Jamaica has served for the background of various pix, and now comes up with its first indigenous pic. It has a sharp and racy rhythm, in keeping with the synchopated music of the isle, plus an underlying social theme in the guise of a familiar tale of an ambitious young man pushed into becoming a sort of small-time underworld character and then popular hero before he is shot down by the police.
Jimmy Cliff is jaunty , with charm as the provincial who comes to the big town after the death of his grandmother. He cannot find work as a singer of rock ballads, and ends up working for a harsh preacher. He takes a shine to the preacher’s ward and runs off with her.
For this, he gets whipped an begins to run drugs, manages to make a record, which catches on, but is kept from being exploited by a corrupt businessman who controls the music combines. He goes back to drugs, kills a policeman and becomes the public hero only to be finally shot down.
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Perry Henzell emerges a director with a solid visual flair who can mix action and inchoate rage sans excess to give the film a taut pacing and use the local color and a basically predictable tale with a few new twists. The knife fight is a dramatic extension of the anti-hero’s rage at the corruptness around him and the whipping is rightly rugged sans any sadistic forcing.
It has the elements for playoff abroad and also legs for the so-called U.S. black market these days.