Whether or not you consider Die Hard to be a Christmas film (it is, by the way), one thing we can all agree on is that it’s a fucking good movie. A large part of that is thanks to Bruce Willis’ portrayal of NYPD detective John McClane. Before this, action heroes were often great, hulking men that looked as though they were carved out of granite, lumbering about the place dispatching hordes of bad guys and gleefully spouting one liners, usually with a thick Austrian accent.
I bloody love Arnie.
But I digress.
Bruce Willis made the action hero more relatable; he’s an everyman that gets the job done through sheer grit and determination instead of flash and pizazz. He could blend in with a crowd but still believably tear through a skyscraper full of miscreants single-handedly.
Blending in was something that the late great Frank Sinatra couldn’t do. He oozed charisma, with an air of impossible suave and a voice that could moisten the knickers of many an onlooker. Not qualities you’d attribute to John McClane.
McClane originally started life as a private detective called Joe Leland and was the titular character in The Detective, a novel penned by American author Roderick Thorp. The Detective was adapted into a film starring, you guessed it, Frank Sinatra. After watching The Towering Inferno, Thorp was inspired to write a sequel that put Joe Leland in a high rise building with a group of terrorists.
So a detective is trapped in a skyscraper and has to fend off swathes of baddies… Sound familiar?
This sequel was called Nothing Lasts Forever and it would eventually morph into the script for Die Hard. Thus, Joe Leland was repackaged as John McClane. For the purpose of this new film, the protagonist needed to be relatable, unpolished and willing to throw himself in at the deep end without the faintest whiff of forethought.
So Frank Sinatra never officially played John McClane on screen, however, he did play a character that would evolve into the McClane we know and love today.