The Harder They Come was the first Jamaican film ever released. Directed by Perry Henzell in 1972 it quickly became a cult movie in Jamaica, but also managed to become a Cult Classic in the rest of the world. In the United States it was marketed in the midnight movie circuit as something of an exotic Blaxploitation movie. Subtitles were required to help audiences understand the local Jamaican patois spoken in the film. This is why it was included in Danny Peary's first volume of "Cult Movies" (1981).
A poor and jobless Jamaican man is caught up in a life of crime. One day he gets his chance to break out of poverty by recording a hit single, "The Harder They Come". When he is paid a ridiculous low fee for it he starts plotting to rebel against the corrupt record producer, while at the same time continuously running from the law...
The film is notable for starring Jimmy Cliff in the lead role, who was the biggest reggae star before Bob Marley came along. Cliff wrote and performed most of the songs on the Cult Soundtrack, which all became hits in their own right: "You Can Get It If You Really Want", "The Harder They Come" and "Many Rivers To Cross". Other famous reggae songs in the film are "Rivers Of Babylon" by The Melodians, "Pressure Drop" by The Maytals and "007 (Shanty Town)" by Desmond Dekker. The hit songs made the soundtrack a genuine bestseller and many people in the West bought this Cult Soundtrack without ever having seen the film. Some might not even be aware that it is a companion to a movie! The album is considered to have popularized reggae in the rest of the world, laying the grounds for future acts, most notable Bob Marley.
Time Magazine included the album in their 2006 list of 100 timeless and essential albums. Rolling Stone placed it at #122 in their list of the greatest albums of all time. In 2003, UMG reissued the album, bundling it with a disc compiling other singles from the early days of reggae.
- "You Can Get It If You Really Want" - Jimmy Cliff (2:40)
- "Draw Your Brakes" - Scotty (2:57)
- "Rivers Of Babylon" - The Melodians (4:16)
- "Many Rivers To Cross" - Jimmy Cliff (3:02)
- "Sweet And Dandy" - The Maytals (3:01)
- "The Harder They Come" - Jimmy Cliff (3:41)
- "Johnny Too Bad" - The Slickers (3:04)
- "007 (Shanty Town)" - Desmond Dekker (2:43)
- "Pressure Drop" - The Maytals (3:44)
- "Sitting In Limbo" - Jimmy Cliff (4:57)
- "You Can Get It If You Really Want (reprise)" - Jimmy Cliff (2:43)
- "The Harder They Come" (reprise) - Jimmy Cliff (3:07)
Many tropes to cross
- As the Good Book Says...: "Rivers Of Babylon" by The Melodians is based on the Biblical Psalm 137: 1-4.
- Based on a True Story: Sort of. In the 1940s a notorious Jamaican criminal named Vincent "Ivanhoe" Martin, aka "Rhyging", managed to elude the police for several months and became somewhat of a Robin Hood character in Jamaica. He was eventually shot by the police.
- Blaxploitation: The movie was marketed in other parts of the world as a blaxploitation film, only because it features black people sticking it up to the man. But it did manage to reach the right crowd and became a mainstay in the midnight movie circuit.
- ...But He Sounds Handsome: Ivan, a total unknown in the music industry, goes to a soundsystem to see how people react to his first single. While the record is playing, he casually asks a stranger what he thinks of the song. When the man says "Not bad," Ivan responds, "I think it's a hit."
- Celebrity Cameo: Toots & the Maytals can be seen laying down voice tracks in the studio. They are also featured on the soundtrack. Ska musician Prince Buster cameos as a DJ, and Leslie Kong, who had helped launch Jimmy Cliff's career a decade earlier, portrays a recording engineer.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Hilton, Ivan's bent producer who uses payola to maintain his recording empire. He turns him down at first when he tries to haggle for a higher royalty, but then stiffs and tries to bury him before Ivan's crime spree causes him to re-release it.
- Crapsack World: Crime, poverty, corruption, police brutality, a mirror of Jamaican society.
- Cult Soundtrack: A huge international bestseller. It features four songs by Jimmy Cliff, two by the Maytals and one each by Scotty, The Melodians, The Slickers and Desmond Dekker.
- Den of Iniquity: "007 (Shanty Town)"And the rude boys at the wheel
- Downer Ending: Ivanhoe is eventually murdered by the police, just when he was making it big as a musical star.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: "The Harder They Come", "You Can Get It If You Really Want" and "Many Rivers To Cross" all sing about working hard and trying will make one succeed at last.
- Film Within a Film: Ivan and his friend Jose are seen watching Django in a movie theater. Spaghetti westerns were very much cult movies in their own right in Jamaica.
- Foreshadowing: Ivanhoe compares himself to Django, which ends with the title character being ambushed by police.
- The Foreign Subtitle: When first released in the West movie theater owners were forced to add English subtitles to the film, because nobody could understand the very thick Jamaican patois used in the film.
- Just Like Robin Hood: Ivanhoe is an outlaw, but has a good heart.
- Kensington Gore: The blood in this movie is obviously red paint.
- Named After Somebody Famous: Ivanhoe is obviously named after Ivanhoe.
- No Ending: The film ends immediately after Ivan is shot dead by the police. Just a Smash Cut to the last credits sequence.
- Novelization: Released in 1980 and written by Ekwueme Michael Thelwell.
- Noble Fugitive and Outlaw: Ivanhoe is chased by the police and wanted for murder, but he was forced to go into crime in order to survive.
- One-Man Song: "Johnny Too Bad".
- Pep-Talk Song: "You Can Get It If You Really Want".You can get it if you really wantYou can get it if you really wantBut you must try, try, try and you'll seeYou'll succeed at last
- Pop-Cultural Osmosis: Outside of Jamaica the soundtrack album is better known among the general public than the film itself.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: The story was based on a real life outlaw criminal in Jamaica. Apart from the that it was the first time that Jamaican youth could see their country on the big screen. It featured real Jamaican youngsters, speaking local dialect and going through raw troubles they were very real on their island, from poverty to corruption and violence.
- Record Producer: The soundtrack was produced by Jimmy Cliff, Gully Bright, Derrick Harriott, Leslie Kong and Byron Lee.
- Refrain from Assuming: Despite being a Jamaican movie it does not feature any reference to rastafarianism, nor Bob Marley. The movie was released before Marley broke through internationally, thus explaining why Jimmy Cliff was cast as star, seeing that he most the most famous reggae star before Marley surpassed him.
- Reggae: The soundtrack featured a lot of early reggae music.
- Scenery Porn: The shots of Jamaica are really gorgeous to watch.
You see, he feels like IvanBorn under the Brixton sunHis game is called survivin'At the end of "The Harder They Come"
- The track "007 (Shanty Town)" references James Bond and Ocean's Eleven (the 1960s version).
- The song "Rivers Of Babylon" by The Melodians would later be covered by Boney M and became a huge disco hit.
- "The Guns Of Brixton" by The Clash on London Calling references the film.
- Stoner Flick: Often treated that way, because it was... well... made in Jamaica.
- Streisand Effect: In-Universe, when Ivan, an unknown in the music industry, goes on the run from the police after shooting three officers, his song skyrockets in popularity. When the police tell his producer they're going to ban the song for glorifying criminality, the producer warns them that banning it will generate even more public interest.
- Train Song and Train Stopping: "Draw Your Brakes" by Scotty, a cover of "Stop That Train" by The Spanishtonians.
- Time Marches On: This film is a time capsule of what life in Jamaica was like in the early 1970s, from the poverty, the inner city crime to the popularity of radio d.j.'s.
- Title Track: "The Harder They Come"