The Harder They Come and the Spaghetti Western Genre
During the ending moments of the cult classic The Harder They Come, Ivan evades the police while imagining himself in a western film. The images of Ivan’s fantasy audience are from the earlier scene where a group watches the spaghetti western Django at a movie house. These are explicit references to the spaghetti western genre, but there are several other nods to spaghetti western conventions throughout The Harder They Come.
The film opens with Ivan entering the city of Kingston. Ivan wears several different hats throughout the movie, but in the opening scene he wears a fedora. This opening acts as a reimagining of the typical spaghetti western introduction. Classics such as Django and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly feature a mysterious stranger drifting into town. The Harder They Come offers a contemporary version of the wandering protagonist, complete with a cooler take on the traditional cowboy hat. Here, director Perry Henzell is showing that, in modern times, style comes into play when shaping an iconic film character. We especially see the hip gunslinger persona later on in the film when Ivan is photographed wearing expensive clothing and holding a pistol in each hand. Perry Henzell is updating the genre of the western, placing emphasis on modern society’s want of a “cool factor.”
Interestingly, The Harder They Come contains some plot elements that are similar to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. In the same way that Blondie must team up with Tuco so they can both find the treasure before Angel Eyes, Ivan must turn to a life of crime and collaborate with the shady Jose. Both relationships go through sour phases and turn traitorous, because both duos are driven by the prospects of crime and profit.
Most importantly, however, The Harder They Come contains fight scenes that are fashioned in the spaghetti western style. The fight scenes are fast-paced, shifting back and forth between Ivan and his opponents. Shots frequently zoom in on Ivan’s face when he is in the most intense part of the fight. In the 1964 film A Fistful of Dollars, we get similar close-up shots on the Stranger’s face. During these close-ups, both Ivan and the Stranger display angry, intimidating facial expressions. These instances are designed to create tough personas for the respective protagonists.
Furthermore, there is a clear parallel between the film’s climactic ending shootout and one of the fight scenes in Django. Perry Henzell employs the same back-and-forth shift as earlier, and this style is also present in Django. This style emphasizes the divide between the renegade Ivan and the powerful police, but it also serves to heighten the suspense. We can see that Ivan is outnumbered and is, therefore, not the guaranteed victor. Ivan’s lack of victory contrasts sharply with the outcome of Django’s fight, which adds to Henzell’s reinvention of the style and relating the conventions of the genre to the crime underworld of Kingston. We get the sense that, unlike the events in movies that Ivan has watched, things do not often end happily for wanted criminals in the reality of contemporary Jamaica.
This movie shows obvious influence from spaghetti westerns, as evidenced by the clip from Django at the beginning. But, a closer look reveals some less obvious nods to this genre. The Harder They Come is not a “neo-western” just because it includes a few gunfights. The film employs the typical spaghetti western characters, plot, and cinematic style. Also, the film goes further out in challenging certain conventions of the genre and putting a modern, cynical spin on the western genre.
Corbucci, Sergio. Django. Blue Underground, 1966. Film.
Henzell, Perry. The Harder They Come. New World Pictures, 1972. Film.
Leone, Sergio. A Fistful of Dollars. United Artists, 1964. Film.
—. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. United Artists, 1966. Film.