The Pajama Game-1957
Director-George Abbott, Stanley Donen
Starring Doris Day, John Raitt
Scott’s Review #1,292
Reviewed August 19, 2022
Doris Day, the queen of the romantic comedy film during the 1950s and 1960s was riding high in 1957 when The Pajama Game was adapted into film production. It had taken Broadway by storm in 1954 and achieved immeasurable success.
The actress/singer did not star in it, Janis Paige did. The film version required a Hollywood star in one of the lead roles and since Frank Sinatra turned down the male lead role, Paige was given the boot in favor of Day.
This hurts a bit but is the way the Hollywood world of box office receipts works.
Fortunately, Day can sing as evidenced by her startling good rendition of “Que Sera, Sera” from Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much which won her an Oscar just a year earlier.
Taking place in the midwest, USA, the boss of an Iowa pajama factory hires superintendent Sid Sorokin (John Raitt) to help oppose the workers’ demand for a seven-and-a-half-cent raise.
Sid’s presence stirs the jealousy of foreman Vernon Hines, who is dating bookkeeper Gladys Hotchkiss (Carol Haney), and attracts worker “Babe” Williams (Day), a strong advocate for the pay increase.
Despite liking Babe, Sid resists the workers’ sabotage attempt and must decide whether to fire activist Babe. Predictably, the two fall madly in love amid catchy song and dance numbers.
I’m a huge fan of the musical genre, especially during the 1950s and 1960s heyday. The Pajama Game falls somewhere in the middle for me, inferior to the brilliant West Side Story (1961) and Gypsy (1962) but holding its own with other fun musicals like Guys and Dolls (1955).
Fun is a perfect adjective to describe The Pajama Game with its bright, fluffy, and colorful pajama element, midwestern polite charm, and the romantic comedy bits between Babe and Sid.
This shouldn’t elicit a determination that The Pajama Game is juvenile or fluff because it’s solidly crafted and professionally made. Every musical number sounds good and is choreographed well.
No surprise to learn that Bob Fosse is at the helm as a choreographer, returning to the job he did on the stage production. The principal cast of the Broadway musical reprises their roles for the movie, except Paige, and Stanley Prager, whose role is played by Jack Straw.
As a result, it’s very similar to watching a stage production. Cinema performing is different from stage performing so there is a good number of giant voices and theatrical style acting which I didn’t mind at all. This is never evidenced better than when they all go on the factory picnic.
It’s careful to remember that the signing and dancing shouldn’t let the viewer forget that a sneaky liberal slant emerges in the story and a women’s liberation/progressive woman slant is exposed if the viewer looks carefully enough.
This is a wonderful way to add a tidbit of worth to an otherwise story about romance.
Babe is a very strong female character but it’s not bashed over our heads, but rather simmering below the surface. Unfortunately, this may be missed by those focused only on the most obvious elements.
As entertaining as the film is something is missing that ranks it below other productions like West Side Story, Singin’ in the Rain, or The Music Man. It might be a lack of serious drama replaced by a corny element or the need for one big memorable music number.
The Pajama Game (1957) may not be the greatest musical of all time but it’s got enough songs and dances to satisfy a musical fan. Day envelopes the role just fine but I’ll always wonder how Janis Paige would have done in the film role.