I Wanna Hold Your Hand (film)

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I Wanna Hold Your Hand
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRobert Zemeckis
Produced byTamara Asseyev
Alex Rose
Written byRobert Zemeckis
Bob Gale
StarringNancy Allen
Bobby Di Cicco
Marc McClure
Susan Kendall Newman
Theresa Saldana
Wendie Jo Sperber
Music byThe Beatles
CinematographyDonald M. Morgan
Edited byFrank Morriss
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • April 21, 1978 (1978-04-21)
Running time
104 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2.8 million
Box office$1.9 million

I Wanna Hold Your Hand is a 1978 American comedy film directed and co-written by Robert Zemeckis, which takes its name from the 1963 song "I Want to Hold Your Hand" by the Beatles. It was produced and co-written by Bob Gale.

The film is about "Beatlemania" and is a fictionalized account of the day of the Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (February 9, 1964). It was released in 1978 by Universal Pictures.

The film is the feature film directorial debut of Robert Zemeckis and also the first film that Steven Spielberg executive produced. Even though modestly budgeted, in order to convince Universal to bankroll it, Spielberg had to promise studio executives that, if Zemeckis was seen to be doing a markedly poor job, he would step in and direct the film himself.[1]

Despite positive previews and critical response, the film was not a financial success and was considered a flop, unable to recoup its rather modest $2.8 million budget. Zemeckis later said, "One of the great memories in my life is going to the preview. I didn't know what to expect [but] the audience just went wild. They were laughing and cheering. It was just great. Then we learned a really sad lesson....just because a movie worked with a preview audience didn't mean anyone wanted to go see it."[2]

Over a year later, in December 1979, four of the film's stars—Bobby DiCicco, Wendie Jo Sperber, Nancy Allen and Eddie Deezen—appeared in the Spielberg-directed comedy film 1941, which was also written by Gale and Zemeckis. Susan Kendall Newman, who played Janis Goldman, is the daughter of Paul Newman and Jackie Witte.


Ed Sullivan prepares the ushers for the Beatles' performance on his show. In Maplewood, New Jersey, Rosie and Pam visit the record shop. Janis, the owner’s daughter, hates the Beatles and prefers folk music. Grace wants to rent a limo so they can pull up to the Beatles hotel and get exclusive photos of the band. The girls recruit shy Larry DuBois, the local undertaker’s son, as he has access to limos. They leave for New York City and on the way are joined by the brash, streetwise Tony who professes to hate the Beatles, although for reasons different from Janis's.

After driving all night, the six teenagers arrive in Manhattan early in the morning of February 9, 1964. When they pull up at the hotel--which is surrounded by screaming teenagers--Grace, Rosie, and Pam sneak in while Larry pulls the limo with Tony and Janis in it to the side of the building. Once inside, Grace and Rosie sneak into a service elevator, while Pam is left in the basement in a storage closet. Pam (who was the only one not really interested in seeing the Beatles, as she is engaged to Eddie Lupus) sees them leave the hotel as they go to rehearse. Meanwhile, Grace gets off on the 11th floor.

Rosie rides up to the 12th, where the Beatles’ room is located. She is caught, escapes, and meets Richard Klaus, a fellow Beatles fan who is hiding out in a room in the hotel. Pam hides in a food cart and is taken to the Beatles’ room, where she, mesmerized, touches all of their stuff and, when the Beatles return to the room, hides under John’s bed. Grace is caught too, so she goes to the CBS studio, where a guard tells her that for 50 dollars he will let her in backstage while the show is on.

Grace and Larry try a quick money-making scheme with little success and a lot of danger. Meanwhile, Richard and Rosie are found out and tossed from the hotel. The two begin to quarrel and soon separate. In front of the hotel, Janis meets Peter, a kid whose dad will give him three tickets to The Ed Sullivan Show if he will get his Beatles style hair cut into a crew cut. Realizing that the Beatles themselves are providing the type of social cause that she believes in, she recruits Tony to steal the dad’s wallet and get the tickets. While Janis wants simply to help Peter see the show and be himself, Tony wants the ticket to somehow mess up the Beatles' TV appearance.

Larry asks Grace to the Valentine’s Day dance at school, but she brushes him off. Her mind on the photos, Grace decides to take the place of a prostitute who has an encounter at the hotel to get the money she needs. Rosie, on the way up to the room she has a key for, hears a question on the radio with tickets as the prize, so she runs into the room, calls with the answer, and wins two tickets. Richard then strands them in the elevator. Pam is caught, but treated with kindness by the Beatles' staff and interviewed by the press. Eddie, her fiancé, arrives to get her, but realizing that she has no interest in getting married, she leaves Eddie's car and runs toward the theater, where she uses the ticket Beatles roadie Neil Aspinall gave her to see the show.

Once in the john’s room, Grace can’t go through with it and hides, but takes photos of the john and the hooker and blackmails him into giving her 50 dollars. He attacks her, but Larry, who has been getting progressively drunker in the hotel bar, appears just in time to punch out the john and save Grace. Meanwhile, near the barber shop, where Peter and his dad are to meet, Tony lifts the dad’s wallet and eventually helps Peter and Janis get the tickets. Richard and Rosie escape from the elevator and get to the show, inadvertently meeting Pam in front of the theater. As the Beatles come onstage, Tony attempts to sabotage the show but fails.

Larry parks the limo in the alley behind the CBS studio and Grace goes to the back door of the theater. A policeman, however, pulls alongside Larry and prepares to arrest him for improper parking and driving without a license. Grace, running back to the car, uses the 50 dollars to bribe the cop into letting him go. Without money to get backstage and get her photos, Grace is temporarily disconsolate but soon offers to accompany Larry to the dance.

