Credited with bringing reggae to the world, and lauded for its soundtrack, The Harder They Come stars Jimmy Cliff as Ivan Martin, a small-town Jamaican who travels to Kingston in hopes of making it as a reggae singer. It turns out that breaking into the music industry is next to impossible and finding regular work isn’t easy. He’s turned away from several jobs because he has no real skills to offer and in one early scene, Ivan begs a woman to let him car or tend or her garden.
Things finally start looking up when he lands a job and begins to fall in love with his boss’s daughter (Janet Barkley). Eventually, Ivan even gets the opportunity to record a song–the title song that encapsulates the hardscrabble lives of most Jamaicans–but he soon finds out that the music industry is controlled by one man, Hilton (Bob Charlton) who can make or break an artist. When Ivan refuses Hilton’s offer of just $20 for the song, it goes nowhere. Ivan attempts to promote it himself, but no one will touch it, for fear of getting on the wrong side of Hilton.
In need of money, Ivan turns to running marijuana for a crime syndicate. Eventually, he runs afoul of police and other trackers. He ends up killing three officers and going on the lam. Oddly enough, Ivan’s outlaw status makes him a nationwide cause célèbre and Hilton begins promoting his long forgotten single. Soon, “The Harder They Come” is in heavy rotation on radio stations across Jamaica. Ivan has achieved the stardom he longed for, but at the cost of becoming a murderer.
The film deals head on with the fact that crime is often romanticized. This is especially clear in Ivan’s final confrontation with police, which is intercut with earlier sciences of a movie audience cheering on the violence in a spaghetti western. This only reinforces Ivan’s belief that he has transcended pop culture and reach demigod status.
A social commentary with political overtones, first-time director Perry Henzell lacks technical skill, but shows an ability to find the right shot for a particular moment whether it’s humorous or violent. Given the films limited budget, that’s an accomplishment. Everything is held together by the performance from Jimmy Cliff. Already a well-known musician in Jamaica, he had never acted professionally before. He proved to be a natural in front of the camera, though The Harder They Come is his only major film role to date.
Of course, what many will remember is the soundtrack and its role in introducing reggae music to the United States. The soundtrack, which features three songs by Jimmy Cliff, “The Harder They Come,” “You Can Get It If You Really Want” and “Many Rivers to Cross” and several other tracks by noted reggae musicians Desmond Dekker and Toots and the Maytals, makes for fantastic listening, but the tracks also blend perfectly into the film, setting the tone for what’s happening in various scenes.
No Place Like Home was shot shortly after The Harder They Come to try and provide a different perspective on Jamaica. Susan (Susan O’Meara) arrives in Jamaica as part of a film crew shooting a commercial for a shampoo. A model (P.J. Soles, in an early role), is the focus of the advertisement and the singer of a jingle. Susan is just trying to get the job done, when the model disappears, sight unseen. With the help of Carl (Carl Bradshaw) a local man brought on as a kind of Unit Production Manager, she attempts to find the model. While it becomes clear that the model has left the island, Susan finds herself enthralled by the culture and attracted to Carl. Can she now return to a normal life?
The filming of No Place Like Home was difficult for Perry Henzell. Though he started it shortly after finishing The Harder They Come, he didn’t complete it until 1982 because he had to stop filming several times to finance the film. Then, once the film was done, the negative disappeared. It was more than twenty years before more elements were found to put together the film that’s included here. It’s a shame it took so long, but it’s a fabulous bonus to have it here.
Presented in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, The Harder They Come is a 4K scan from the original negative. Because it was shot in 16mm, it’s a bit fuzzy, but still the best its ever looked by far. The level of sharpness and clarity is top shelf. No Place Like Home is presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio and from various elements. While there are moments of fuzziness, the transfer is impressive given the history of the film negative.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack brings the surroundings to life. Jimmy Cliff’s songs are given the spacing they need to truly flourish. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise throughout. The original mono mix is included for purists. No Place Like Home is equipped with only the DTS-HD MA mono track.
Both films include English SDH subtitles.
