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Monday, April 10, 2017

Cinescape Magazine - Heroes, Villains, and Rogues - Die Hard's Hans Gruber


The first in a series of articles, looking at different characters all across the entertainment spectrum. From movies, television, books, animation and more.

We start off by looking at one of the better villains in cinematic history, Hans Gruber. When "Die Hard" came out, it was filled with actors that weren't widely known. Sure, Bruce Willis did "Moonlighting" and a few other movie roles, but he was the exception. Everyone wanted to know who this Hans Gruber guy was. European, sophisticated, knowledgeable and a little bit of a chameleon. Charming and ruthless, all rolled up into one well-dressed package.

Hans Gruber began life as Anton Gruber or "Little Tony The Red" in Roderick Thorp's novel Nothing Lasts Forever, the sequel to his hit book The Detective, the character, in and of itself, wasn't vastly different from his movie counterpart "Hans Gruber". They both had the same heritage, similar background and motivations. It seems that the movie version is a little more cleverly written.

The Book

In Nothing Lasts Forever, Anton "Little Tony The Red", is the leader of a group of terrorists that have taken over the Klaxon Oil Building. The son of a former SS officer and war profiteer from World War II, Anton was a well-educated child of privilege that became caught up with the fringe leftist institutions like Baader-Meinhof, with his political motivations providing a cover for his borderline sociopathic fascination with "presenting the gift of death". His calling card was "pinning a black boutonniere". Anton would dress up his targets and then execute them by shooting them through the lapel of the coat.

In Nothing Lasts Forever, Gruber is intent on exposing Klaxon Oil's illegal activities in Chile, by stealing documents, exposing the company of selling illegal arms in the Junta region and then dumping 6,000,000 dollars, the companies profits from the illegal arms deal, out of the windows of the skyscraper.

The Movie

We meet with Hans Gruber, a German "terrorist", whom has assaulted and taken over the Nakatomi Plaza to steal $650 million in bearer bonds from the buildings vault. Not much is known about the film version of Hans Gruber. He enjoyed making models in his youth and claims to have been classically educated. Gruber fell in with the Volksfrei (which may be a perversion of Volkish - the peoples movement or "the free people"), but he was expelled for his overly violent and extreme methods of getting things done. He used this affiliation with the group to fuel his ruse of a terrorist takeover of the Nakatomi building to keep the authorities from learning his real plan - stealing the bearer bonds.

Wrap Up

What's so great about Hans/Anton Gruber, is that he is a believable character. His motivations, background (at least in the novel, and characterization, make for a great study in how characters (villains primarily) should be written. Gruber isn't an over monologuing, loud mouth. He uses his wit and guile to get what he wants, only using violence as a last resort. In the movie, he uses it as a fear tactic, because he has a limited window of time, before everything goes to hell. Even though it is Christmas.

In the book, Anton uses greed more than anything else to get what he wants. He keys in on Steffi Gennaro, who is the daughter of the hero Joe Leland, and is desperate for money and is willing to sell out her own company to make a few bucks. Being divorced and basically living paycheck to pay check will do that to some people.

Anton and Hans Gruber both use the greed of people to get what they want. It's only when they come across people that aren't affected by greed, do they show their true colors. In Die Hard, Hans tries to manipulate Mclane, but nothing works, until Gruber finds out that McClane's wife Holly is one of the hostages and then he is able to get McClane to do what he wants. Sort of.

In the end, both characters end up falling out of the window of a skyscraper and thus ends the brief, but explosive life of Anton/Hans Gruber. Which is a shame, because it's a wonderful character and should have been explored a bit more in another movie or book. Making the character appear only once makes us yearn for more of the character and frankly, it's good that they haven't ruined the legacy  of Hans Gruber (or Alan Rickman) by making bad attempts at backstory movies or remakes.

Die Hard (1988)
R | 2h 11min | Action, Thriller | 20 July 1988 (USA)

John McClane, officer of the NYPD, tries to save his wife Holly Gennaro and several others that were taken hostage by German terrorist Hans Gruber during a Christmas party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles.
Director: John McTiernan
Writers: Roderick Thorp (novel), Jeb Stuart (screenplay)
Stars: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia

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