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MILESTONE -The Harder They Come


By Howard Campbell
Observr senior writer

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

The Jamaica Observer's Entertainment Desk continues its daily year in review of people who made an impact during the year.


THE Harder They Come turned 45 this year. Director Perry Henzell's little movie that did premiered in June 1972 at The Carib cinema in Cross Roads, St Andrew.

Starring Jimmy Cliff as aspiring singer Ivan, The Harder They Come is one of the most inspirational, music-driven movies ever made. It's right up there with West Side Story and Saturday Night Fever.

Henzell and Trevor Rhone co-wrote the screenplay which was based on Ivanhoe “Rhyghin” Martin, the Linstead outlaw who stalked sections of Kingston during the late 1940s.

Garth Rose, former general manager of the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation, was among the patrons at The Carib premier in 1972. He recalled the response to Henzell's low-budget masterpiece.

“The Carib was crowded to capacity, and the reaction from the audience was extremely enthusiastic. I found this surprising as, at the time, Jamaican middle/upper class society expressed some trepidation to the Rastafari and ghetto life, issues depicted vividly in the movie,” Rose told the Jamaica Observer. “But the audience, which was overwhelmingly middle/upper class, reacted positively to the characters and the plot. Moreover, they were enthralled with the music.”

Eight months later, The Harder They Come opened to similar response, albeit in small theatres, in the United States and later the United Kingdom.

Through the movie, many Americans were introduced to Jamaican culture for the first time. Reggae, which was still finding its feet in the UK, soon won thousands of new fans in major US cities like New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago.

The film's soundtrack was just as sensational. Songs like the title theme by Cliff, The Melodians' spiritual By The Rivers of Babylon and rebellious Pressure Drop by Toots and The Maytals made it a pop phenomenon.

Several of the leading players in The Harder They Come have died, including Henzell and Rhone. Cliff is an icon who still tours the world. Fans never tire of hearing him sing The Harder They Come or watching the movie that helped put Jamaica, and reggae, on the map 45 years ago.