The following extras are available:
Disc One: The Harder They Come:
- Audio Commentary with Author David Katz
- One and All: The Phenomenon of The Harder They Come (HD, 10:09) An exploration of how the film brought reggae and life in Jamaica to audiences. John Densmore of The Doors discusses the impact the film had on him.
- Hard Road to Travel: The Making of The Harder They Come (HD, 52:01) Director Perry Henzell speaks extensively on the cultural impact of the film.
- Vintage Interviews: with actor Jimmy Cliff (HD, 9:40) Producer Arthur Gorson (HD, 7:26) and director Perry Henzell (HD, 10:54). Cliff is interviewed in 1986, in Las Angeles. Gorson reflects on the opportunity he had to produce a record at Dynamic Sounds. Perry discusses working on the sequel, No Place Like Home.
- Interview with Line Producer Yvonne Brewster (HD, 31:21) She describes how she went from being a high school teacher to part of a movie crew.
- “The Harder They Come” Music Video (HD, 3:32)
- Still Gallery (7:29) Lots of pictures taken during filming provide a real sense of the landscape.
Disc Two: No Place Like Home
- Audio Commentary: Sally Henzell, David Garonzik, Cookie Kinkaed, And Arthur Gorson.
- Perry Henzell: A Filmmakers Odyssey (HD, 25:00) A look at how the world of cinema was changing during the ’60s and ’70s. More specifically, the difficulties Henzell faced as he tried to complete No Place Like Home.
- Rise Up From The Cutting Room Floor – The Restoration of No Place Like Home (HD, 4:56) A look at how they found various elements and used a cut work print to match the film up.
- J. Soles Original Vocal Track (1:56) and Original Acoustic Guitar Demo Demo By Steven Soles (3:29) for the song from the commercial in the film.
- Theatrical Trailer (HD, 3:21) Teases the film rescued from the vault.
DISC THREE: The Legacy of Perry Henzell: A Story of Jamaican Cinema
- Filmin’ in the Gully – Anatomy of Three Scenes with Cinematographer Franklyn “Chappie” St. Juste (HD, 13:27) He discusses how he had no script and that they had to reshoot the first three reels of The Harder They Come because of a 16mm and Super16 mix up.
- Duppies in the Control Room – Dynamic Sounds Studios Then And Now (HD, 11:19) Keith Richards recalls recording “Goats Head Soup” there. Though the studio closed in 2015, we’re given a tour.
- 10A- Jamaica’s Film Yard – The Story of Perry Henzell’s Kingston Home and Production Center (HD, 13:31) Sally Henzell, Jason Henzell, Justine Henzell and others talking about where Perry worked. He converted his house into a post-production center.
- A Conversation with Sir Ridley Scott (HD, 24:26) Scott recounts shooting commercials on the island with Perry’s help.
- Out of Many: One Filmmaker (HD, 60:45) A look at all the local filmmakers Perry Henzell taught and supported through the years.
- Everyone Is A Star: The Original Cast (HD, 48:57) Catching up with P.J. Soles, Carl Bradshaw and Winston Stona, among others.
- Big Heap of Help: The Original Supporting Team (HD, 48:09) Interviews with Perry Henzell’s personal assistant Beverly Manley and others, who allowed him to work as hard as he did.
- Roots: The Family Henzell (HD, 46:05) Interviews with Sally Henzell, Justine Henzell, and Jason Henzell share plenty of stories about the family house being turned into a movie studio.
- How Perry Rocked The World (HD, 59:11) A discussion of the impact of the film. Interviewees include historian Chris Salewicz, composer Steven Soles, and others.
- Live From The Reggae Awards (HD, 11:52) Interviews conducted at the Jaria Awards, Kingston’s annual awards show. The Harder They Come is incredibly influential.
The Harder They Come (1972)
Movie title: The Harder They Come
Director(s): Perry Henzell,
Actor(s): Jimmy Cliff, Janet Bartley, Carl Bradshaw, Ras Daniel Hartman , Basil Keane , Bob Charlton
Genre: Music, Crime, Drama