Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Films: I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND (1978) Starring Wendie Jo Sperber, Nancy Allen and Theresa Saldana.

Tuesday is Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film Day, a weekly meme hosted by Todd Mason over at his blog, SWEET FREEDOM. As usual, don't forget to take a look at the mighty list of Overlooked (or Forgotten) Films, other movie mavens are talking about today.


It's 1964 and the Beatles have arrived on our shores - Beatlemania reigns supreme.

I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND is a funny, exuberant, glad-to-be-a-teenager movie. It defies logic and common sense, but that's exactly what we like about it.

Though not brilliant or classic, it is still worth a second look because of its great cast and because for those of us of a certain age, it brings the 60's back again - with a vengeance.

The film is first time directed by Robert Zemeckis (Stephen Spielberg in his first producer role). They capture the hysteria which grasped New York once upon a rock m' roll time. I was there, believe me, it was real.

In 1964, the Beatles made their official American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show which aired live every Sunday night, showcasing a variety of acts.

The popular show was hosted by Ed Sullivan, a stiff, awkward, kind of gangly guy with an odd way of speaking I always got the impression that he was mostly clueless about the 'talent' which appeared on his stage. But the formula worked for him and his show was watched by millions every Sunday night at 8.

The real Ed Sullivan.

This is such a sweetheart of a movie. An homage to The Beatles whom we never actually see except  on tape during part of a televised performance and from afar, as figures on a TV stage. It's all very well done. We also get a view of booted feet, pants cuffs, hands and backs here or there and hear a few words spoken in their inimitable Liverpool accents.

Of course it's mostly an homage to the adoring zeal of their fans who, for one moment in time, seemed to take over the city.

The film stars a cast of unknowns (the stand-out is Wendi Jo Sperber as Rosie Petrofsky) playing a bunch of kids who jump at the chance to get a glimpse of the Fab Four upon the group's first trip to New York. To that end they (and everyone else anywhere near the Plaza Hotel on that day) run amok in their eagerness to sneak past the cops and hotel guards.

That's really the basic plot. It's what happens when these kids get caught up in the frenzy of it all that makes for such an entertaining movie.

I worked in the area in the early 60's and of course, during lunch I walked over to the Plaza to see what I could see. Other than cops and droves of dreamy-eyed girls hanging around the hotel, nothing much. But there was an electricity in the air. I was still young enough to feel it - fun time in the city.

Wendy Jo as she appeared on the TV show, BUSOM BUDDIES which starred Tom Hanks.

The stand-out in the cast is Wendie Jo Sperber as an adorably plump teenager (with a bow in her hair) whose zeal for the Beatles is hilarious to watch. She's given to screaming and running for the nearest phone in a frenzied attempt to win tickets to see her idols. A local radio station is running a Beatles quiz leading right up to the 8 P.M. showtime. Wendie Jo as Rosie Petrofsky steals the movie, far as I'm concerned. She is delightful.

Nancy Allen is Pam Mitchell who, at first, is resistant to driving into the city in a borrowed limousine driven by a sweet looking kid with a learner's permit. She, at least, has a modicum of common sense. But that doesn't stop her going along with the insane plan - though she is supposed to get married the next day. "I hope Eddie doesn't find out..." is her mantra.

It takes the kids seven hours to drive to Manhattan from Maplewood, New Jersey - they take a detour to Philadelphia when Larry Dubois, the driver, a hapless Mark McLure (Jimmy Olsen in SUPERMAN The Movie, which of course, eclipsed this little gem in 1978) mis-reads a highway sign.

It is future journalist, Grace Corrigan's idea (she is played by Theresa Saldana) to drive up  to the hotel in a limo since the cops will not allow taxis full of kids near the Plaza entrance. Her plan is to take a few pictures of the Fab Four and sell them to Life Magazine.

Eventually the limo packed with kids gets past the harried cops and the girls are deposited at the Plaza, separated by circumstance and set loose to find their way to the 12th floor where the Beatles have a suite.

Pam Mitchell has the experience of a lifetime when, hiding in a food cart (covered by hotel linen), she is delivered to the empty suite (the Beatles have left for the studio but then return) and is forced to hide under a bed - just your typical teenage hijinks.

Earlier, alone in the room, Pam has a great time getting up close and personal with the Beatles' guitars, wineglasses, plates, handkerchiefs, not to mention a hair brush with hairs from one of the Fab Four's fabulous mops. She even gets to roll around on one of the beds AND touch the Beatles's clothing. Nancy Allen is very good in these scenes as an adoring fan who hadn't realized she was quite so adoring.

Another stand-out is Eddie Deezen, who is terrific as a geeky, screech-voiced, hopeless nerd (name-changed to Ringo Klaus in honor of his idol) whom Rosie latches onto. He's grabbed an empty room at the hotel and filled it with Beatle-related paraphernalia. Part of his horde is a mound of grass the Beatles stepped on in the park. It is his most treasured possession. This kid is scary.

As showtime approaches, the kids are all over the Plaza, the streets and the TV studio in hopes of outwitting hotel personnel, guards and cops. Rosie Petrofsky is particularly physical in her relentless quest for a glimpse of Paul, John, George or Ringo. At one point, she commandeers a Plaza elevator after first kicking out the operator who lands on an indignant hotel patron.

Ah, kids. They really know how to have fun.

In the end, through various and nefarious ways and means, the girls (and 'Ringo' Klaus) get to attend the Ed Sullivan Show where Rosie promptly faints dead away as the Beatles begin their song.

There is a heck of a funny ending involving the borrowed limo and finally, all's well that ends well for a bunch of kids from Maplewood, New Jersey.


