I Wanna Hold Your Hand
A benign satire of Beatlemania, I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978) is a valuable experiment in slightness. A tale of barely two-dimensional characters brought to New York City from neighboring New Jersey to either bear frenzied witness to or completely sabotage The Beatles' landmark 1964 appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show," the film is just sneakily clever enough to justify its existence. As the debut feature work of Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, as well as Steven Spielberg's first time as a producer, the movie invites a somewhat closer viewing than it can really sustain, but while it boasts none of the gleeful savagery of their excellent sophomore feature, Used Cars (1980), it does offer up a few slyly subversive moments that enliven an otherwise blandly inoffensive endeavor. The film's primary Beatlemaniacs are Rosie (Wendy Jo Sperber), who's convinced she will one day be Mrs. Paul McCartney, Grace (Theresa Saldana), an aspiring shutterbug who wants exclusive pictures of the looming event, and Pam (Nancy Allen), a casual, soon-to-be-married fan who's mostly just along for the ride, though she quickly succumbs to the hysteria, which becomes particularly acute she fortuitously winds up in the band's hotel room. Grace's scheme for foiling the heavy security posted in and outside the hotel entails rolling up in a limo, which they can't afford to rent, so they instead recruit Larry (Mark McClure), whose mortician dad owns a hearse. On the way to the city, they acquire two more passengers, Janis (Susan Kendall Newman), a folkie who plans to protest The Beatles' frivolity, and Tony (Bobby Di Cicco), a blockheaded greaser who's just following the females. While the group does manage to infiltrate the hotel without too much difficulty, once inside, they are continually stymied by police (Joe Dante fans will be happy to see Dick Miller as one of the put-upon officers), but each setback only inspires them to try another angle, no matter how desperate or improbable. Gradually, romance blossoms for each of the girls, but their hearts remain steadfastly fixed on meeting, or, failing that, seeing the Fab Four at "The Ed Sullivan Show." Though the complications are never uproarious, Zemeckis and Gale are such adroit scenarists that one derives a modest pleasure in watching the characters get spun out into different directions only to be brought back together just in time for the main, history-making event. As they would prove in their later works particularly the pop-filmmaking masterpiece Back to the Future and its head-spinning first sequel Zemeckis and Gale are effortless managers of chaos. Admirers of those films also will notice some awfully familiar moments in I Wanna Hold Your Hand, such as Larry's threatening a pudgy masher attempting to take advantage of Grace to "get your goddamn hands off of her," and Tony's Doc Brown-esque third act climb up a CBS transmitter in the middle of a nasty thunderstorm. It's all incredibly well-crafted, but one can't shake the feeling that it's more of a studio audition than a work of genuine nostalgia. Universal presents I Wanna Hold Your Hand in a nice anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with decent Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a feature-length commentary with Zemeckis and Gale that's a pretty fun listen, with the collaborators discussing the many legal difficulties in making a film about The Beatles (Universal's legal department, for the first time in studio history, advised executives against making the picture), the extent of Spielberg's assistance (note the preponderance of actors from 1941), and the fact that Warner Brothers apparently has a policy against financing directors' first films on account of getting burned by Brian De Palma on Get to Know Your Rabbit, (which is how the project ended up at Universal). Also on board is a photo gallery. Keep-case.