In the important breaking news department, a recent poll found that a quarter of American adults consider “Die Hard,” starring Bruce Willis as New York City cop John McClane and released in 1988, a Christmas movie; 62 percent said that it was not, and a wishy-washy 13 percent did not take a stand.
That anyone considers it a Christmas movie seems remarkable; “Christmas movie” and “body count” rarely appear in the same sentence, but apparently they can when it comes to “Die Hard.” McClane arrives in Los Angeles at the Christmas season to see his estranged wife. Right off, this premise indicates that it is not a true Christmas film because, of course, no real Christmas movie should be set in LA.
McClane goes to his wife’s office where a Christmas party is underway. Bad guys, led by Alan Rickman in his first movie role, take over the party and the entire skyscraper office building. McClane, who just happens to be away from the party action when the bad guys make their move, is now the only good guy capable of saving the situation. And—spoiler alert—after much hide-and-seek in the skyscraper, many remarkable escapes from danger, much ingenuity, and violence galore, he does.
A Christmas visit is part of the premise, but not much Christmasy stuff happens. Good cheer is largely absent although McClane, Scrooge-like, learns to value what he had not valued enough before, in this case his wife, played by Bonnie Bedalia, with a great 1980s hairdo. The movie ends on a faux Christmas note. As the credits roll, we hear the remarkably-voiced Vaughn Monroe sing, “Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but oh, you’re so delightful.” A winter song, but not a Christmas one, and the song’s refrain is more than a little ironic in the Los Angeles setting: “Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow.”
But I do have a soft spot for “Die Hard” that has existed from my first viewing. Something was upsetting me at work, and I went for a walk. It was a hot day, which also says something about whether “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie. It was released in July,1988. I saw a theater offering coolness and the film, and I paid the admission fee that, no doubt, would seem laughably small today. I gave in to the movie and left in much better spirits. A New York Times critic summed up what I felt: “Die Hard is exceedingly stupid, but escapist fun.” It was perfect fare to get me out of my funk, and I have remembered the movie fondly ever since.
I also remember the movie because Aleksandr Godunov played one of the bad guys, and seeing him in “Die Hard” reminded me of the memorable time that I first saw him. It was one of my infrequent visits to the ballet. The Bolshoi was at Lincoln Center in 1979. This was still the Cold War era, and Bolshoi visits were memorable. Of course, I had heard of the Bolshoi, but I knew nothing about the performers and not much about ballet in general. The spouse and I were at the performance of “Romeo and Juliet” when Godunov, in the role of Tybalt, made his entrance. I could not take my eyes off him. The spouse could not take her eyes off him. Every move, every entrance was a thrill. Call it what you will–“charisma,” “presence,” “it.” Aleksandr Godunov had it. I wondered if it were just the spouse and I who had that reaction, but the New York Times review showed that even a major ballet critic was mesmerized. No one less than Anna Kisellgoff wrote, “Charging around like an enraged bull, Mr. Godunov was magnificent. His mane of blond hair settled into a Veronica Lake style, but with a face attached to a permanent sneer and with a navel just short of peering out of a black tunic, Mr. Godunov radiated excitement every second he was onstage.” And this performance became even more planted in my mind when headlines announced a few days later that Godunov had defected from the Soviet Union. A newer generation may not understand the newsworthiness or even understand what was meant by a “defection”, but, well, they can look it up. And if you ever watch “Die Hard,” don’t just admire the banter between Rickman and Willis, watch Godunov move.