So here we are at Number One – THE BEST Christmas film of all time, and after It’s A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story went by you were probably thinking what on earth it could possibly be. Well, the wait is over – here it is!
It’s my favourite Christmas film because it can be watched all year round – you don’t need it to be Christmas to bang it into the DVD or Blu-Ray player or to select the illegally downloaded 1080p version you have hidden away on a hard drive.
So what is it? I hear you cry, Tell us, oh oracle of Christmas films. You have led us thus far!
Well, hang on there just a moment and let’s see if you can guess it from the description below.
It’s a heart-warming film about a man who flies into Los Angeles from New York on Christmas Eve to spend the holiday season with his estranged wife and children in a last ditch attempt to patch things up between them. She’s been working hard all year for a giant Commodities company and as a result has risen to the top. He is a New York policeman and is disappointed to find that his wife is now using her maiden name. Is this the cue for a delightful romantic comedy, where through the efforts of their adorable kids they somehow, despite all the odds, patch up their differences and have the best Christmas ever?
Not exactly. And why is that? Because when he’s freshening up in the executive bathroom the building is taken over by TERRORISTS!
That’s right, this is no soul-sucking, limp-wristed, namby-pamby, manipulative Christmas rom-com – this is DIE HARD!
In case you didn’t know - for maximum impact that last sentence should have been read in that deep, bass boom of that bloke who reads out the trailers for action films in cinemas. If you didn’t do it like that, try reading it again – it’ll sound better and it’ll also make you feel better. Promise.
When Die Hard was unleashed in cinemas 1988 no-one (and I mean no-one) had ever seen a film like it. It became the prototype for the modern action movie and is still today the benchmark against which I judge other movies of that genre. So far nothing has come even close to giving me that exhilarating rush of adrenaline I first watched this utterly brilliant movie. It takes about ten minutes to set up the situation and then it’s off and there’s not one single second of screen time wasted in its remaining two hours.
This was the film that made Bruce Willis a member of the A List. After two disappointing Blake Edwards films, Blind Date (1987) and Sunset (1988), both designed (I assume) to harness the comic potential he had shown in the hugely popular TV series Moonlighting, he hit the big time with Die Hard and proved that he was a movie star and not just someone destined for made-for-television movies.
Die Hard was released at a time when the action movie genre was dominated by the likes of Arnold Schwartzeneger and Sylvester Stallone and so casting Bruce Willis as the wisecracking, tough, anti-authoritarian New York cop John MCClane was a big risk for director John McTiernan. Especially after Nick Nolte, Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Richard Gere and Robert DeNiro were all offered the part before Willis. McTiernan needed an actor that could not act tough, but also look like he was clever enough to think his way out of the situation he was in and he got in his eventual casting of Bruce Willis.
Actually the first actor to be offered the part of John McClane was 73 year-old Frank Sinatra and here’s the reason why: Die Hard was based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Richard Thorp, which was a sequel to The Detective and because Sinatra played the main character of the novel in the 1968 film of The Detective there was a clause in his contract that stated should they ever make a sequel he would be given the right to reprise the role. Hmmm, Frank Sinatra running across rooftops and crawling through ventilation ducts – I don’t think so.
Although he made an impact in his first big budget movie, it’s not Bruce Willis who immediately springs to mind when the original Die Hard is mentioned in conversation. That honour belongs to British actor Alan Rickman, who made his charismatic villain, Hans Gruber, menacing, dangerous, intelligent and sexy all at the same time. He delivers a masterclass in movie villainy that has never been bettered by anyone . . . in anything . . . ever.
The supporting cast are excellent. Bonnie Bedelia as McClane’s tough wife, Reginald VelJohnson as the first officer on the scene Sgt Powell, Paul Gleason as the pig-headed Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson, William Atherton, as wily reporter Thornburg, Hart Bochner as slimy Harry Ellis, Alexander Godunov as the psychotic Karl and Robert Davi and Grand L. Bush as Agents Johnson and Johnson.
Like most Christmas movies, Die Hard isn’t completely believable, but it’s believable enough because it moves at such a speed that any plot holes are quickly covered up and the Christmas themed music keeps the pace moving constantly. But, let’s be honest, what is there not to like about this film? It has great dialogue written by screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Seven E. de Souza that is often very funny. It has scenes like a bare-footed McClane despatching a terrorist and then taking his shoes off him only to find they don’t fit. And when he sends that same dead terrorist down in the lift to join the remaining living terrorists he ties him to a chair with Christmas lights, puts a Santa hat on his head and attaches a note to his shirt that reads, “Now I have a machine gun. Ho Ho Ho.”
Die Hard is our annual Christmas Day film that goes on so we don’t have watch the depressing awfulness of Eastenders.
Why don’t you make it yours this year?
You know it makes sense.
A Merry Christmas and a Yippee-ki-ya to you all!