The Pajama Game may not be the greatest musical of all time..., but it's got some memorable songs and dances. And that's enough to carry the day.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

In the 1950s and 60s Doris Day was America's sweetheart. She could do no wrong, be it drama in things like "Young Man With a Horn," "Love Me or Leave Me," or "The Man Who Knew Too Much"; musicals like "Calamity Jane" or "Billy Rose's Jumbo"; or her forte, romantic comedies like "Pillow Talk" or "Send Me No Flowers." When she left movies in the late sixties, she went into a successful television series and then retired gracefully to Carmel, California, where today she heads up an organization dedicated to the well-being of household animals.

"The Pajama Game" from 1957 finds Ms. Day at the top of her game in one of the better adaptations of a hit Broadway show for the big screen. The movie certainly has a lot going for it, with Doris Day at the head of the list. The play's original director and cowriter, George Abbott, came over to codirect, with the able assistance of Stanley Donen ("On the Town," "Singin' in the Rain," "Kismet," "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," "Charade"). The story was cowritten by Richard Bissell from his own book, "7 ½ Cents." The music and lyrics were by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, part of the same team who would give us "Damn Yankees" a short while later. And the dancing sequences were staged by legendary choreographer Bob Fosse ("Damn Yankees," "How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," "Sweet Charity," "Cabaret," "All That Jazz"). Plus, over half of the Broadway cast was used in the movie, so everybody knew exactly what they were doing.

Despite the movie's suggestive title, it's a family picture all the way. The pajama reference is just a tease, alluding to the story's unlikely setting in a pajama factory. In fact, the whole premise of the picture is unlikely for a musical comedy, a strange combination of labor-relations disputes with singing, dancing, and romance thrown in. I mean, who'da thunk?

OK, admittedly the factory setting doesn't provide much of a plot in any case. This is a film where what happens is of little importance compared to the singing, dancing, and charm of the characters. Basically, we've got a new superintendent of the Sleeptite Pajama factory getting into trouble with the head of the factor grievance committee, as well as trying to deal with workers who insist on a seven-and-a-half cent hourly pay increase. The superintendent, Sid Sorokin, played by Broadway cast member John Raitt, has to face union rep Katie "Babe" Williams, played by Ms. Day, when he shoves a worker and he complains. But that just gets Sid and Babe introduced to one another so they can fall in love and sing a lot.

Frankly, I found Sid's character somewhat overbearing. He's obviously a pushy, upwardly mobile fellow whose last job was that of factory foreman, and who talks himself into his present position. Then he talks himself rather aggressively into Babe's life. Because he's handsome, Babe, a seemingly intelligent and clear-thinking woman, falls for him. I dunno. Maybe there was something I missed, but I didn't really see any chemistry develop between the two.

Still, as I say, the plot's not the thing. The singing and dancing is. The movie starts with "The Pajama Game" sung over the opening credits. It's bouncy and light. Then, to set the tone for the factory work, there's "Racing With the Clock"; can't waste time in the factory, after all. "The tops are fifteen minutes behind the bottoms," exclaims the floor supervisor. Next is "I'm Not at All in Love," sung by Babe as she denies liking the new superintendent. "I'll Never Be Jealous Again" is a cute duet sung by the supervisor, Vernon Hines (Eddie Foy, Jr.), and the factory owner's secretary, Mabel (Reta Shaw), about his jealous streak over another secretary, his girlfriend Gladys (Carol Haney).

At about the movie's halfway point comes the biggest number, "Hey, There, You With the Stars in Your Eyes," done by a love-struck Sid. Then comes the company picnic, the highlight of the show, and a ditty called "Once-a-Year Day." It's at the picnic that Sid and Babe at last hit it off. More important, it's where Bob Fosse shines in his dance routines. It's a marvelous sequence and worth the whole movie.

"Small Talk" is sung by Sid and Babe when they're finally alone. After which they begin to feel their oats and sing a loud, brassy tune called "There Once Was a Man" that sounds like it's from some other musical, "Oklahoma" perhaps. Then there are two numbers that absolutely make the evening: "Steam Heat" at a union rally and "Hernando's Hideaway," a showstopper. "7 ½ Cents" is the final number, although a strange little scene of a big, company pajama party actually closes the film in an anticlimactic manner.

