The Secret History of Die Hard: What if 58 Minutes to Live was a good film?

Die Hard 2 returns this evening on M6. The opportunity to dive back into its “secret history”.

Previous episodes:

The Secret History of Die Hard: The Roots of the Saga

The Secret History of Die Hard: Crystal Trap

September 1988: crowned with its success at the American box office, Crystal trap is released on French screens. But despite an advertising campaign modeled on the US, the film was a failure at the box office. It's that Bruce Willis is then still a virtual unknown in our country, the series which revealed it, Moonlightconsidered too “edgy”, having been scheduled for less than a year on M6… after 10:30 p.m. Considered today throughout the world as a pivotal film in the history of action cinema, Crystal trap will painfully accumulate 655,545 admissions at the end of its theatrical career in France (for comparison, Rambo IIIreleased the following month and generally considered a failure, will end its run at 1,989,064 admissions!).

Secret Suite

While the French are moving backwards, the Americans are already in the future. While Crystal Trap / Die Hard is only in its third week of theatrical release in the United States, the associate producer of Joel Silver, Lawrence Gordonhires the then-beginner screenwriter Doug Richardson to write “unofficially” Die Hard 2. “Officially I was signed by Lawrence Gordon to adapt the book 58 minutes by Walter Wager“, tells us Doug Richardson. “Lawrence Gordon was very smart. He suspected, given the initial success of the film, that the studio was going to ask for a sequel. He also suspected that many screenwriters were going to fight to try to get the contract. The studio was going to have his opinion on this, and this would have resulted in a waste of time, and complications that he wanted to avoid at all costs. So he recovered the rights to the book, 58 minutes, whose basic idea he liked, and hired me. I was a screenwriter then starting out. Able, but no credit, so my financial requirements were reasonable. That’s why I got the job!”

End fox, Lawrence Gordon succeeds in convincing Fox to finance the adaptation of 58 minuteswithout telling them at any time that it is the continuation of Crystal trap : “The studio liked the concept of the book, so they were on board. They made me a contract, which I signed, to adapt the book, but throughout the contract discussions, Larry (Gordon) was telling me “It's the sequel to Die Hard. Make sure that all we have to change in the end are the names of the main characters”. The villains' names were the same, only John and Holly McClane did not appear.

Unlike the adaptation of Nothing Lasts Forever in Crystal trapwhich retained many scenes from the book, there remained very little 58 minutes in Richardson's final script. “All we kept was the idea of ​​terrorists controlling the airport, and preventing planes from landing.”

Die Harder

After several months of work, the president of Fox, Joe Rothsummons Lawrence Gordon to tell him that he wants a sequel to Die Hard / Crystal Trap. “Hey, it’s fun, Gordon replies, I actually have a script ready!”. “I turned in my finished script, which was now officially the sequel to Die Hard, a week after Joe Roth requested it!” Doug Richardson tells us. Delighted upon reading the script, the studio gave the green light to the film… and the same thing happened to Doug Richardson as to Jeb Stuart in the first episode: Joel Silver fired the screenwriter to replace him with Steven DeSouza! Its main contribution: the momentary notoriety of McClane (borrowed from Commando II, see previous episode), as well as even more over-the-top action scenes. “The fictional country of Val Verde, which is an invention of DeSouza (initially in Commando, Then Predator NLDR), curiously, was already in my first version of the script”, Doug Richardson tells us. “I must have borrowed from him. Esperanza, the name of the general played by Franco Nero, was the name of my housekeeper's grandmother! The first part of the film follows my original script really closely. Then when McClane goes up on the snowmobile, the film begins to deviate from my scenario, to become almost too Bondian and fantastic for my taste. The scene of the plane crash full of travelers (which DeSouza likes to take credit for – Editor's note) was already there. in my original script the difference was that it was a private jet, which the bad guys sent into collision with a Fedex plane. It was the same idea, but without as many deaths…”

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Is there a controller in the tower?

Doug Richardson discovers the finished film in screening, where he realizes, to his amazement, that the name of the commander of the control tower, Ed Trudeau, has not been changed by the studio's lawyers. “However, I based this character on the real Ed Trudeau, head of the control tower at JFK airport! In the film, a plane crashes while he is in charge of the control tower. The name and the character's first name, physique, function and accent are the same as the real character, it is shown that he does not control the situation, and that he finds himself responsible for hundreds of deaths. There was a risk. real legal action”. Informed by Richardson of the error just before the film's release, the real Trudeau shrugs: “Is the movie good?” “Not bad. It’s going to be a hit at the box office.” “Well that’s all that matters!”

The discreet charm of 58 minutes to live

Released in theaters in the USA in July 1990, and in France in October of the same year, 58 minutes to live achieves the feat of overtaking Crystal trap at the box office (in France, the VHS of the first having increased the reputation of Bruce Willis, the second reaches almost a million entries). If the film suffers from comparison with the original, having long been viewed as the “less good” Die Hardit seems over time to take on a patina: the structure, close to that of the first, the post-modern side “self-conscious” (“how can the same situation happen to the same guy twice?!”) introduced by Richardson and developed by DeSouza, the return of characters from the first film (Holly McClane, the upstart reporter Richard Thornburg, Sergeant Al Powell), the aesthetic slow motion of Renny Harlin borrowed from John Woothe presence of Franco Neroof Robert Patrick (future T-1000 in Terminator 2), the ultra violence (the film was censored by the MPAA, but a workprint version with the violence intact is circulating), and apparently the presence of hair on Bruce Willis' head (which seems, strangely, to be a quality criterion for fans of the series): everything contributes to giving the work a certain vintage charm, welcome at a time when the public is complaining that entertainment is becoming too formatted and watered down.

And Doug Richardson in this story? Hired, then fired, breaking out in a cold sweat at the idea that the real Ed Trudeau was suing Fox through his fault, lectured by his mother outraged by the foul language in the film, he couldn't even make friends with Bruce Willis. But things will change in the next episode of the saga Die Hard.

To be continued…

David Fakrikian

Next episode, the multiple scenarios of A Day in Helland all its deleted scenes:

The Secret History of Die Hard: A Day in Hell


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