  1. Never heard of this movie, though it sounds like a lot of fun. Supposedly Ed Sullivan had zero sense of humor in addition to being perhaps the epitome of "squaresville." Not only did he not understand or like rock music he was clueless about the jokes of many of the stand-up comics on his show.

    I've heard of the director and Nancy Allen. She was not really an unknown at the time. Prior to this she made a name for herself playing the nasty teen, Chris Hargensen, (alongside John Travolta as her dumb jock boyfriend) in Carrie. After making Carrie she married the film's director Brian de Palma and starred in several of his movies. Coincidentally, she would play Travolta's girlfriend a second time in a DePalma movie, this time a sweeter one who dies a very sad death, in BLOW OUT.

  2. I saw this movie in the theaters when it fist come out. It stayed with me for thirty years. I saw it again recently and it wasn't the great film that I had remembered, but it's still worth a look - especially to anyone who was around back then and remembers all of the hysteria.

  3. As a first generation Beatlemaniac, I love this movie. It cracks me up, yeah, especially 'Rosie,' because I know how I spasmed, even at the age of 8, when The Fabs first appeared on Ed Sullivan.

  4. John: Ed Sullivan was an enigma. You couldn't have said what worked for him, but whatever it was, it did. He had a devoted following.

    Nancy Allen was new to me when I first saw this film years ago. I hadn't seen CARRIE.

    But yeah, I remember her in other films.

    This is a fun film, John, if you get a chance, take a look.

  5. Mike, I had the same experience really. I remembered it as being a much better movie. That's why I'm not recommending it as a great film, merely a fun one. It brought back so many memories...

    Seeing it again recently I could see where the director's inexperience played out. Some scenes just went on a tad too long. You gotta' know when to nip and tuck.

    Also Bobby DeCicco and Susan Kendall Newman are terrible.

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  7. Naomi: I was a bit older, but I still felt the allure. :) They were a great group. It was such a fun time.

  8. I was living in Southeast Asia as an Army brat in 1964, and because everyone around me was also an Army brat, our appearance was particulalry square. The effect of the Beatles on all those kids was electric, halfway around the world. It's so strange, but today Beatles music always reminds me of times in the Far East.

  9. I'd be so glad if you could provide me a brief summary of the story. Haven't seen this movie and never heard of it.

  10. When I listen to the Beatles I'm always taken back to a certain time and place as well, Mark. I still love their music.

    I enjoyed their two movies as well. Though I haven't seen them in years.

  11. Grace: The summary is in the body of the post.

  12. Omigosh, I remember those days. Wow, was I ever a Beatlemaniac.

    And my family watched Ed Sullivan's show every week. He had great guests.

    I don't remember seeing this movie, but I will see if now...now if I only had my saddle shoes and teased hair and silver nail polish.

    Those were the days.

    And I must get out my Beatles 1 cd.

    Now to find this movie for a little Beatlemania today.

  13. I haven't seen this film but it reminds me of another film along similar line, minus teenagers and teenage-fun. It's ABBA THE MOVIE which was released late 1970, I think. It's about this reporter who desperately tries to gain access, and possibly an interview, with the famous quartet only to be thwarted each time. But you get to hear all their hits.

  14. Yvette, as a Beatles fan ever since I was a toddler, I loved I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND! Nowadays its flaws show, but the kids' wild adoration for their idols really fuels the film's humor and poignancy, and nowadays, the nostalgia for The Fab Four (hard to believe John and George are gone!). Considering it was director Robert Zemeckis' first film, it was pretty darn impressive! :-) Also, it was nice to see Nancy Allen and Wendie Jo Sperber go on to decent movie/TV careers (I liked Allen in DRESSED TO KILL and ROBOCOP). Fun review, my friend, as always!

  15. Kathy: I did feel very Beatlemania-ish writing the review. :)

    This movie brings it all back. I hope you find a copy.

  16. Prashant: I think I got enough ABBA-mania when I saw MAMMA-MIA. :)

    A movie I enjoyed, by the way.

    If you can find I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND, you might enjoy it. It showcases a fairly specific moment in time.

    I'm not sure if you'd relate to it or not. Depends how you felt about the Beatles back then...

  17. Patti: I have to say, I'd forgotten all about it until recently.

  18. Thanks, Dorian! I adored Wendie Jo Sperber first in BUSOM BUDDIES. She was always a hoot. Died much too young, unfortunately.

    But she lives in memory and on film.

    I always related to her because she was never the slim, boney lookalike that passes for beauty today. Plus she was such a terrific actress.

    I wasn't as young as these kids during the Fab Four's invasion, but I still loved the music.

  19. Yvette, I enjoy listening to Beatles songs and almost not a day goes by when I don't listen to their songs, especially IMAGINE and YESTERDAY. In fact, I'm glad I can relate to nearly every music that's come out of America. I recently had occasion to watch the "Razzle Dazzle" video of Bill Haley and the Comets in the tap-dancing flick ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK.

  20. I wasn't sure, Prashant, if you enjoyed the music or not. I'm glad to hear you were a big fan. :)

    The Beatles were universal. It's true.

    I love the songs you named and also, ELEANOR RIGBY and LOVE, LOVE ME TRUE and a few others whose names escape me at the moment.

  21. A really sweet movie--and to think that all four Beatles were still alive when it was released.

    Sadly, just a few years after this film was made, Theresa Saldana was viciously attacked by a man who had been stalking her. She survived and has spent much of the last three decades working for victims rights causes, including strengthening anti-stalker laws.

  22. That was such a sad and shocking story, Deb. I do remember it. She is a very brave woman.

    I'm missing Wendie Jo Sperber who died just a few years ago. Cancer.


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