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.
Despite positive previews and critical response (The New York Times wrote that "the whole film sparkles with a boisterous lunacy" and called its plot "positively dazzling"), 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."
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 pick up Tony--a brash, streetwise guy. After driving all night, they arrive in New York early on the morning of February 9, 1964. When they pull up at the hotel, 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) 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 handles all their stuff and 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. Richard and Rosie are tossed from the hotel. Janis meet 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. She recruits Tony to steal the dad’s wallet and get the tickets. Larry asks Grace to the Valentine’s Day dance at school, but she brushes him off.
Grace decides to take the place of a prostitute who has an encounter at the hotel to get the 50 dollars she needs. Rosie knows the question on the radio call in to win tickets, so she uses the room key she still has, goes to the room, calls in and wins two tickets. Richard then strands them in the elevator. Pam is caught, but interviewed by the press. Her fiancé arrives to get her, but she uses the ticket she was given by the Beatles roadie Neil Aspinall 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 saves her. Tony lifts the dad’s wallet. It’s empty, but they get the tickets anyway. Richard and Rosie escape from the elevator and get to the show. Tony’s effort to sabotage the show fails. Larry parks the limo beside CBS in an alley and is about to be arrested for improper parking and driving without a license, but Grace uses the 50 dollars to bribe the cop in to letting him go, but now she can’t get backstage and get her photos. Grace accepts Larry’s invitation to the dance. On leaving the show the Beatles take a wrong turn and end up in Larry’s limo. They drive away, pursued by a mob of screaming fans, while Grace snaps away.
The soundtrack features 17 original Beatles recordings:
- "I Want to Hold Your Hand"
- "Please Please Me"
- "I Saw Her Standing There"
- "Thank You Girl"
- "Twist and Shout"
- "Till There Was You"
- "Love Me Do"
- "Do You Want to Know a Secret?"
- "P.S. I Love You"
- "Please Mister Postman"
- "From Me to You"
- "Money (That's What I Want)"
- "There's a Place"
- "I Wanna Be Your Man"
- "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:
- "Helter Skelter", mentioned by an aristocratic woman who sojourns at the Beatles' hotel ("Things are all helter skelter!");
- "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!");
- "One After 909", "909" being the number of the hotel room of a man who is searching for a hooker in New York;
- "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.
- "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.
- "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.