Aston Martin deflects current crisis with 2-year-old news

Aston Martin playbook? Play up your connection to the 007 film series. 

Aston Martin, amid a plunging stock price, falling sales and many other challenges, dumped its CEO and selected a replacement. How do you deflect bad news?

If you’re Aston, play up two-year-old news and your connection to the James Bond film series.

Aston said in August 2018 that it planned to build 25 replica DB5 cars complete with gadgets from Goldfinger The cost: (in U.S. dollars) $3.5 million each.

Warning: The cars were not “road legal” (or “street legal” as the term is used in the United States).

Regardless, Aston said deliveries wouldn’t take place until 2020.

Flash forward to late spring of 2020, Aston Martin has gotten a new CEO. After years of saying it needed to diversify from James Bond, Aston is as tethered to Bond as ever.

How do you get out of this?

Play up your Bond connections. Again.

The New York Times bit in a May 25 story. So did the Hindustan Times in a May 28 story.

The Times’ story referenced how Chris Corbould, who has worked on special effects for many Bond films, was involved in the project. But, that wasn’t news, either. An August 2018 release by Eon Productions mentioned how Corbould was involved in the project.

Safe to say, Aston Martin has many challenges ahead. But the 25 DB5 replicas aren’t going to save the company.

Aston Martin to undergo management shakeup, FT says

Iconic publicity still for Goldfinger with Sean Connery leaning against the Aston Martin DB5.

Aston Martin, the British maker of luxury sports cars, will see a management shakeup, the Financial Times reported.

Current CEO Andy Palmer will depart the company and be replaced by Tobias Moers, the head of Mercedes-Benz’s AMG performance arm, the FT said, citing two people familiar with the plans it didn’t identify.

Aston Martin was sold by Ford Motor Co. in 2007 and has run into a series of financial challenges since. The company is best known for its association with the James Bond film series produced by Eon Productions.

The announcement of the change is scheduled for Tuesday, the FT said.

Peter Campbell, the FT writer who did the story, said on Twitter that Aston Martin later issued a statement that it “confirms that it is reviewing its management team and a further announcement will be made as and when appropriate”.”

Palmer joined Aston as CEO in 2014 from Nissan Motor Co. Earlier this year, Lawrence Stroll, described by the FT as “a Canadian billionaire with a background in motor racing and luxury fashion labels,” led a financial rescue of Aston Martin.

A variety of Aston Martin models, including replicas of the DB5, will appear in No Tie to Die. The company has been part of the Bond series since the original DB5 was in 1964’s Goldfinger.

The remarkable Paul Dehn

Paul Dehn (1912-1976)

While doing some research, it occurred to me how remarkable Paul Dehn’s career as a screenwriter was.

In the space of one year Dehn adapted film versions of Ian Fleming (Goldfinger) and John Le Carre (The Spy Who Came in From the Cold).

In the space of 10 years, Dehn added adaptations of William Shakespeare (The Taming of the Shrew, with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton) and Agatha Christie (the 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express).

On top of that, he worked on four sequels for The Planet of the Apes.

Dehn (1912-1976) engaged in intelligence activities during World War II, according to his WIKIPEDIA ENTRY. In the post-war years, Fleming, Dehn and former intelligence operatives such as Alan Caillou (1914-2006) drew upon their experiences in spinning stories for film and TV shows.

Still, Dehn had quite a ride. He was the second writer brought in for Goldfinger, brought in by Harry Saltzman after Richard Maibaum had begun the process.

“Dehn solved the final problems of the adoption and added some Britishness,” film historian Adrian Turner wrote in the 1998 book Adrian Turner on Goldfinger.

“Although Maibaum had disapproved of much of Dehn’s work, Dehn sent him a cable on the day of the film’s premiere — “Congratulations on Goldfinger am proud to have collaborated with you” — which was a nice gesture,” Turner wrote.

Turner added that had “a strong sense of British tradition” and “wrote poetry, lyrics for popular songs, plays and libretti for short operas.”