As the Beatles leave the theater following the TV show, they take a wrong turn and end up in Larry’s limo. As a crush of fans descends on the car, Larry drives the limo off with the Beatles in the back seat as Grace begins to snap photos.



I Wanna Hold Your Hand holds a rating of 86% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 21 reviews. The consensus states: "Its slapstick humor and familiar plot don't break any new ground, but I Wanna Hold Your Hand succeeds at recapturing the excitement of a pivotal cultural moment."[3]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote, "The gimmick behind 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' is the fact that you never actually see the Beatles; the genius of the film is that you never miss them ... the sneakiness with which the neophyte director Robert Zemeckis skirts the issue is positively dazzling. The Beatles are both there and not there, and the paradox hardly even matters. This movie is about the fans and their hysteria, and so it's the shouts that count."[4] Variety wrote that "the film's early development is too slow and the humor initially too broad. But it develops into a lively entertainment with many memorable lines and scenes. The film's biggest problem, the fact that The Beatles can't be shown, is turned into its greatest asset through Zemeckis' creativity."[5] Gene Siskel gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and called it "nonstop good fun" and "the perfect summer film."[6] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times described it as "exceedingly broad and boisterous," with "a clever premise, sturdy enough to aspire to 'American Graffiti's' perceptive nostalgia, but the film zeroes in relentlessly at the widest, least discriminating audience possible. The byproduct of aiming so low so steadfastly is a dose of sheer crassness that frequently overpowers the film's buoyant energy and sense of fun."[7] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called the film "Inconsistent but zestful," adding that "Zemeckis begins building up a head of steam and never entirely loses it, although the episodic script is an up-and-down, hit-and-miss proposition."[8] Scott Meek of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that "certain scenes are successful and amusing ... but the film rushes so desperately from one joke to the next that it never has more to offer than occasional moments of somewhat lumbering charm."[9]


The soundtrack features 17 original Beatles recordings:

  1. "I Want to Hold Your Hand"
  2. "Please Please Me"
  3. "I Saw Her Standing There"
  4. "Thank You Girl"
  5. "Boys"
  6. "Twist and Shout"
  7. "Misery"
  8. "Till There Was You"
  9. "Love Me Do"
  10. "Do You Want to Know a Secret?"
  11. "P.S. I Love You"
  12. "Please Mister Postman"
  13. "From Me to You"
  14. "Money (That's What I Want)"
  15. "There's a Place"
  16. "I Wanna Be Your Man"
  17. "She Loves You"

The song "She Loves You" was featured twice toward the end of the film. The first time was during the group's appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. For this sequence, stand-in Beatle lookalikes, dressed in identical attire and holding musical instruments in a similar manner, were seen mimicking the group's performance of the song from that show while being shown on the stage floor, albeit from a distance so as not to see their identities. The actual footage of the Beatles was revealed from the camera operator's point of view. These two elements were combined with reactions from the studio audience to recreate a historic moment in time. The second use of "She Loves You" came during the end credits.

Other songs by the Beatles, ones published years after their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, are referenced as in-jokes throughout the film. They are:

  1. "Helter Skelter", mentioned by an aristocratic woman who sojourns at the Beatles' hotel ("Things are all helter skelter!");
  2. "Get Back", mentioned by a cop trying to calm a riot against his arrest of a very young Beatles' fan ("Get back girls, get back!");
  3. "One After 909", "909" being the number of the hotel room of a man who is searching for a hooker in New York;
  4. "Polythene Pam", in the name of "Pam Mitchell", the girl that manages to sneak inside the Beatles' room and then has fetishistic behaviours towards objects and musical instruments belonging to the group. "Polythene Pam" was inspired by an evening that John spent with poet Royston Ellis and his girlfriend, Stephanie. The three wore polythene (a common British contraction of the word and the IUPAC version of the word polyethylene) bags and slept in the same bed out of curiosity about kinky sex.
  5. "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)", mentioned by a member of the Beatles' staff named Neil (probably a reference to the Beatles' road manager and personal assistant Neil Aspinall) while speaking to a cop after Pam has been discovered lying under John Lennon's bed ("Is that the bird that was under Lennon's bed?", a reference to a widespread interpretation that sees in "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" a confession of adultery). 'Bird' is slang for a young woman.
  6. "Girl", once again during the scene in which Pam is discovered: the cop does not get the aforementioned "bird" allusion, and Neil promptly states: "Girl"; to make this reference even clearer, the cop answers: "Girl, girl" (mimicking the chorus of the song). Noticeably, as the dialogue goes on, Neil speaks about an arrangement he made with Brian (a reference to the real Beatles' manager Brian Epstein) concerning how to handle the situation with the press.

Home media[edit]

It will be released on DVD and Blu-ray by the Criterion Collection in March of 2019.[10]


  1. ^ Shone, Tom. Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Summer. New York: Free Press, 2004. p. 125. ISBN 0-7432-3568-1
  2. ^ Emery, Robert J. The Directors: Take Two. New York: Allworth, 2002. p. 68. ISBN 1-58115-219-1
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Maslin, Janet (April 21, 1978). "Screen: Recapturing Day of the Beatles". The New York Times. C11.
  5. ^ "Film Reviews: I Wanna Hold Your Hand". Variety. April 19, 1978. 26.
  6. ^ Siskel, Gene (May 2, 1978). "'Hold YourHand' is fun reprise of good old days". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 4.
  7. ^ Thomas, Kevin (April 22, 1978). "They Want to Hold the Beatles' Hands'. Los Angeles Times. Part II, p. 8.
  8. ^ Arnold, Gary (April 22, 1978). "Beatlemania Revisited". The Washington Post. C1.
  9. ^ Meek, Scott (August 1978). "I Wanna Hold Your Hand". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 45 (535): 160.
  10. ^ I Wanna Hold Your Hand. Criterion.com.

External links[edit]