From Page to Screen: How Nothing Lasts Forever Became Die Hard
It was only a few years ago that I realized that the Bruce Willis classic Die Hard was based on a book. The book being Nothing Lasts Forever (1979) by Roderick Thorpe.
The book itself was a follow up to The Detective which would become a movie starring Frank Sinatra; so really, the original John McClane was Sinatra.
Sinatra would turn down the role in Nothing Lasts Forever and it was retooled into a potential sequel for Commando.
Arnie also unwisely turned it down but even then Bruce Willis wasn’t the next choice for McClane; Sylvester Stallone, Burt Reynolds, Don Johnson, Richard Gere, Harrison Ford, and Mel Gibson were all offered the role before it would get rewritten and eventually go to Willis, who was a TV star at the time with the hugely popular Moonlighting.
The studio didn’t have much faith in the idea of Willis as an action hero; Moonlighting was a lighthearted detective comedy which was miles away from the tone of Die Hard. Once the movie ended up a huge hit at the box office however, Willis was established as the new kind of vulnerable hero.
The overall storyline of Nothing Lasts Forever is pretty much the same as Die Hard but the characters are quite different.
In the book, the protagonist isn’t called John McClane, he’s Joe Leland; a retired NYPD detective.
When we are first introduced to him he is in a taxi on the way to the airport; he threatens a man with his gun who is trying to start a fight with Leland’s taxi driver. This straight away shows us that Leland (like McClane) will not take any shit from anyone. He’s jaded and a little cynical of the world and yet we take to him from the very start.
After this, Lelend visits a 40-story office of the Klaxon Oil Corporation (not Nakatomi) in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve, where his daughter Stephanie Leland Gennaro (Not his wife Holly Gennero) works.
While he’s waiting for his daughter’s party to end, a group of German terrorists take over the skyscraper. The gang is led by Anton “Little Tony” Gruber. Interestingly, Joe met Gruber during World War II when Joe was a fighter pilot.
The terrorists plan to steal documents that will publicly expose the Klaxon Corporation’s dealings with Chile’s Junta. They also intend to deprive Klaxon of the proceeds of the corrupt deal by dumping $6,000,000 in cash out of the tower’s windows. Leland not only believes their claims, but also that his daughter is involved.
Barefoot, Leland slips away 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 74 hostages, including his daughter and grandchildren.
Sound familiar? A lot of elements are similar, including McClane/Leland having to battle the terrorists in his bare feet. Hans Gruber is now Anton Gruber and I like how they have actually met before during the war. Gruber is even nastier in the book, killing people just because he wants to, not for any specific goal.
In the book Holly doesn’t exist; Leland’s wife is dead and his daughter has kind of lost her way; snorting cocaine with the sleazy Ellis but also may just be corrupt along with the rest of Klaxon.
This adds a whole different kind of drama to the story and the idea of the company itself being corrupt is a nice angle. Despite Die Hard’s classic status, I wonder if having this kind of storyline might have been even better. Obviously Bonnie Bedelia as Holly is fantastic, but I really like this other storyline from the book.
Al Powell is still in the book and his character is pretty similar to his doughnut munching silver screen counterpart.
We also have Karl who is also like his screen version, except his brother Hans is killed in the book… so we know where they got the name from for Die Hard. Karl is killed by Al in the book just like in the movie.
Surprisingly a lot of the action scenes from the movie are in the novel too; McClane jumping off the roof with the fire hose wrapped around him, throwing explosives down the elevator shaft and taping the gun to his back are all in there.
Whereas Die Hard has an almost lighter tone in places with humour and one-liners, Nothing Lasts Forever is a harsher book with Leland being even more brutal than McClane at his best. He has a few funny lines but he’s haunted by World War II, searching for a happy ending which apparently doesn’t come.
If you’re a fan of the Die Hard Movies then you should definitely give Nothing Lasts Forever a read as it’s fascinating to see how the character of Joe Leland evolved into John McClane, the hero we all know and love.