I Wanna Hold Your Hand Review
It’s 1964 and the Beatles are about to play the Ed Sullivan show. Fans are flocking to their hotel to get a glimpse of their idols and six friends from New Jersey are about to do the same, but they have much grander plans. Rosie (Wendie Jo Sperber) is a Beatles fanatic who is desperate to get into their hotel just to get close to Paul McCartney, while aspiring journalist Grace (Theresa Saldana) wants to do the same thing knowing if she can get a picture of them, up close and personal, she’s got a shot at the big time. Pam (Nancy Allen) gets dragged along too but after she splits up from Rosie and Grace, she hides in a food cart and finds herself in the Beatles room with free reign to Paul’s bass guitar and John’s…comb. Tony (Bobby Di Cicco), a Beatles hater, and Janis (Susan Kendall Newman), a protester, come along just to cause trouble, while Larry (Marc McClure) is there only because he’s in love with Grace, but the whole gang soon finds themselves having one mishap after another, as the clock quickly ticks down to the Beatles first ever U.S television performance.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand is the debut film of director Robert Zemeckis and the first feature that Bob Gale and Zemeckis worked on together (although they did write Spielberg’s 1941 around the same time, but that film was not be released until 1979). It’s a movie that shows off many of the traits and inspirations that would make their most notable collaboration Back To The Future so great, and it’s a debut that is certainly better than its poor box-office would have you presume. Sharing a similarity with George Lucas’ American Graffiti, it tells the story of some friends who come of age and have a great time doing it, but Zemeckis gleefully pays homage to the Three Stooges and the Marx brothers, styling his film in a much lighter tone than Lucas, concentrating on the brighter side of their misadventures. It’s a terrifically funny film, and once again the two Bob’s prove they are masters of the screenplay, creating some wonderfully well-rounded characters that sucker you in with their adolescent innocence and manic desperation to achieve their goals.
Certainly Zemeckis relies on his characters, and to a certain extent caricatures, to carry the film as the plot is fairly arbitrary, and it’s Richard ‘Ringo’ Klaus (Eddie Deezen) who stands out. This Beatles obsessive is played with such kinetic energy by Deezen, he’s thoroughly captivating to watch, encapsulating manic Marxism’s with a brilliantly strange fascination with all things Beatle – we meet him as he tears up the hotel carpet which the Beatles have just walked on. Later he shows Rosie a section of grass he claims the Beatles have stood on, saying, ‘This is actually a clump of grass that Paul stepped on. I’m not exactly sure which blade he stepped on, but it’s all in there. That’s why I got such a big clump.’ Deezen is a revelation but it’s a shame he doesn’t get more screen time as he steals every scene he’s in. Nevertheless, Nancy Allen is dependable in her role and she’s in one of the film’s best scenes when she hides under the bed and the Beatles come into the room. All we see is their distinctive shoes and half their legs pottering around, with voice actors imitating Paul, John, Ringo, and George perfectly, yet the scene works wonderfully as her idols are mere inches away yet she’s too afraid to alert them to her presence. Wendy Jo Sperber is also great to watch, as she’s a sort of toned-down, female version of Deezen’s Richard, and Zemeckis has the pair getting up to all kinds of trouble, from problems in a lift shaft, to trying to escape from the security staff, their madcap obsessive enthusiasm is simply a joy to see.
I Wanna Hold Your Hand is a very enjoyable film, and while it isn’t as refined as Zemeckis’ later films (it starts off quite slowly, and never really gets going until a quarter of the way through), it has a sense of youthful energy that makes it exceedingly endearing. It’s packed with some delightful vignettes (a rebellious kid is disgruntled at his father for making him cut his Beatles style hair so enlists the help of Janis to steal Ed Sullivan tickets off him; Grace overhears a businessman ordering a prostitute over the phone so takes her place to blackmail him into giving her enough money to get into the TV show; and Pam ends up being as idolised as the band themselves when the fans hear she was in their room), and of course the soundtrack is fantastic, packed with Beatles songs from their pre-1965 catalogue. There’s plenty to like, Zemeckis capturing the Beatlemania hysteria that hit the United States in 1964 with a genuine authenticity that superbly captures the time period, and beautifully renders the social implications of the public’s fascination with the popular-culture that surrounded them. It’s funny and it’s sincere, but above all it’s a great little time capsule for a place and period of unusual optimism.
The film is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and anamorphic enhanced. On first viewing it’s difficult to tell if this film was made in 1978 or 1998, as the transfer looks so great. For a film made thirty years ago, and for such a small budget, plaudits must go to Universal for creating such a superb looking image. The first thing to note is that the print is in immaculate condition displaying very little of its age and lacking any noticeable grain, it’s only real indication of age appearing in the darker scenes looking a little too dark but it isn’t distracting. Slightly muted, washed-out colours mar what is a delightful looking image but it has plenty of detail and clarity.
The sound quality hardly matches the image however as the original mono soundtrack is not available, with Universal only providing a re-mixed Dolby Digital 5.1 track that is detrimental to the film because it magnifies the low-budget constraints. The film’s music is made-up entirely from Beatles songs but in Dolby Digital 5.1 the starting and stopping of grainy vinyl records is annoyingly apparent with excessive hiss. It’s obvious when a song track begins and it’s rather distracting, the only good thing being it’s only very noticeable twice throughout the film but once you’ve noticed it once, you can’t help but notice every time a song is playing. However, the film wouldn’t be the same without such a great soundtrack and barring re-mastering and re-recording the soundtrack, it’s obvious the easiest way to avoid this problem is to provide the original mono track. Despite this problem though, the track is competent enough - dialogue is relatively clear throughout but predominantly mono, with ambient sound effects and music occasionally making use of the surround speakers.
The DVD isn’t blessed with many additional features but the feature film commentary with Bob Gale and Bob Zemeckis is excellent as the two friends reminisce about their first film and working under the constraints of being two new filmmakers. It’s an engaging listen with plenty of anecdotes and information – Gale’s mentions that the film references Beatles songs that came out after the film was set such as ‘The One After 909’ and ‘Helter Skelter’, and damningly blames the studio for its haphazard promotion and distribution of the film leading to such a poor box office. He talks about how the head of distribution never saw the film but distributed it anyway, which the two Bob’s couldn’t believe, and they criticise the use of block-booking as a reason the film failed. There’s also some interesting information about a role Carrie Fisher was originally cast in to which Gale simply says, ‘things just didn’t work out’.
Robert Zemeckis’ debut film is something of a gem that struggled when it was released in 1978, largely due to problems with its distribution than the quality of the film. Some have argued that the movie failed because the Beatles popularity was waning, and that some of the magic the film plays on was lost since they split up, but retrospectively the film is a time capsule of a place and a period many people can look back on with great affection. Whether you were around in 1964, or have become a fan of the band since then, this film is certainly something worth looking for. It’s presented on an average DVD that boasts a terrific image but a poor soundtrack, yet the commentary is well-worth listening to. However, don’t let the quality of the soundtrack put you off buying the DVD, since given the film’s age and low-budget, it was never going to be perfect and it’s far from overtly off-putting, it’s just a real shame Universal couldn’t have provided the original mono track. Fans of anything Zemeckis has made since this debut, should definitely pick up a copy, if I Wanna Hold Your Hand has passed you by.