Actor Alan Rickman has died of cancer, the second cultural icon to have been lost to that disease this week. His nearly forty-year career on the screen is filled with too many works to name all of them here and probably not necessary to do, anyway, given his popularity. In recent years, he was the embodiment of Professor Severus Snape and brought life to a philandering husband in Love Actually. But an early film of his, the one that brought him into American consciousness, is what likely came to mind among readers here: Die Hard.
Like Love Actually, Die Hard is a Christmas movie, in the latter case, one that keeps glad tidings and good cheer to a blessed minimum. The John McTiernan film is also a relief from the stereotype of the 80s action flick in that the hero, John McClane, isn’t an invulnerable, grunting Neanderthal, and his eventual victory doesn’t feel inevitable.
But the story is as much made by Rickman’s character, Hans Gruber. Gruber is a delicious villain, a character who has received all the benefits of a classical education without being burdened by moral concerns. He’s stylish, enjoying fine clothing. He combines a reptilian coldness that is tough to disrupt with a calculating mind that has planned out every detail—almost. And unlike so many bad guys in the decade’s action films, he is an exceptional thief.
And he has good taste in guns. The Heckler & Koch P7M13 is more compact than McClane’s Beretta 92F, thus easier to conceal while holding only two fewer rounds in the magazine and benefiting from a low bore axis. For an American audience, arming Gruber with this Teutonic staple gun, as it gets called in discussion boards, rounded out the character’s exotic sophistication.