Movie Review: I Wanna Hold Your Hand

Monday, January 17, 2011
Just looking at this movie poster, you can hear the orgasmic screaming of minions of Beatlemaniacs! Yesterday I watched most of this movie on YouTube, and had (nearly) forgotten how endearing it is to me as a Beatles fan; however, being a Fab Four fanatic is not a prerequisite for being able to enjoy it. For anyone who ever pined over a celebrity or singer (which would be everyone) this movie gently pokes fun at fan behavior while also delivering a love letter to our obsession. 

I Wanna Hold Your Hand was released in 1978, co-produced by Steven Spielberg and directed and cowritten by a then-unknown Robert Zemeckis, who would go on to direct the Back to the Future movie series, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Forest Gump. Spielberg had to convince Universal Studios that he was willing to step in and direct the film if Zemeckis didn't work out. Fortunately it did, and while the movie wasn't a commercial success, it is a lot of madcap fun to watch - especially if you're a Beatlemaniac. 

The movie takes place in February 1964, in the days leading up to The Beatles' iconic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. A group of Jersey teens make the pilgrimage to NYC, many of them with the hopes of meeting the Beatles themselves. This motley crew includes:

*The endearing Rosie Petrofsky, a rabid Paul McCartney fanatic (played by the late Wendie Jo Sperber, of Bosum Buddies fame.)

*Aspiring reporter Grace Corrigan (played by Theresa Saldana, who famously survived an attack on her by a psycho fan in the 80s.)

*Bride-to-be Pam Mitchell (Nancy Allen) who really doesn't care at all for the Beatles (or so she thinks!) but is merely tagging along with her friends to experience the adventure.

*Larry Dubois (Marc McClure) who ends up playing chauffeur to get the group to the hotel the Beatles are staying at.

*Janis Goldman (Susan Kendall Newman) who actually dislikes the Beatles and is going along just to protest their music.

*Tony Smerko (Bobby Di Cicco), a tough smart ass who is also anti-Beatles and who refers to them as candy asses and girls. 

Much of the action takes place inside the Beatles' hotel; Rosie, Grace, and Pam manage to infiltrate the building despite the gaggle of screaming fans and cops surrounding the entrance, who are being kept at bay by Murray the K, the famous DJ responsible for spreading the Beatles' music to the masses. Rosie and Grace don't have much luck - being captured by and then escaping the cops that are guarding the Beatles' suite. Rosie does meet her male equivalent of fandom in a nerdy bellhop named Richard "Ringo" Klauss (Eddie Deezan) who secretly lives unnoticed in the hotel, and they eventually find themselves trapped in the hotel elevator moments before the Beatles are due to make their famous TV appearance.

It's Pam, the unlikeliest of the trio, who has the best luck, and the funniest scene in the movie. She hides under a room service cart and ends up in the Beatles' hotel room. Once she realizes where she is, she lets her Fab Four freak flag fly in a huge way: practically performing fellatio on Paul's Hoffner bass, drinking leftovers from the same cups that touched the boys' lips, lolling about in their beds and rubbing their leftover hair, collected from a comb, all over her face in ecstasy. Her adventures make her a brief media sensation and inspire her to ditch her tool of a fiance. 

Throughout their adventures, the group struggles to secure tickets to see the February 9, 1964 Ed Sullivan show, with the film culminating in the Beatles' infamous live performance (of which we mostly see the actual footage.)

There's a few things about this film that it make it work despite the very narrow plot and slapstick comedy. First, we never see the faces of the actors who are playing the Beatles - only the backs of the heads and their feet, matched with voiceovers that actually do passable imitations of John, Paul, George and Ringo; at least moreso than the lame accents heard on the Beatles TV cartoon series. This was a smart decision on Zemeckis' part, as no actor could ever be a close enough imitation to the real thing, and it also adds to the Beatles' mystique as seen through the eyes of the female characters. Secondly, not every character is a Beatles fan, which adds some dimension to the mix. There's some poking fun at their hair (and a sinister sequence where a young male fan with a moptop do is forced by his father to visit a barbershop in exchange for tickets to see the show.) Thirdly, where some movies haven't always done a convincing job with setting a movie in a certain time and place, the clothing, hair, automobiles and sets in I Wanna Hold Your Hand say 1964 to me and allow me to feel the buzz of excitement that was in the air when Beatlemania broke loose. It made me wish I had been along for the ride.

Also, I must give kudos to the actor who portrayed Ed Sullivan, Will Jordan. He convincingly looks and sounds enough like Sullivan that he's actually played him six times in movie and TV roles (including in Oliver Stone's The Doors and The Buddy Holly Story.)  He has some funny moments such as insisting his audience *must* remain seated throughout the Beatles' entire performance and warning his crew that the Beatles will be "like having Elvis, times four."

With no swearing or highly suggestive scenes (well, except for Nancy Allen licking a guitar neck) I Wanna Hold Your Hand is a film that baby boomers can enjoy with their Justin Bieber-loving children or grandchildren. Ultimately, it's a lot like the early Beatles themselves: light, good-hearted fun, and highly recommended.


  1. I was a sophomore in high school when the Beatles' music hit the States. What memories!

  2. You should also mention that this was released when "Beatlemania" was touring the country.

    "Not the Beatles, but an incredible simulation"

    I am sure the studio was hoping for a cross fan base for this film.

    Thanks for the review.

  3. I'm going straight to Netflix from here. Thanks.

  4. I haven't seen this in a long time! Such a fun movie! I was born not long after the Beatles came to America...and the doctor made a comment that I looked like a Beatle because I had a mop of hair when I was born.

  5. Pam, maybe you will enjoy this blog I stumbled across which features candid photos of the cast members:

    I was googling Eddie Deezen the other day, just cuz I love him...

    This is SUCH a good movie but I haven't seen it in over 20 years. You certainly brought back memories!

  6. @Lacey - I had no idea that Beatlemania was touring the U.S. at the same time.

    @Amanda - thanks for the link - fascinating! I enjoyed reading about the stars' careers before and after the movie came out.

    It's just a silly, fun movie...I think I'm going to have to rent it soon myself.


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