Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What If Die Hard Had Starred Frank Sinatra?

We were having a lazy Saturday evening last weekend. We had ordered Mexican in, had already rented one movie and were trying to decide on another. While going through my catalog, I happened upon Die Hard. It's a classic. It kickstarted the concept of the everyman action hero. Before Die Hard, action heroes were all buff muscleheads like Schwarzenegger or Stallone. That's not to say that Bruce Willis was the first choice to star in Die Hard. The aforementioned musclehead,  Stallone was actually offered the role of John McClane, as was Harrison Ford and Don Johnson. However, before any of the previously mentioned actors were offered the lead role in Die Hard, it had to be offered to one specific actor: Frank Sinatra.

Die Hard is based upon Roderick Thorpe's novel Nothing Lasts Forever which is a sequel to his previous novel The Detective. The Detective was adapted to film and starred Frank Sinatra as New York City police detective Joe Leland who is called to investigate a strange and brutal murder.  Leland tries to remain focused on the case while running afoul of powerful interests in the city who do not want him asking questions and while dealing with the breakdown of his marriage. The sequel novel, Nothing Lasts Forever was written thirteen years after The Detective and had Joe Leland in a very similar situation to the one that eventually involved John McClane. Sinatra was in his 70's at the time production began on Die Hard, and nobody involved seriously believed that he would take on the lead role. However, due to the nature of how Die Hard was brought to life, Fox was contractually obligated to offer it to Frank Sinatra first. Mr. Sinatra, of course, turned it down. But, could you imagine if he hadn't? The plot might have gone something like this:

On Christmas Eve, retired New York City Police Detective Joe Leland flies into Los Angeles to visit his daughter, Stephanie Leland Gennaro, and his grand children. While in flight, he flirts with the stewardess and laments the ending of his marriage years before. He lands at LAX and is driven to the Nakatomi Plaza building for a company Christmas party by Argyle. Leland makes some vaguely racist remarks that mark him as a relic. Before seeing his daughter and grandkids, Leland changes clothes in an empty office and calls the stewardess to arrange a meetup. The party and Joe's phonecall are disrupted by the arrival of Anton "Little Tony" Gruber (whom Leland met during World War II) and his heavily armed group of terrorists. The group seize the tower and secure those inside as hostages, except for Leland who slips away barefoot and manages to remain undetected in the gigantic office complex. Aided outside only by LAPD Sergeant Al Powell and armed with only his police-issue Browning Hi-Power pistol, Leland fights off the terrorists one by one in an attempt to save the hostages. Throughout the film, the themes of guilt, alcoholism and the complexities of the human mind are explored. In the end, Leland saves the day, but he eventually succumbs to his wounds. He dies hard and ultimately proves that nothing lasts forever.

Die Hard is a pretty faithful adaptation of Nothing Lasts Forever and many of the scenes and dialogue in Die Hard are taken directly from Nothing Lasts Forever. I, for one, would have loved to have heard an aging Frank Sinatra deliver Die Hard's signature line "Yippee ki-yay, ya mook!" Had Sinatra's version of the movie been successful, it may have ushered in an entire genre of Grandpa Action Heroes. Imagine Sidney Poitier starring in Under Siege, Walter Matthau in Speed, Jerry Lewis in The Rock and, the coup de grace, Abe Vigoda in Home Alone.

Looking to the future, one might think that, if they ever decide to do a Die Hard reboot, they might start with Die Hard 6: The Detective and do a re-imagining of the original Roderick Thorpe novel. Die Hard 6 may end up telling the story with John McClane circa 1979 as a no-nonsense New York detective called to investigate a strange and brutal murder.....

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