THE PAJAMA GAME, 1957
Directed by: George Abbott, Stanley Donen
Starring: Doris Day, John Raitt, Carol Haney, Eddie Foy Jr.
Review by Jayvibha Vaidya
When the employees at the Sleeptite Pajama Company demand a seven and half cents increase, the new factory superintendant must deal with a looming strike. To make matters even more complicated, he’s in love with the feisty employee representative who sets the strike in motion. As tensions increase, the lovers stay on opposite sides of the wage war, putting their relationship and jobs in jeopardy.
NOMINATED FOR 4 OSCARS – Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume and Writing
“It’s nothing personal. You’re the superintendant and I’m the Grievance Committee.”
When newly hired superintendant Sid Sorokin (John Raitt) is slammed with an employee complaint in his first week, he has to deal with Katherine “Babe” Williams (Doris Day), the head of the Grievance Committee. He scoffs, she throws the rule book at him and an office romance is born. Coming from its Broadway success, The Pajama Game was released on film in 1957 starring stage actor John Raitt and Hollywood sweetheart, Doris Day.
As employees at the Sleeptite Pajama Factory prepare for a strike, Babe and Sid begin to fall for each other. Passionate about her job, Babe calls for the sewing line to cease production and subsequently gets fired – by her new boyfriend. “You stick to your side and I’ll stick to mine!” she exclaims, effectively breaking up with him. As Sid scrambles to find a solution to his job and relationship problems, he’s forced to learn about compromise and loyalty – through song and dance, of course. All ends well as both sides get what they want; calling for a company pajama party to celebrate their victories.
Fluffy and light, the musical never gets too serious about labor relation issues, opting instead to highlight running gags like a jealous boyfriend or the romance between Sid and Babe. The songs are fun and cheery but not entirely memorable. The more enjoyable numbers are ensemble pieces, utilizing a large number of the cast. “Racing with the Clock” shows the employees simultaneously performing the same act faster and faster. The camera and choreography work well together, moving through the lines of sewing machines and yards of cloth. “I’ll Never Be Jealous Again” is a funny little number with a jealous boyfriend, Heinsie (Eddie Foy Jr.) promising his friend Mabel (Reta Shaw) that he won’t doubt his girlfriend and secretary Gladys ever again. Reprising their roles from Broadway, both performers have an easy, comfortable way with this song, making it enjoyable to watch.
There are two musical highlights that make the film. The first occurs at the annual company picnic as the company gathers for a day of fun (“Once-A-Year-Day”). Choreographer Bob Fosse, on one of his first films, showcases his burgeoning talent with a large-scale number. Set in a huge park, several dancers swing, flip, climb and race through green grass, up trees and over hills dressed in colourful outfits. The use of space and planes with complicated blocking makes it one of the visually spectacular songs in the film. And it’s the moment when Sid and Babe finally fall in love.
The second musical highlight is “Steam Heat,” a number where Fosse’s signature moves are clearly displayed. Gladys (Carol Haney), flanked by two dancers, are dressed in black and white. Small controlled movements give way to a dramatic slide across the stage. Top hats become part of the dance as they’re flipped, thrown and caught in time to the catchy music. Carol Haney is light on her feet and quick with her movements. Sound effects, fresh choreography and energy make this a thoroughly entertaining musical number. Even though it doesn’t serve a purpose to the plot, the song is one of the truly memorable moments in the film.
Many of the songs appear almost back-to-back and can be exhausting for a viewer searching for a story. A simple story with a predictable ending, the film chooses to focus on the charm of the leading actors, Doris Day and John Raitt. Both actors bring great performances and energy to the film, but lack a strong chemistry. All the performers do a fine job with most of them reprising their roles from Broadway. Some moments however, are just truly bizarre: a knife-throwing Heinsie chases his girlfriend Gladys through the warehouse, only to be scolded by the president and dragged away by the formerly terrified Gladys. Some of the dialogue is clunky and odd, but the film keeps the energy moving along to the next song.
The Pajama Game is a fun, colourful musical featuring a few catchy songs, fantastic choreography and cinematography. Thin on plot and high on songs, the musical is an entertaining ride combining skilled performers, humour, romance and workplace complications into an enjoyable Hollywood musical.