Neither Day nor Raitt is a great singer, but they make up in enthusiasm (and volume) what they lack in subtilty or nuance. Raitt, especially, seems to be a consummate stage actor, with everything said or sung at a high intensity, as though he's always playing to the balcony. Maybe it's why he stuck mainly to the boards, "The Pajama Game" being his only real starring movie vehicle. But he's got a solid, manly, Spencer Tracy-like appeal to him, and his confidence in the part of the superintendent is fascinating. And, needless to say, Doris Day has a magnetic screen presence that makes her worth watching no matter what she's doing, saying, or singing.

The supporting players are probably even bigger delights than the leads. Old pro Eddie Foy, Jr., one of the "Seven Little Foys" of the old vaudeville star of the early twentieth century, is a delight as the factory supervisor and former knife thrower, going after anyone with knives blazing who messes with his girlfriend. Reta Shaw as Mabel is equally delightful. You'll recognize her as soon as you see her from dozens of other supporting roles. Carol Haney as Gladys, Vernon's girlfriend, is best known for having indirectly given Shirley MacLaine her first big break in show business. Seems MacLaine was Haney's understudy for the Broadway production of "The Pajama Game," and when Haney couldn't go on one night, MacLaine took over and wowed the audience, catching the attention of producer Hal B. Wallis, who immediately signed her to a Paramount contract. Odd that Haney should be best known for somebody else's good fortune. Oh, well.... That's show business, I guess.

There's a good deal of sheer exuberance on display in "The Pajama Game," evident particularly in that company picnic I mentioned earlier. But the exuberance is visible throughout most of the picture, too, and it's infectious. Besides, how many musical scores produce at least three, separate, best-selling songs ("Hey There," "Steam Heat," and "Hernando's Hideaway")? Although times change and this sort of thing isn't very popular anymore, the film should nevertheless find favor with folks who continue to enjoy musicals.

"The Pajama Game" may not be the greatest musical of all time (it doesn't develop strong enough character relationships or much of a plot), but it's got some memorable songs and dances. And that's enough to carry the day.

The movie is presented on flip sides of the same disc in both widescreen and pan-and-scan. The P&S format lops off about 25% of the image left and right, while providing a tad more information at the top and/or bottom of each frame. In widescreen, the picture measures a ratio that approximates its 1.85:1 theatrical-release size. The image is enhanced for widescreen, but the bit rate utilized is fairly ordinary. The result is a picture that sometimes looks great, but most of the time looks mediocre. The overall appearance is usually a bit grimy: It's slightly faded, with more grain than one has come to expect from a WB product. Occasionally, one can see age flecks, but it's nothing serious; definition is only average; and when characters wear striped shirts or pajama tops, the stripes are apt to flicker a bit. In other words, the video does not exactly leap off the screen at you.

The sound is reproduced via Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural, which goes a long way, I'm sure, in clarifying the sonics and cleaning up any background noise but still leaves a lot to be desired in a movie with so much music. It all sounds typically mono, with not much frequency response, virtually no bass, a constricted dynamic range, and mostly midrange. The upper registers are a touch edgy as well, yet the songs survive. Maybe that's a tribute to the great music.

This is not a WB special edition, and there isn't much on the disc that wasn't on the previous DVD edition. The main bonus item is a deleted song, "The Man Who Invented Love," that was replaced in the movie by a reprise of "Hey There." The omitted tune was found in the Warner vaults and added to the list of extras. One listen and you can tell it's a good song, but it's nowhere near as memorable as "Hey There," so I'd have to agree with the studio's decision to ax it. Next, there are cast and crew listings; a bit of text information titled "Pajama Party," providing information on the movie and play; a fullscreen theatrical trailer; and twenty-nine scene selections, but no chapter insert. Although English is the only spoken language available, there are English and French subtitles.

Parting Thoughts:
It seems to me that "The Pajama Game" was a big enough hit for Warner Bros. that they might have considered doing it up in a special edition. Surely, they could have improved upon the picture and sound, and enough of the original cast and crew are available to have done the extras proud. But it was not to be. What we have is still entertaining, but there is always that lingering doubt about how much better it could have been. Maybe, some day....

"The Pajama Game" is available individually or in an eight-disc box set, "The Doris Day Collection," that also includes, chronologically, "Young Man With a Horn" (1950), "Lullaby of Broadway" (1951), "Calamity Jane" (1953), "Love Me or Leave Me" (1955), "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" (1960), "Billy Rose's Jumbo" (1962), and "The Glass Bottom Boat" (1966).


Film Value