It began a little over half a century ago in Kingston, Jamaica, when Strangways went off the air at the beginning of his regularly scheduled transmission to MI6 and James Bond was dispatched to investigate. The film was Dr. No, and it made the Walther PPK the most famous gun in the world.
Over the last 50 years, from 1962’s Dr. No to 2012’s Skyfall, there have been 23 Bond films, plus Sean Connery’s singular and controversial 1983 remake of Thunderball titled Never Say Never Again, which went head-to-head with Roger Moore’s sixth turn as 007 in Octopussy. Interestingly, both Connery and Moore carried 9mm Walther P5 Compacts in the two competing films. Moore appeared in his seventh and final Bond epic in 1985’s A View to a Kill. In the next two films, The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence to Kill (1989), British actor Timothy Dalton portrayed Bond in a more brooding and almost cruel way compared to Moore’s lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek style. With audiences recoiling over Dalton’s darker side of 007, Pierce Brosnan stepped into the role in 1995 as the fifth actor to holster a Walther PPK. Brosnan’s characterization was part Connery and part Moore, a mix that made him the second most successful actor to portray 007 in a total of four films, the last of which carried Bond into the 21st century in 2002’s Die Another Day. By then the venerable PPK had been replaced by a Walther P99.
A great deal of Walther’s popularity among gun owners and collectors over the last half-century has stemmed from 007’s use of the PPK, whether portrayed by Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan or Daniel Craig. As the sixth James Bond, Craig has taken the character closer to the ideal of 007 as written by Ian Fleming than anyone since Sean Connery’s portrayals in Dr. No and From Russia with Love.
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The last Bond offering, Skyfall, became a theatrical blockbuster in 2012 while taking us to the very origin of the Bond character and, in its own devious way, bringing us back to the beginning with sets and villains reminiscent of those very early Connery films of the 1960s. Aside from the blond hair and blue eyes (and lest we forget Roger Moore had sandy brown hair, too), Craig is the very embodiment of the James Bond Ian Fleming created in his postwar 1950s novels.
Bond Gets His Gun
The guns of James Bond are a double-edged sword, as neither the guns nor the movies actually coincide with Ian Fleming’s novels. For movie fans, the story of James Bond and the Walther PPK goes back to Dr. No, when M asks 007 to hand over his gun. “Yes, just what I thought,” he says angrily, “this damned Beretta again. I’ve told you about this before.” He then hands the pistol to Q, who rolls it over in his hand and quips, “It’s nice and light—in a lady’s handbag. No stopping power.”
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M looks straight at Bond and says, “You’ll carry the Walther. Show him Q.” He loads the magazine, slaps it into the gun and hands it to 007. “Walther PPK, 7.65mm with a delivery like a brick through a plate-glass window. Takes a brush silencer with very little reduction in muzzle velocity. The American CIA swears by them.” (A technical error on the part of the film’s writers and set armorer, 7.65mm is .32 ACP not .380, an oversight that most people miss in the dialogue.) Bond holds the PPK, feels its weight and balance, and slips it into his tan and blue chamois shoulder holster. And thus the legend began.
This pivotal event is taken out of sequence cinematically. In the first Bond novel, Casino Royale, written in 1953, Bond carried the Beretta and continued to do so until Dr. No, the sixth of the Bond adventures but the first to make the big screen. Why did Fleming originally give 007 a Beretta and not a Walther PPK? The answer lies with Fleming himself.
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Fleming’s career as a novelist began after World War II, and his creation of James Bond was based in part on his real-life exploits as a special operative. Fleming was a lieutenant commander and later commander in British Naval Intelligence, as was his literary alter ego Commander James Bond. Fleming carried a Beretta during the war and one of his later book titles was the actual name of a special operation he had conceived during the war, Operation Goldeneye.
After the success of Dr. No, United Artists (MGM/UA) quickly followed up with From Russia with Love, the last of the series to rely almost entirely upon on the guile of 007 rather than the series of clever and often implausible gadgets that have followed. No matter what outrageous technology Q handed over to 007 before each mission, Bond could always rely on his Walther PPK—that is until 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies, when Brosnan first began holstering the latest handgun from Carl Walther GmbH, the 9mm P99 pistol.
One of the most advanced double-action/single-action (DA/SA) semi-autos available in the late 1990s, the P99 was developed for police and military use as well as commercial sales and incorporated handling and operational attributes that set it apart from most contemporary semi-autos of the day. It was the first semi-auto with a striker-fired action that combined the advantages of a double- and single-action handgun with the ease of operation only a hammerless design can offer. And, to top it all off, the P99 had a decocker, a feature that Daniel Craig made prominent use of in his debut as 007 in 2006’s Casino Royale. In the next film, Quantum of Solace, which literally picks up minutes after the end of Casino Royale, and in 2012’s Skyfall, 007 wields a PPK/S, including a very odd and short-lived Q Branch-altered example in Skyfall with a palm-print sensor in the grip so it only functions for Bond. When picked up by a gangster who turns it on 007, Bond quips, “Good luck with that.”
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After half a century, we should have learned that nothing can replace 007’s original PPK.
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