Wendie Jo Sperber

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

1978                         

Universal Pictures

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Executive Producer: Steven Spielberg

Written by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis

The time is February 1964 and the world doesn’t know it yet, but an event is about to take place in New York City that will change the course of history.  Four mop-topped singers from England have formed this little band they’ve named The Beatles that will irrevocably transform the culture of the world entire forever.  After their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, nothing would ever be the same again.

Pretentious opening, huh?  I thought so too.  But I wanted to get your attention because nothing else about this review is going to be anywhere near as serious and it shouldn’t because I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND takes nothing about itself seriously.  It’s a movie made by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale who have brought us such outstanding movies like “Romancing The Stone” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” The “Back To The Future” Trilogy and one of the Ten Funniest Movies Nobody Seems To Have Ever Seen, “Used Cars”

A group of teenagers from Maplewood, New Jersey aim to break into the New York hotel where The Beatles are staying and to accomplish this come up with a harebrained scheme worthy of Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz: they’ll use a limousine to get past the police barricade since any other cars that pull up to the hotel are carefully searched.  They figure that security will assume anybody who can afford a limo has a right to be in the hotel and let it through.  The group is made up mostly of girls: Pam, who has no real interest in The Beatles since she’s planning on eloping that night and she just gets dragged along for one Last Great Adventure.  Grace has aspirations of being a photographer for LIFE and figures that an exclusive picture of The Fab Four would be her ticket in.  Rosie just wants to get close to Paul, The One True Love Of Her Life. The appropriately named Janis absolutely hates The Beatles since she’s a folk rock groupie and she’s appalled that the local record store in their town doesn’t carry any Joan Baez or Bob Dylan.

The girls are joined by greaser Tony, who sees The Beatles as a threat to his beloved Doo-Wop.  Love-stuck Larry who has the whim-whams for Grace. Along the way the gang picks up Peter, a twelve year old desperately trying to stay away from his father who wants him to get a haircut and Richard, who is such a Beatles fanatic that his proudest possession in life is a two foot plot of dirt that was stepped on by Paul.  Grace and Rosie are the ones who pull along everybody in their single-minded goal and the two of them are as determined as Gregory Peck and David Niven in “The Guns Of Navrone”.  What follows is a freewheeling movie that doesn’t try hard to work at its story.  Visual gags come fast and furious as the gang arrives in New York, promptly get separated and go off on their own strange adventures, which allows Zemeckis to jump around so that we’re never bored.  We’re always wondering what’s happening with the others and Zemeckis gives his young cast more than enough screen time.

I especially enjoyed Wendie Jo Sperber’s performance (she’s probably best known for her supporting role in the ‘Bosom Buddies’ TV show.  Her character had the hots for Peter Scolari’s character, remember?) Not only is Miss Sperber cute as a kitten, she’s a remarkably physical actress and to watch her fling herself from cars moving at 80 miles an hour and go tumbling down streets, leaping down entire flights of stairs and swinging in elevator shafts is exhausting for us to watch as I’m convinced it must have been for her to do.

When Wendie Jo Sperber passed away after a long and heroic battle with breast cancer I was really hurt to hear that sad news.  Watch her performance in this movie and especially in Steven Spielberg’s ‘1941’ and I think you’ll appreciate how much of a remarkable actress she really was.  Wendie Jo Sperber projected wit, intelligence and sexiness in all her roles.  And she did as much of her own stunts as she was allowed to do and that adds even more to her charm on screen.  She was an amazing talent that wasn’t appreciated in her own time.

She has some great moments in I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND.   I howled with laughter every time she uses the phone to try and call in to win this contest for Beatles concert tickets.  She throws handfuls of dimes at the coin slot with a manic desperation that never fails to tickle the hell outta me.  Her physicality is even more remarkable because Wendie Jo Sperber was what we call in our PC times “full-figured”.  Just so happens I love me some full-figured women and I watch anything Wendie Jo Sperber is in because she does throw herself into physical comedy with such exuberant abandon you’re afraid the poor girl is going to hurt herself.

She’s paired with Eddie Deezen for a lot of the second half of the movie and they make a good team.  Deezen was The King Of Geeks in movies of the 70’s and ‘80’s and he’s very funny here as a guy who has been living in the hotel for weeks before The Beatles even got there as part of his plan to get their autographs.  Teresa Saldana is also very good as Grace as she tries one crazy plan after another to just get one picture of The Beatles.

Nancy Allen has got a couple of strange scenes here that didn’t quite seem to match the innocent hi-jinks of the rest of the movie.  She actually makes it inside The Beatles’s suite and it’s pretty obvious that she’s having a sexual meltdown as she fondles their clothes and the dishes they ate on.  She kisses and caresses Paul’s guitar passionately in a clearly sexual fashion and passes out with it locked firmly between her legs.  And later on she has a scene with her husband-to-be that’s downright creepy as the guy talks as if he’s been getting marriage tips from multiple viewings of “Sleeping With The Enemy”.  I didn’t get those scenes and they certainly don’t match the silliness of the rest of the movie.  The only thing I can figure is that Zemeckis was attempting to show how the liberating new British sound reached something inside these small town, middle class girls who were brought up to believe that all they were expected to be in life were housewives and baby making machines and that’s it.  But that’s a little too heavy for me. I’d rather focus on the sheer exuberant fun of the movie and I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND is certainly that.   By all means this is a movie you oughta see.

104 Minutes

I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND is rated PG-13.  The language is positively sanitary and actually I think this is a PG or even a G movie when you compare it to today’s standards.  The only scene that is kinda kinky is the one with Nancy Allen when she gets inside the hotel room where The Beatles are staying.  What she does with Paul’s guitar is kinda hot so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

And since it would be sacrilegious to show anything else, here’s a video of The Beatles performing the title song.  Enjoy.