1977: Spoilers? What spoilers?

“Wet Nellie” from The Spy Who Loved Me

Over the past few days, there has been a lot of angst over the reveal of a spoiler from No Time to Die. But, a couple of generations ago, the James Bond film franchise was a lot looser when it came to potential spoilers.

There are multiple examples. Bond soundtracks often came out before the films did. Some tracks had titles like Death of Grant, Death of Goldfinger, Death of Fiona and Death of Aki. So those developments clearly weren’t dealt with as big secrets.

But 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me was perhaps the most cavalier in this regard. What’s a spoiler?

Instead of re-issuing the Ian Fleming novel The Spy Who Loved Me, a novelization written by co-screenwriter Christopher Wood reached book stores ahead of the movie (at least here in the U.S.).

On the very first page — before even the title page — there was an excerpt of Bond’s jump with the agent’s Union Jack parachute.

That was just for openers. Wet Nellie was the centerpiece of the Who-Cares-About-Spoilers marketing campaign.

Wet Nellie, of course, was the movie’s central gadget, the Lotus that could convert into a submarine. In reality, multiple cars were used but most Bond fans are familiar with the tale by now.

At the time, I had a mail subscription to the Los Angeles Times. I was studying journalism and the paper was at its peak of excellence and influence. Each day’s paper arrived four days after the publication date.

Anyway, weeks before the movie was out, the entertainment section of the LAT had a detailed story about Wet Nellie. It was the first time I even heard of the Wet Nellie nickname and how it was a takeoff of the Little Nellie name for Bond’s mini-helicopter in You Only Live Twice.

The story described how the version that actually traveled underwater worked, including how it was piloted by guys with scuba equipment. Moreover, the story clearly had been done with the cooperation of the filmmakers. They wanted to be sure everybody knew about Wet Nellie.

As a result, two of the biggest highlights of the movie were pretty common knowledge before its U.S. debut.

To a degree, that was understandable. Eon Productions and United Artists were betting big on Bond after the breakup between producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. The budget roughly doubled compared with the previous entry, The Man With the Golden Gun.

So there was a lot riding on the 1977 movie. If Bond went down, it wouldn’t be for lack of effort — and publicity about two of its biggest sequences.

That was then. This is now. Fan attitudes change. So do studio publicity strategies.

5 Responses

  1. Interesting article Bill. And it does put some insightful historical perspective on the very definition of a ‘spoiler’. However, I do think times have changed tremendously. We nowadays live in the era of social media, smartphones and WikiLeaks. And that in itself I don’t find very positive. The ‘angst’ of fans to me is real, and should be better translated by anger. In this fast paced era of leaks, even relatively new inventions like spoiler tags simply don’t seem to work anymore. Reporting has become more about click bait and viewing awareness and less about responsible insightful reporting. To be clear, I did not read those big spoilers on MI6-HQ. But I also predicted that within a few days bigger more generic entertainment reporters were going to pick that story up and put all story reveals in just one disgusting headline. And so it happened. I opened Google on my phone and there the damning headline was 🤦🏼‍♂️.

    I was disgusted by it. In this age of social media fan sites do need to be thinking about the well-being of fans a bit more often. ‘We’ are not an IndieWire or ScreenRant. Nor are we subsidiaries of EON Productions or Universal. We have a unique role in all this and we should play that role a bit better. How simple it was to simple warn EON about these call sheets or open a complaint case at eBay. I would have done it. Because now a huge part of the excitement I felt for this film -a plot that was mostly still a secret- is out in the open air again. It’s a bit like a SonyLeaks 2.0 now that, sadly, has been triggered into the open by a fan site this time.

    Look, a lot of this is difficult to prevent. But at least we fans ought to be a bit more careful. We should be the careful ambassadors of the franchise sometimes, not just handy networking instruments to obtain more elite status within the Bond fandom. This is not aimed at you personally Bill, because really: your blog I adore.

    On top of that, I do think back in the 1960’s and 1970’s it was much easier to stay clean of spoilers. No smartphones then. And those titular novels from Christopher Wood? At that time you had the choice to wait buying it. And newspapers were not turning such a novel or a soundtrack inside out to report the entire story before the premiere did. The 2020’s are cruel. And we have to be more responsible in our reporting. Therefore not moving towards the Julian Assange / Silva style of ‘reporting’, which only creates more chaos and certainly not social cohesion. But instead become responsible gatekeepers at times, in which secrecy sometimes is the better option than a chaos-inducing truth. I hope I make some sense 🙂.

  2. Let us not forget that the submarine transformation of Bond’s Lotus Esprit was revealed in TSWLM’s teaser trailer. And, of course, via Bob Peak’s beautiful poster designs.

  3. I thought Wet Nellie was the Wet Bike…but combing through the cobwebs further, I don’t actually even recall the term be used at all towards, from your description, the Lotus.

    I have the book but read it afterwards. I always wondered where all those soldiers came from…long before the deleted scenes of Austin Powers showed each henchman he killed had a happy family life or wondered when their friend was going to show up at the bar. The book explains they’re mercenaries…not following the cause of the villian, just soldiers of fortune–which were still a very big thing back in the 70s with all the little wars around the world. Now they’re just called contractors.

    As for Spoilers, the trailer I first saw in the theater showed the entire highlights of the Lotus.

  4. The first time I saw the name Wet Nellie it was in the Los Angeles Times story about the underwater Lotus.

  5. […] Spy Command put some insightful historical perspective on these leaks and the very definition of a […]

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