Featuring a fantastic 1970s reggae soundtrack, The Harder They Come, featuring Jimmy Cliff is the next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of Jailhouse Rock.
Ivan Martin (Cliff) is trying to find a way to succeed, even survive, in Jamaica. He sets his sights on making it as a reggae singer, but soon finds himself tied to drug dealers and trying to get past corrupt record producers.
The Jamaica on the screen is not one that is often seen, we see both the luxury (briefly), and almost the third world nature of some of the neighbourhoods. It’s not all beautiful beaches and sunsets.
Of course, there’s a girl, Elsa (Janet Bartley) who is the ward of the township’s Preacher (Basil Keane) who doesn’t like Ivan, his music, or his interest in Elsa.
The producer, Hilton (Bob Charlton) owns the business, he keeps his artists poor, and tells the radios what to play. He creates the hits, and no matter what Martin does, he can’t seem to get around it.
So he turns to other venues to earn his share.
In fact there are some typical musical and melodramatic stereotypes at work in the story. It also plays very much like a low-budget blaxploitation film. It’s filled with violence, sex, and some great music as Ivan tries to find his way out of the world he seems trapped in.
The film is entertaining, doesn’t flinch from its portrayal of both poverty, desperation, and the desire to find some way, any way, out of it.
That, coupled with the soundtrack makes for a very solid film, and Cliff turns in a solid performance as Martin.
Taking its cues from films like Bonnie & Clyde and Scarface, the film plunges Martin into darkness and violence all in an attempt to get his own. He doesn’t quite become a folk hero, but he garners a measure of fame and success. He attains it the only way he can, when he is denied the music venue, and everything around him seems designed to keep him down.
There are quiet moments when the beauty of Jamaica shines through, but more often it is coupled with a chilling glimpse of what the island was like in the late 60s.
While I was entertained by the film, it is the music of the film I enjoyed most. There are tunes by Cliff and it brings the island to life while also making a social commentary on them and the world.
I rather enjoyed this one. There are recognisable themes that play throughout all of it, making it relatable and entertaining all in one.