Dehn died on Sept. 30, 1976, at the age of 63.

Honor Blackman dies at 94

Goldfinger/Dr. No double feature poster featuring images of Honor Blackman, Ursula Andress, and Sean Connery

Honor Blackman, who made an impression with audiences as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, has died at 94, The Guardian reported.

She “died of natural causes unrelated to coronavirus,” the newspaper said.

Blackman’s Pussy Galore was the lead female character in the 1964 Bond film that turned the gentleman agent into a global phenomenon.

She made her mark in his very first scene. Sean Connery’s Bond sees Pussy Galore’s face after waking up from a drugged dart.

“Who are you?”

“My name is Pussy Galore,” she responds.

“I must be dreaming,” Bond says.

In the film, Blackman’s character is working as the personal pilot for Auric Goldfinger. She tells Bond that the agent can “turn off the charm” because she’s “immune.” It was a veiled reference to how the character was a lesbian in Ian Fleming’s original 1959 novel.

Pussy Galore displays judo skills, capturing Bond after he’s been observing Goldfinger conducting a briefing about Operation Grand Slam. This sets up a later scene where the two characters throw each other around before Bond gets on top of her. As the scene ends, she is enthusiastically kissing him but for some audience members, it’s too close to rape.

“I think this is one of the trickiest scenes in the movie,” director Guy Hamilton said on a commentary track for a Criterion laserdisc that was recalled. “How to go from dy** to sexpot to heroine in the best of two falls, one submission and one roll in the hay. I suppose it comes off.”

The movie helped launch the 1960s spy craze, Within a year of Goldfinger’s release there were new spy TV shows such as I Spy (relatively realistic spies), The Wild Wild West (spies in the Old West) and Get Smart (comedy spies). Other spy film series, such as Matt Helm and Derek Flint would go into production.

Prior to Goldfinger, Blackman played Cathy Gale on The Avengers. Like Pussy Galore, the character was independent. After Blackman’s departure, Diana Rigg came aboard as Emma Peel.

One episode depicts John Steed (Patrick Macnee) receiving a card from Cathy Gale. He wonders aloud why it was sent from Fort Knox. Both Rigg and Macnee would later appear in Bond films (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and A View to a Kill respectively).

Blackman’s IMDB.COM ENTRY lists more than 100 acting credits. One of the highlights, for American audiences, was a 1972 Columbo episode, Dagger of the Mind.

The story was set in London and featured Blackman and Richard Basehart as Shakespearean actors who commit murder. Unfortunately for them, Lt. Columbo (Peter Falk) happens to be in London and assists Scotland Yard in the case.

UPDATE (1:50 p.m., New York time): The official social media accounts of Eon Productions published a tribute to Blackman.

 

About the buzz over a Bond title song performer

John Barry (1933-2011)

Whenever a new James Bond is being made, there’s a lot of interest in who will be doing the title song. On Sunday, the MI6 James Bond website reported that American singer-songwriter Billie Eilish, 18, will have the honors.

While unconfirmed, naturally fans are commenting about it. Calvin Dyson, who runs an entertaining YouTube channel centered on Bond asked the following in a tweet.

Reacting to news that Billie Eilish is likely doing the #NoTimeToDie theme do you:

A: Feel good about it
B: Acknowledge she isn’t really for you but reserve judgement until release
C: Grumble “Never heard of her” for 3 months
D: Froth at the mouth that it’s not Shirley Bassey

For me, the answer is none of the above. Just a personal reaction, but for a while now Bond title songs have been more part of the marketing but tacked on to the films themselves.

It wasn’t always that way. John Barry’s first Bond score was From Russia With Love. He didn’t write the title song (Lionel Bart did). But Barry incorporated it into his score with different arrangements, tempos and orchestrations.

Of course, once Barry started writing Bond title songs with Goldfinger, he layered them into the scores — sometimes quietly, sometimes with a loud, brassy sound. In the case of Thunderball, Barry incorporated two songs: Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (written first but rejected) and Thunderball.

