mine
And then the harder they come, the harder they fall
One and all
The harder they come, the harder they fall
One and all

Thoughts:

Like Superfly, The Harder They Come is renowned at least as much for its soundtrack album as the actual film. It helped to popularize reggae with classic songs such as “You Can Get It If You Really Want”, “Many Rivers To Cross” and the film’s title track — all widely covered but never bettered.

The film itself is a gritty portrayal of Ivan, a musician whose ambition and ego leads him into a life of crime. His newfound notoriety as a killer has the side-effect of boosting demand for his record, which ends up being played almost constantly on the radio.

Ivan is eventually cornered by police marksmen. The climactic scene is intercut with a clip from earlier in the film, in which Ivan watches a Clint Eastwood film and an audience member comments, “the hero can’t dead till the last reel.” But this is the last real and, in true anti-hero style, Ivan dies in a hail of bullets.

And I keep on fighting for the things I want
Though I know that when you’re dead, you can’t
But I’d rather be a free man in my grave
Than living as a puppet or a slave

~ Jimmy Cliff, “The Harder They Come” (album version)

Oh yes, one more thing: Unless you are well-acquainted with Jamaican Patois, I would recommend watching with subtitles!

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