(also John McClane)
Created by Roderick Thorp
Certainly one of the longest private eye novel ever written, Roderick Thorp's The Detective was a 1966 bestseller. Comfortably middle-class private investigator JOE LELAND, a former big city cop and insurance company investigator, has set up a detective agency with partner Mike Petrakis, counting on Joe's reputation for integrity and professionalism -- and a lot of freelance work from the insurance company for which they both once worked. They operate out of an office over a furniture store in Port Smith, a town in some unnamed northeastern state, but business is certainly good -- Joe can afford his own plane, not to mention the cigarettes and booze that seem to keep him going.
When The Detective kicks off, Joe's going through a rough spot in his marriage (his wife, Karen, and their daughter Stephanie, no longer live with him). And then he becomes involved in a particularly nasty case that threatens to, as the blurb puts it,
It's a bold, deliberately showy plunge deep into the psychological complexities of a whole slew of characters, including, of course, Joe, and drew plenty of acclaim when it was first published. But it's also a big, deliciously trashy novel, and sold about a skedillion copies in the sixties.
Perhaps tellingly (or maybe just as a promise to readers who found the first book far too long), the much shorter sequel, which came out almost thirteen years later, was encouragingly titled Nothing Lasts Forever (1979).
As that one kicks off, twenty years have passed, the literary pretentions are muted, replaced by a far more plot-driven story. Joe and Karen have divorced, and she's since passed away. Joe's dissolved the agency and is now a private security consultant, lecturing on SWAT team tactics, anti-terrorism measures, aircraft security, etc., etc. He's very much in demand, travelling all over the world, and rarely returning to his New York apartment. He no longer flies his own plane, or even drinks. He's lonely, and only rarely speaks to his daughter, Stephanie, who's also divorced, with two children of her own. She has an excellent job at a petroleum company in Los Angeles, but Joe feels he's failed her. So the guilt-ridden dad decides to pay her a visit one Christmas at her office.
The two books are at almost opposite ends of the spectrum. One is an intense, slow-burn, serious minded novel; its sequel a pulpy, broad-shouldered action thriller that simply aims to please, with a scorch-and-burn ending that could have come from Dashiell Hammett himself.
Both Leland books were made into very successful films, although both took major liberties with Thorp's originals. 1968's The Detective had Leland back on the force as a New York City cop, played with considerable skill by Frank Sinatra, looking into the mutilation murder of a homosexual. With its frank (sorry) and "enlightened" attitudes towards gays, this was considered quite edgy and even daring stuff for its time. Aided by a great cast that included Lee Remick, Ralph Meeker, Jack Klugman, Lloyd Bochner and Jacqueline Bisset, the film did boffo box office, and still stands up as a rather engrossing, if extremely dated, police drama.
Faring even better when it comes down to the bottom line, though straying even further from the original source material was 1988's Die Hard, starring Bruce Willis, fresh off his success with TV's Moonlighting, where he played a conniving but rather soft private eye. Once again, Joe was cast as a cop, not a private eye, and this time he's not even a Joe -- he's a John.
As played by a newly buff Willis, John Maclain is a tough New York City cop on his way to a possible reconciliation with his wife over the Christmas holidays. Masterfully directed by John McTiernan, and featuring Willis in all his smug, smartass glory, this one set new standards for rock'em, sock'em action and special effects, and there's no denying Willis and crew delivered one hell of a action thriller, setting new standards for every film in the genre since --and rebranding Willis, making him one of the biggest action film stars of the eighties and nineties.
But for all the pyrotechnics, the film's finale is disappointing, an ultimately spineless and conservative conclusion that lacks the fiery punch of the novel.
Not that it matters much, I guess. The film has since spawned several increasingly disappointing sequels, and a ton of mostly lame imitations and rip-offs, often starring Willis himself. The film, with its Christmas setting, have even become a sort of tongue-in-cheek holiday classic, as evidenced by the 2017 publication of A Die Hard Christmas, a parody which retells the story in the guise of a children's storybook.
-- The New York Times, on The Detective
-- Chicago Daily News, on The Detective
-- San Francisco Examiner, on The Detective
-- Bill Crider on Rara-Avis
The diminishing returns begin.
A slight return to form, but very slight. It looked like a turning point for the series, but it wasn't. The worst was yet to come.
Dumb AND stupid. McClane travels to Russia with a grown son (whom we've never heard of in the previous films) to save the world. A good day to stay home and read a book.
ALSO OF INTEREST
The Illustrated Holiday Classic.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
| Home | Detectives A-L M-Z | Film | Radio | Television | Web Comics | Comics | FAQs | Search |