Barry wasn’t around for Live And Let Die. Paul and Linda McCartney wrote the title song. George Martin, who had helped McCartney produce the song and who negotiated with producer Harry Saltzman, did the score. Martin incorporated instrumental versions of the song into his score. Other Bond composers, such as Marvin Hamlisch and Bill Conti, also worked the title songs they helped write into their scores.

In other words, the song was more than just something performed for the titles. A title song became part of the movie itself, playing a role in establishing mood and emotion.

Things change. One reason Barry finally walked away from the series for good was he would not be allowed to write the title song for Tomorrow Never Dies. He’d already been away from Bond for a decade. That was simply the last straw.

The last time a title song got the Barry treatment was “You Know My Name” for 2006’s Casino Royale. David Arnold, composer for the score, collaborated with performer Chris Cornell on writing the song.

In the 2010s, both Skyfall and “Writing’s on the Wall” from SPECTRE won Oscars for best song. Instrumental versions appear in the two movie scores but, to my ear, seem placed because that’s what’s expected.

Nothing stays the same. John Barry died in 2011. David Arnold, who updated the Barry/Bond music template, hasn’t worked on the series since 2008.

The new title song, whoever writes and performs it, may be great. It may be OK. It may be mediocre. There’s no way to know until it’s released.

But, speaking only for myself, I find hard to get excited about it. Your mileage may vary.

Aston Martin, film Bond’s favorite ride, faces new uncertainty

Iconic publicity still for Goldfinger with Sean Connery leaning against the Aston Martin DB5.

Aston Martin, the preferred ride for the film James Bond (not so much the literary version), isn’t having a good time. In fact, the maker of luxury-car makers faces a lot of uncertainty.

The Guardian, in a Jan. 7 report, said Aston Martin’s financial results are faltering.

James Bond’s favourite car marque is now predicting adjusted profits of between £130m and £140m for 2019 – almost half the £247m it made the previous year. Analysts had been forecasting profits of £196m. Over the first nine months of 2019, Aston Martin racked up a pretax loss of more than £92m.

But that’s not all.

The Financial Times (CLICK HERE to see a Bloomberg summary of the FT story) has reported that Geely, a Chinese automaker, is interested in acquiring a stake in the automaker. Here’s an excerpt of a Bloomberg summary of the FT story:

Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. of China has held talks with management and investors in Aston Martin Lagonda Global Holdings Plc about taking a stake in the U.K. carmaker, the Financial Times reported.

(snip)

The company said last month it was in talks with potential investors, and this week showed the depth of its financial troubles by reporting a severe decline in profit in its first full year as a listed company.

Geely is conducting due diligence, the FT said Friday, citing unidentified sources. A technology partnership is also a potential outcome of talks, the British newspaper said.

Some perspective: Aston Martin is a runt in the global auto industry. It was owned by Ford Motor Co from 1987 to 2007. Ford was in the midst of a financial crisis in the 2000s and unloaded Aston Martin to a group of investors.

In 2008, Ford sold Jaguar and Land Rover to India’s Tata Motors. Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover have all figured into James Bond films after Ford divested them.

Regardless, Aston Martin figures into the Bond film series since 1964’s Goldfinger.

Periodically, Aston Martin talks about diversifying from James Bond. No luck, so far. Four (or so) Aston models, past and present, will be in No Time to Die.

At best, Aston Martin faces an uncertain future.

UPDATE (Jan. 11): An outlet called Autocar, in a Jan. 10 story, reported that Aston Martin won’t proceed with a production version of its Raptide E electric car. Instead, the vehicle will become a “research project” for further Aston electrification efforts.

At one time, the Raptide E reportedly was going to be in No Time to Die but that didn’t happen.

Ford v Ferrari’s odd James Bond reference

Henry Ford II (1917-1987) in front of portraits of his father, Edsel Ford (1893-1943) and grandfather Henry Ford (1863-1947).

Obviously, this is a spoiler for Ford v Ferrari.

