It’s the most wonderful time of the year, which is to say when people online debate one of the most important subjects of our time: Is Die Hard a Christmas movie? The naysayers say it’s an action movie with too high a body count (and, to a lesser extent, some property destruction) to be a Yuletide staple. The yeasayers point out that it literally takes place over Christmas Eve, and no one would chuck Gremlins or Silent Night, Deadly Night from the Christmas canon.
Now there’s a major addition to the pro side: Die Hard’s very own director, John McTiernan. McTiernan helmed both the 1988 original and its 1995 threequel (as well as the first Predator, The Hunt for Red October, and the pretty fun remake of The Thomas Crown Affair). And in an admittedly quite rambling and not always coherent 12-minute interview with the American Film Institute, he discusses, among other things, how one of its inspirations was no less an Xmas classic than It’s a Wonderful Life.
Mind you, he was really inspired by one stretch of the 1946 drama: the section where James Stewart’s George Bailey is shown an alternate universe Bedford Falls, one where he was never born and where evil wealth monster Mr. Potter took over, even calling it Pottersville. That, McTiernan says, is what happens when the evil banker gets to do what he wants in the community without George getting in the way to stop it.”
What’s more, not only is the Pottersville sequence one of the most nightmarish in a Hollywood production, revealing the truly dark side to what has long been thought of as heartwarming Frank Capra-corn. It’s also, says McTiernan, “the clearest demonstration and criticism of runaway, unregulated cowboy capitalism that’s ever been done in an American movie.”
It’s a bit of a stretch to connect this directly to Die Hard, whose villains aren’t so much capitalists as thieves, and whose actual capitalists — the heads of the Nakatomi Corporation — are mostly depicted as sympathetic. (Even cokehead turncoat Ellis is more pathetic — and coked-up — then evil.) And while McTiernan’s argument — that Bruce Willis’ John McClane is a more trash-mouthed, trigger-happy George Bailey — is a bit dodgy, too, it mostly sounds about right that he wanted to stress his hero’s working class bona fides. He recalls pitching 20th Century Fox on an action movie with a more everyman action movie protagonist:
“I said, ‘Okay, if you want me to make this terrorist movie, I want to make it where the hero in the first scene, when the limo driver apologizes that he’s never been in a limo before, the hero says, ‘It’s alright. I’ve never ridden in a limo before.’ A working class hero.”
That said, McTiernan admits that, the It’s a Wonderful Life inspiration aside, they “hadn’t intended [Die Hard] to be a Christmas movie.” But lo and behold, it became one anyway.” “The joy that came from it is what turned it into a Christmas movie. And that’s really the best I can tell you about it.”
So there you have it: If George Bailey liked to cuss a lot, run around without even socks, and was a good shot, maybe he could have been played by Moonlighting-era Bruce Willis. Then again, George Bailey would never have been able to become a good shot because he wasn’t allowed in the army due to that ear infection he got by jumping into that ice cold water to save his little brother. In fact, that gives us an idea for a great double Christmas Eve double feature…
(Via The AV Club)