Improbable Scenes in Die Hard and James Fenimore Cooper’s Novels

Recently, I was watching the first Die Hard movie (1988) on television.  Die Hard is based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever (1979) by Roderick Thorp.  In the action film, East German terrorists led by smooth-talking Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) hold hostages in the fictional Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles.  Their goal is to steal $640 million in bonds from the building’s vault.  The criminals have at least fifteen opportunities to capture or kill the hero John McClane (Bruce Willis), a New York and Los Angeles police detective whose wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) is among the hostages.  The scenes include hide-and-seek, races, fist fights, gun fights, wrestling, bombs, etc.  However, McClane escapes every time with only a few wounds and minor injuries.  After a while, I found this movie boring because the results of every action sequence became predictable:  one by one, the villains would fail and eventually get killed.

The improbable sequence of events in Die Hard reminded me of Mark Twain’s satirical analysis of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Deerslayer.  In the essay “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses,” Twain argues that Cooper’s fiction has many improbable scenes in which the Native Americans come close but fail to kill or capture the white heroes and heroines.  For example, one scene in The Deerslayer portrays six Amerindians who are in a tree above a huge boat moving slowly.  The Indians want to jump onto the boat, but all six miss and fall into the river.  Twain finds this ludicrous because real conspirators could easily reach the boat and wreak havoc.  “In that matter of intellect, the difference between a Cooper Indian and the Indian that stands in front of the cigar-shop is not spacious,” Twain insists.

The many terrorists in Die Hard resemble Cooper’s Native Americans.  Although they seem intelligent and sophisticated, the terrorists cannot figure out how to outwit McClane.  Die Hard has wonderful acting, but the plot lacks probability.

12597403645_e544d0e386_mark-twainPhoto by irinaraquel


  1. Marge Bullock

    Well stated. Agreed; especially about the boring nature of “Die Hard.” I’ve never been able to tolerate those films for long.

    On another subject, please consider including me for further “Heller Reunions.” We could drive together. My efforts to stay in touch with my father’s side of the family in Milwaukee have been not very successful.

    Wishing you and Mike well.
    Sending Kindest Best Regards,
    Marge Bullock

  2. Dr. Esther Javetz

    This must be a “formula” film, like many other detective or even Western movies. They are not trying to be realistic, just to build a hero or a hero plus heroine in difficult and tension created circumstances, where at the end the hero succeeds, and the viewer can have a sigh of relief.

    1. Janet Ruth Heller (Post author)

      Dear Esther,

      Thank you for posting on my website! Website traffic helps to make my site more visible in social media and Google. You are right that Die Hard is a “formula film,” but I have seen other such movies that are more interesting to watch. Die Hard seems way too long to me because the same type of situation gets repeated over and over. If I had been the director, I would have shortened the movie by at least 15-30 minutes by cutting the least effective scenes.

      I visited a Montessori elementary school in Kalamazoo yesterday to talk about my children’s book How the Moon Regained Her Shape and about bullying and to do creative writing workshops for the older students. One creative 10-year-old boy is writing a novel! I had a great time, and I sold some of my books to families.

      Happy New Year! Janet

  3. Beatrice Bowles

    Very intersting remarks! And most entertaining~ Beatrice


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