This weekend, the top box office movie in the U.S. is Ford v Ferrari, a depiction of how Ford beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in the 1960s. It also has a peculiar James Bond reference.

Early in the film, Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) is trying to persuade Ford Motor Co. boss Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) to get involved in international auto racing to boost the company’s image.

As part of Iacocca’s presentation he shows two slides of Sean Connery as James Bond — one a publicity photo for Goldfinger of Connery with the Aston Martin DB5, the other a still from Thunderball. “James Bond doesn’t drive a Ford,” Iacocca says.

“That’s because he’s a degenerate,” Henry Ford II, aka “Hank the Deuce,” scoffs.

This is a little odd for a few reasons.

In Goldfinger, Ford already supplied a fleet of vehicles. Ford Motor wouldn’t own Aston Martin until 1987. But the movie was the movie debut of the Ford Mustang (driven by Tilly in Switzerland).

The film also had a Lincoln Continental (crushed with the body of Mr. Solo inside), a Ford Thunderbird (with Felix Leiter as a passenger) and a group of Ford trucks (driven to Fort Knox).

Ford’s presence was even more prominent in Thunderball.

There was another Thunderbird (driven by Largo to SPECTRE headdquarters in Paris), two Lincoln Continentals, a Ford Fairlane (driven by Count Lippe when he meets his demise via rockets fired by Fiona Volpe) and another Mustang (driven by Fiona when she picks up a hitchhiking Bond).

On top of all that, Henry Ford II himself was an extra in the movie during the Nassau casino sequence, according to The Complete James Bond Movie Encyclopedia by Steven Jay Rubin. The auto executive’s fee was $35, according to that book.

Also, if anything, Bond and Henry Ford II should have been kindred spirits. Here’s a short passage from an obituary about Henry Ford II by the Los Angeles Times.

He was the international playboy who did as he liked, starring in the jet set gossip columns and making headlines as master of revels at famous watering holes in the Bahamas, Mexico and the Riviera.

“Never complain, never explain,” he said when questioned about a 1975 peccadillo.

Ford Motor had a long, on-and-off relationship with the Bond film series. Other Bond films with Ford vehicles include On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, A View to a Kill, Die Another Day, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

Three brands formerly owned by Ford, Aston Martin (sold in 2007) and Jaguar and Land Rover (sold in 2008) continue to appear in the series.

Aston Martin’s bumpy ride

Iconic publicity still for Goldfinger with Sean Connery leaning against the Aston Martin DB5. But more recently, Aston has had a bumpy ride.

Thanks to the James Bond movies, the cars of Aston Martin are seen as a fantasy. In reality, the company has had a bumpy ride for a while.

Aston Martin’s financial results aren’t pretty. Business Matters via Barclays spells it out.

“The company said it made a ÂŁ92.3m pre-tax loss for the first nine months of 2019 – ÂŁ13.5m of that was recorded in the third quarter to 30 September. It had achieved profits of ÂŁ24m in the same nine month period in 2018.

“Aston Martin said revenues fell 11% to ÂŁ250m in the last quarter – led by a 16% decline in wholesale volumes.”

From 1987 until 2007, Aston Martin was part of a larger automaker, Ford Motor Co. But Ford, facing a financial mess, sold the luxury-car maker to a group of investors.

Ford later sold off other European luxury brands (Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo) while it got its financial house in order. Land Rover and Jaguar, under their current owners, India’s Tata, also supply vehicles to Bond films.

Aston Martin still is going it alone. One of its intangible assets is its image thanks to the Bond films. But that only goes so far.

In 2014, Adweek wrote about how Bond doesn’t translate directly into sales. In 2016, Aston executives told MarketingWeek the company was relying too much on Bond and needed to diversify.

Now, it’s 2019 and things haven’t changed much. Aston Martin is building 25 DB5 replicas with gadgets for $3.5 million each (or so). The company is tethered to Bond more than ever.

