The Pajama Game (1957) is very much of its time. That’s part of its charm.
Adapted from a hit Broadway musical, it presents an odd mixture of elements. On the one hand, it’s a corny suite of musical numbers by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross of Damn Yankees! fame (and the songs range from ok to good). These numbers are deliberately stagey and yet come alive on account of some inspired choreography (Bob Fosse), co-director Stanley Donen’s confidence with color and blocking, and every moment in which Carol Haney stars. The movie is also a weird pass at a topical social drama that centers on a love affair between the new boss at the Sleeptite Pajama Factory (John Raitt) and the labor union steward (Doris Day), and the conflicts that arise over a contested 7.5-cent hourly wage increase.
The narrative is threadbare, a thin framework for the musical numbers, and any dramatic heft largely doesn’t exist (there is zero chemistry between Haitt and Day—blame Warner Bros. for using the entire Broadway cast but for Day, the marquee name). Some viewers will retch at the insipid sexual politics, at how un-diverse the cast is. Thankfully, almost none of that matters, since the pace and the overall sprightliness of the performers hurries us along from one visually striking sequence to the next. You might also note that these were different times; the pre-1960 world of musical cinema could be pretty bland. Most of the movie musicals then were crap—stillborn and lame product that strung together soft, inoffensive showtunes. These productions had little, if anything, to do with the cutting edge, or with the concerns of rebel youth or the oppressed. Uncomfortably, The Pajama Game sits somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.
You watch the movie knowing this history or not. Perhaps you have a sense of how far the movie musical has progressed since—and an appreciation for the poppy, even quirky touches on display. And for Carol Haney, who passed away seven years later at 39. She steals every scene she’s in.
Some of my favorite numbers are “Once-a-Year Day!,” “Hey There,” “Steam Heat” (Haney gives us pure, undistilled Fosse, and I love it; it’s worth the figurative price of admission alone), and “Hernando’s Hideaway.”
The pristine Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray includes the theatrical trailer and one deleted song, “The Man Who Invented Love.”