Director-producer Perry Henzel’s all-Jamaican 1973 classic The Harder They Come–one of the most beloved of all international cult favourites–fiercely expresses the live-wire Jamaican spirit when an impoverished Africa tuned to American radio. Ivan, a country boy who dreams of fame as a singer, rides into Kingston on a rickety country bus in the opening scenes, only to meet with disaster heaped on disaster at the hands of those masked as friends. In a breathless defining climax, Ivan finally breaks from his passivity and begins to wreak his revenge. Soon Kingston’s music Mafia and the equally corrupt authorities are after him, but like the real-life people’s hero (a man named Rhygin) on whom this character is partially based, Ivan leads them on a maddening chase eluding capture until the movie’s shocking final moments. ,p.
The film incorporates an archetypal passion for “outlaw” justice common to American Westerns, which were a staple of the Caribbean theatre circuit at the time. Released just 12 years after Jamaica achieved independence, The Harder They Come also reflects the disenchantment that soon followed a massive post-independence exodus from the island’s country hamlets to the tropical ghettos of Kingston, where a more grinding urban poverty awaited. Brilliantly shot, directed, written, and acted; singer Jimmy Cliff excels in the leading role and Carl Bradshaw shines as his arch-enemy, the film tells an anthemic Jamaican story to seductive rhythms of a soundtrack that became a reggae bestseller.–Elena Oumano