Multiple Aston models — past and present — will be included in No Time to Die. One will be the DB5 that was first seen in 1964’s Goldfinger. Except, it’s not a real DB5. It’s a replica with a carbon fiber body and a BMW engine.

Real life has a way of intruding on the fantasy.

No time to drive: Price appreciation of 007 cars

Iconic publicity still for Goldfinger with Sean Connery leaning against the Aston Martin DB5.

A study by 1st Move International looked at how prices have appreciated for various cars that appeared in James Bond movies.

At the top, not surprisingly, was the Aston Martin DB5, which was originally priced at 4,175 British pounds ($11,690 at the 1960s exchange rate of $2.80 to the pound), which now fetches 687,696 pounds (more than $883,786 at current exchange rates.

What follows is  sampling of other cars of note in British pounds. The data is as of Sept. 20.

Toyota 2000 GT (You Only Live Twice): 6,379 pounds originally, now 530,111 pounds.

Aston Martin DBS (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service): 4,473 pounds originally, now 214,950 pounds.

Lincoln Continental Convertible (Thunderball): 475 pounds originally, now 20,336 pounds

Chevrolet Impala Convertible (Live And Let Die): Almost 2,084 pounds originally, now 23,906 pounds.

Bentley Mark IV (From Russia With Love): 2.997 pounds originally, 29,500 pounds now.

Ford Mustang Mach 1 (Diamonds Are Forever): 2,883 pounds originally, 20,000 pounds now.

Sunbeam Alpine Series II (Dr. No): 985 pounds originally, 6,771 pounds now. 

Lincoln Mark VII (Licence to Kill) 8,041 pounds originally, 43,499 pounds now.

Lotus Esprit S1 (The Spy Who Loved Me): 10,791 pounds originally, 39,999 pounds now. 

Aston Martin V8 Vantage Voltaire (The Living Daylights): 54,685 pounds originally, 150,000 pounds now. 

The study also analyzed car appreciation place by actor. Sean Connery cars, for example, averaged an appreciation of 7,134 percent. Timothy Dalton was at the low end at 208 percent. Daniel Craig films weigh in at 1,193 percent, which includes use of the DB5.

For more about the 1st Move International study, CLICK HERE.

Did Fleming think Maibaum’s 007 was better?

Ian Fleming, drawn by Mort Drucker, from the collection of the late John Griswold.

This week, TCM kicked off showing 19 James Bond films made by Eon Productions. The first night included a promotional video featuring comments by Bond film veterans Bruce Feirstein (credited as writer on three films) and Martin Campbell (director on two).

Feirstein, at one point told an anecdote about Bond’s creator talking to Richard Maibaum on the set of Goldfinger.

“Apparently, Fleming told Maibaum that he liked Maibaum’s Bond better than his own. Because Maibaum added the wit….There is no wit in the books. So one of the key elements that we all know and love Bond for was added by Maibaum.”

That sounds very provocative. But how true is it? Feirstein doesn’t provide a source for the information. The word “apparently” is a way to hedge your bet.

What’s more, the Bond scripting process was a lot more complicated.

Movies are a collaborative medium. That’s especially when it comes to scripts. By the time Goldfinger was in production, Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkeley Mather, Len Deighton, Wolf Mankowitz and Paul Dehn had all taken turns at the typewriter (some getting credit, some not).

At the very least, it’s debatable whether there was a “Maibaum Bond” versus a “Fleming Bond.”

Maibaum was a writer on 13 of the first 16 Bond films made by Eon. He was clearly a major contributor and had a lot of input.

On the other hand, with Goldfinger, Maibaum started the scripting while Dehn did the later drafts. And Mankowitz sold co-producer Harry Saltzman a major idea (having the gangster Mr. Solo in a car that was crushed at a junkyard) that was a highlight of the movie. The 1998 book Adrian Turner on Goldfinger spells out the scripting process.

In any case, Feirstein provided an interesting anecdote. You can see it around the 6:40 mark of this YouTube copy of the TCM video. Warning: you never know when these things may get pulled down by YouTube.