"The Walther PPK. 7.65 millimeter. With a delivery like a brick through a plate glass window... The American CIA swear by them."
— Dr. No (1962)
It's no secret that the next James Bond film Skyfall will be a product placement bonanza, and musical — thanks to Adele's theme song, which was released at 00:07 a.m. for today's 50th Anniversary Global James Bond Day and briskly set a download record on iTunes.
Already, the new Bond film is weathering complaints about everything from Coke Zero to China. From the trailer, we already know Skyfall will feature Sony's Vaio, a product placement that filled 2006's Casino Royale and the whole film has become bogged down dealing with its new villain nemesis: Heineken product placement. But one brand has appeared in more James Bond films than any other, and stands to get an even bigger role this year in Skyfall. Yet, Bond after Bond, it passes practically without comment.
Starting 50 years ago today with 1962's Dr. No, every 007 agent on-screen has carried a Walther handgun. The cineman's suave series of Bonds have carried the Walther PPK (Polizei Pistole Kriminal) model before switching to the Walther P99 in Tomorrow Never Dies. But trailers from the upcoming Bond film Skyfall show that Daniel Craig's Bond is returning to the PPK, an event monumental enough to warrant its own scene.
Bond's return to the PPK in Skyfall is reminiscent of the Walther's first Bond scene from Dr. No, still one of the greatest gun product placements in movie history: "You'll carry the Walther. Unless of course you prefer to go back to standard intelligence duties?"
Interestingly enough, Ian Fleming's novels also had Bond switch to Walther PPK from the Beretta. Following the release of Dr. No, the BBC ran a fascinating documentary about the Walther, a segment now included on DVD copies of the film.
The Walther PPK is an elegant complement to an elegant action hero. It is not Dirty Harry's "lucky punk" Magnum Howitzer, nor is it the Desert Eagle hand cannon that is popular with stars with muscle-bound action stars like Schwarzenegger, Lundgren and Van Damme.
At a November 2010 auction, the Walther LP53 used by Sean Connery to promote 1963's From Russia With Love, sold for £277,250 despite a target estimate of £15,000 to £20,000. Christie's auction notes tell one of the more interesting stories behind the Bond's relationship with the Walther brand:
The original vendor, who was commissioned to shoot the images required for the publicity campaign for the second Bond film From Russia With Love, explains in his accompanying letter that ...it was decided that for the main image in the poster and advertising campaign what was required was a strong portrait of Sean Connery as Bond 007, with his Walther pistol... He explains further that when Connery arrived at his studio for the shoot, it was discovered by publicist Tom Carlile that no one had brought the gun needed for the shoot, the synonymous small Walther automatic [Walther PPK]. By chance the photographer practised air pistol target shooting as a hobby and had the gun he used for this purpose, also a Walther, at the studio -- ...It was decided...that - without telling Sean or the other representatives of United Artists - we would use my pistol for the pictures and presumed that should anyone have doubts on their seeing the name Walther on the gun, they would be reassured. This was, in fact, the case. In theory...the long barrel of the air-pistol... should have been removed by airbrushing during the designing of the actual poster - in practice... this was never done…"
The gun has become so synonymous with Bond that, for decades, reviews and newspaper articles on Bond have made a point to mention the Walther brand. "That the barrel of this James Bond's Walther PPK is seldom cold is no accident," reads a line from The New York Times' review of 1989's License to Kill. During filming of Skyfall in February, the Daily Mail dedicated a whole column on Walther's Bond heritage after spotting star Daniel Craig with the PPK. And the subject need not even be about a 007 film. A 2011 Bloomberg piece on gun ownership in America was titled "Buddhist Packing Bond Pistol Shows American Warm Embrace of Guns."
And when Bollinger recently released a "002 for 007" bottle of La Grande Année 2002 champagne to commemorate 50 years of James Bond, it did so in "a gun silencer shaped gift box" that Bloomberg and others saw as evoking "the silencer on Bond’s Walther PPK handgun."
Just how much Bond's connection to Walther has boosted the brand's bottom line is impossible to know. But it is clear that the brand benefits handsomely from such a refined and admired Hollywood icon. In addition to however much the product placements drive sales, the role certainly plays a part in boosting the brand with existing consumers. In the Walther owners web forum, Bond is a popular subject; just as most Mustang owners revere the film Bullitt, so do most Walther owners feel affection for Bond
As for Walther, the brand has made limited efforts to leverage its Bond pedigree. A small number of special edition "007" P99s were made available some years ago by Walther. The guns featured serial numbers containing "007" as well as the MI-5 logo of the British secret service. Today, these guns are much sought-after collectors items.
Smith & Wesson, Walther's US distributor, has used the Bond connection in communications, if sparingly. A 2005 statement announcing a special 75th anniversary model of the PKK began by calling it "the pistol that helped make James Bond famous," and not vice versa.
Yet, neither the brand's official website nor the Smith & Wesson "about us" section of its US website even once mention Walther's James Bond connection. This absence seems enough to raise an eyebrow, considering it would seem that the brand itself is the only one in the world not aware that Walther is known — even to gun control advocates — as "James Bond's gun." As with Glock, Walther owes a good part of its modern success to its Hollywood product placement, even if audiences never complain about it.
(As is often the case when it comes to the subject of guns and Hollywood product placement, the brands did not return requests for comment.)