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The Harder They Come (The Criterion Collection)

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Reggae superstar Jimmy Cliff is Ivan, a rural Jamaican musician who journeys to the city of Kingston in search of fame and fortune. Pushed to desperate circumstances by shady record producers and corrupt cops, he finally achieves notoriety- as a murderous outlaw. Boasting some of the greatest music ever produced in Jamaica, The Harder They Come brought the catchy and subversive rhythms of the rastas to the U.S. in the early '70s. Criterion is proud to present this underground classic in a new Director Approved special edition.


Director-producer Perry Henzel's all-Jamaican-made 1973 classic, one of the most beloved and longest-running of all international cult favorites, fiercely expresses the live-wire Jamaican spirit--an impoverished Africa tuned to American radio. The film also incorporates an archetypal passion for "outlaw" justice common to American Westerns, which were a staple of the Caribbean theater 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, especially by singer Jimmy Cliff in the leading role and Carl Bradshaw as his archenemy, the film tells an anthemic Jamaican story to seductive rhythms of a soundtrack that became a reggae bestseller. 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, always 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--much to the delight of the people--eluding capture until the movie's shocking final moments. --Elena Oumano

Special Features

  • Exclusive video interview with Island Records founder Chris Blackwell
  • Illustrated bio-discographies on the film's contributing musicians

Product Details

  • Actors: Jimmy Cliff, Janet Bartley, Carl Bradshaw, Ras Daniel Hartman, Basil Keane
  • Directors: Perry Henzell
  • Writers: Perry Henzell, Trevor D. Rhone
  • Producers: Perry Henzell, Chris Blackwell, Jeff Scheftel, S. Leigh Savidge, Stephen A. Housden
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, Letterboxed, Special Edition, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: October 31, 2000
  • Run Time: 120 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: 1559409061
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,649 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Harder They Come (The Criterion Collection)" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Ted VINE VOICE on June 1, 2004
Format: DVD
This review is for the Criterion Collection DVD edition of the film.
Jamaica's first feature film is also the most famous. The film made reggae music popular in the US, influnced people to vout out the conservative government in Jamaica, and brought singer Jimmy Cliff to international stardom.
The film is about a young man aspired to become a famous singer. He performs for a record company, but is offered only $20 for the song. He thinks it is worth more but finally agrees on the $20. He later gets in trouble with the law and becomes even more famous as an outlaw.
I strongly recommend that you watch the film with subtitles, as many of the characters speak in a thick Patois accent.
The film has a R rating for profanity, violence, sexual content, and nudity.
The soundtrack to the film remains a big hit even today and it is said that even Bob Marley would be an unknown if it weren't for this film.
The criterion DVD has an exclusive interview with Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records.
There are also biographies and discographies of several musicians who helped witht he film's music. It also has full-length audio commentary by actor Jimmy Cliff and Perry Henzell, who wrote and directed the film.
This film is a must see for reggae music lovers!
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By P Magnum HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on May 13, 2003
Format: DVD
1973's The Harder They Come is something of the Jamaican version of Bonnie & Clyde or Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, but with a singular lead character instead of duo. Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff stars as Ivan Martin, who at the start of the film arrives in Kingston from the country with dreams of stardom as a singer. After struggling to find work, he is taken in by a preacher (Basil Keane) and falls in love with the preacher's ward, Elsa (Janet Barkley). After using the church to practice his song, the preacher kicks both Ivan and Elsa out of the house. Ivan eventually gets a chance to record his song, the movie's title track, but the producer, Hilton, does not offer him riches, only $20.00. Ivan decides not to sign the contract releasing the song to Hilton and tries to sell the record himself. What he finds out is that Hilton controls not only the recording studio, but the radio stations, record stores and club DJ's as well. Ivan goes back to Hilton and accepts the $20.00. With basically no money to support Elsa and himself, he is taken in by Jose (Carl Bradshaw) who is the local ganja dealer. Jose teams Ivan up with Pedro (Ras Daniel Hartman) to push drugs. The drug trafficking is like everything else that Ivan runs across in Kingston, rife with corruption, being run by the local police. Ivan doesn't like the pay out he is getting from Jose, feeling he is doing all the work and getting none of the reward. Jose thinks Ivan has become nothing but trouble, so he tells the cops to arrest him. When Ivan is being pulled over by a cop, he shoots and kills him instead of surrendering. He gets caught in another showdown with the police, killing several more cops.Read more ›
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By chuck on November 5, 2000
Format: DVD
The Harder They Come is raw power. Filmed in Kingston, Jamaica, the film stars Jimmy Cliff as Ivan, a country-boy who comes to the big city to make a better life for himself. Ivan wants his life desperately to matter for something; he wants to be somebody. This movie is about that journey---a journey to be somebody; to matter.
Ivan's dream is to be a singer and to make records, but he soon finds himself a pawn in the ganja (marijuana) trade. In his journey, Ivan bears witness to the record industry, the church, the police, and the drug traders. And within them all he sees institutional corruption and oppression of the poor. Ultimately, Ivan becomes an outlaw hero with gun in hand.
The movie infuses drama and music to great effect. Reggae, of course, is the music of The Harder They Come. In addition to Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytalls are featured as musicians within the movie. "The Harder They Come" is not only the name of the movie, but it is also the name of hero Ivan's hit record within the movie. The making of that record (when Ivan dons the gold-star shirt) is one of my favorite music-in-movie scenes. It is just plain real; Real music, real vibe...and real darn good.
The DVD features a commentary by the director Perry Henzell and star Jimmy Cliff. They are recorded separately and offer up some fascinating details about not only the film, but life in Jamaica in general. They also touch on The Harder They Come's impact on Jamaica's being a cultural and artistic force in the world today. The director's struggle to keep the production as unprofessional (and hence, "real") is both admirable and nearly comical. He actually winces at the performance of one of the few professional actor's in the production (Lucia White, who plays Ivan's mother).
Read more ›
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59 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Art on September 23, 2006
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I was extremely disappointed, on buying this DVD, to discover that the new, restored version is not an anamorphic transfer. It blows my mind that in this day and age, a historic film like this would be restored, remastered and released without using the best possible format.

More's the pity, as it appears that the actual transfer is an improvement over the earlier Criterion version. Nonetheless, this is an expensive "Deluxe" release, and those with widescreen TVs will undoubtedly want to wait until there is an anamorphic version (I should note that if you watch this on a widescreen TV, and zoom in so the picture fills the screen, you will not be able to read all the subtitles!). Those without fancy home-theater equipment are probably better off looking for a used copy of one of the previous releases.

It's truly sad that so much work was apparently put into the restoration of the actual film, and then a second-rate DVD was produced from it. I honestly can't recommend this DVD for anyone, especially given the list price, and would recommend that people wait for (and demand) a definitive anamorphic release of this all-time classic.
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Does anyone know what's "special" about this "30th Anniv. 'Special'...
I would Like to know too, the difference between the criterion, 30th anniversary edition and the edition that comes with the music CD.
May 29, 2012 by M. Mont |  See all 2 posts
Is this the real 1973 version? Be the first to reply
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