The Pajama Game

THE PAJAMA GAME started as a novel, which turned into a smash Broadway play that ran 1,063 performances, and finally arrived on screen in summer of 1957. Doris Day stars, George Abbott & Stanley Donen shared direction, Bob Fosse choreographed. As they’d done for the play, Abbott & Richard Bissell wrote the script; Bissell had authored “7½ Cents”, the book that kicked it all off.  With a gross of $7,700,000 pegging 26th place at the box office, its zesty fun made it the best of ten musicals ’57 offered.  A musical about a union !? *

Cedar Rapids, Iowa. At the ‘Sleeptite Pajama Factory’ brusque new superintendent ‘Sid Sorkin’ (John Raitt) has a problem: he works under an eternally exasperated owner but falls for feisty union rep ‘Babe Williams’ (Doris Day). The union wants a raise (that darn Communist 7½ cents), the owner won’t budge: somethin’s gotta give. You don’t really need a Business Degree to discern who’ll get what. The dozen clever tunes written by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross include the goofball picnic “Once A Year Day”, the belted out “There Once Was A Man”, wistful “Hey There” and slinky nightclub tango “Hernando’s Hideaway”.

Is that a Doris pose or are we just Rocking the Hudson?

Most of the cast repeated their stage roles, with Day replacing Janis Paige since Day had the box-office drawing power the equally attractive and ebullient Paige lacked. Doris is in top form, and one aspect of the handling is that her star clout doesn’t overwhelm the other players: in a few key numbers she’s just part of the line; a trouper. The movie is one of the few chances to see lauded dancer & choreographer Carol Haney not just in movement but as a slapstick comedienne. The styling of the piece from most of the cast plays it Big & Loud, and that wears a bit—Ralph Dunn bellows every line loud enough for people in not just in the theater but the next county to hear. Eddie Foy Jr. is amusing Haney’s insanely jealous boyfriend. Unfortunately, stage star John Raitt, while he has a great voice, is a dead weight when it comes to expressions, of which he has maybe one more than Chuck Norris. His character is supposed to be manly-charming and vital, but his endless glowering comes off more like aggressive. 

While keeping the screen-stiff Raitt on board is questionable (his frozen facial features fizzling his future in features), a smart move for pacing was trimming down the number of numbers—with reprises, the stage production tallied twenty-four, which would have been exhausting on screen. An added plus is the vibrant look of the romp, seen in the best format (go Blu Ray for sure), really sparkles: freeze frame Doris and try a freckle count. With Jack Straw, Thelma Pelish, Barbara Nichols, Reta Shaw. 101 minutes.

 * There was one other musical-comedy involving a union, 1959s forgotten Never Steal Anything Small, with James Cagney and Shirley Jones (racketeers get in the mix). Back in ’57 The Pajama Game‘s competition included—in order of popularity—Pal Joey (Sinatra as a hip heel), Jailhouse Rock (Elvis stirs in stir), Loving You (Elvis agin’), Funny Face (Astaire & Audrey H.), Les Girls (Gene Kelly), Silk Stockings (Fred again, remaking Ninotchka), April Love (Pat Boone), Seven Hills Of Rome (Mario Lanza) and Jamboree (Alan Freed and Dick Clark host assorted rock’n’roll acts).

Carol Haney, 1924-1964

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