Only the hardest of hearts could fail to enjoy the great 80s action classic, rereleased for its 30th anniversary: with uproarious explosions, deafening shootouts and smart-alec tag lines following the bad guys getting shot. It’s the film that wrested the catchphrase “Yippee-ki-ay” away from Roy Rogers, with a certain vulgar addition. Every pub quizzer knows it’s a Christmas movie, but not many know of its unexpected cinematic use of the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth – the terrorists whistle it as they get closer to the target.
Bruce Willis plays New York police detective John McClane, in Los Angeles for an uneasy reunion with his semi-estranged wife, having failed to support her career move out there. While at her office building, owned by a Japanese corporation, the whole place is taken over by fanatically armed German extremists, an unfortunate juxtaposition of Axis powers. The intruders are led by Hans Gruber, a renegade German terrorist with links to Northern Ireland’s “New Provo Front”. It’s a glorious scene-stealer for Alan Rickman, though it’s a credit to Willis’s cheeky charisma that his scene is not in fact stolen.
Singlehandedly, covered in sweat and muscles, wearing nothing on his top half but a manly vest and finally not even that, McClane hides in the elevator shaft and takes down Gruber and his whole hideous crew, one by one. The only help he has from the outside is a tough, capable LAPD cop, Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson). The stuffed shirts of the FBI are certainly no help and the TV news media are needless to say the terrorists’ contemptible useful idiots. Finally, his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) introduces herself to Al using her married name, and the natural order of things is restored.
It’s an incredible 80s time capsule, with Hans fondling a Filofax as he silkily addresses the hostages and a coke-snorting office worker describing the situation in terms of a hostile takeover: with talk of “Greenmail”, “Poison pill” and “white knight”. An innocent pleasure.