Warner Archive provided me with a free copy of the Blu-Ray I reviewed in this article. The opinions I share are my own.
The Pajama Game begins with Sid (John Raitt) walking into the Sleeptite Factory with purpose. He’s determined to get a job there and has an interview for the position of superintendent. Little does he know but there’s some unrest at the factory. While other factories in the area have given their workers a 7.5¢ raise, the Amalgamated Shirts and Pajama Workers of America Union are fighting for their workers to get the same.
Which probably wouldn’t mean much to Sid except he’s fallen in love with the factory’s grievance committee leader, Babe Williams (Doris Day), and to her the union is everything. In the same way Sid is determined to keep his new job, Babe is determined to get her people that raise, and it puts them on opposite sides of the fence.
What’s great about The Pajama Game (besides the songs) is how much the film commits to its theme (even the picnic they attend is hosted by the union). Labor issues aren’t just an afterthought in this musical. They’re front and center. Richard Adler and Jerry Ross wrote the music and lyrics, and a lot of the numbers directly address the working conditions at the plant. In “Racing with the Clock” the film has to be sped up for the sewers to work at the pace their boss, Myron Hasler (Ralph Dunn) wants them to work and later, when the song is reprised, it’s during a slow down, so everyone’s taking their time.
When it comes to employees dating, The Pajama Game is more lenient. Or let’s put it this way – the film knows it’s wrong but wants Babe and Sid to date, so makes it ok by having Babe resist for a while (which doesn’t actually make it ok but, you know, love conquers all) . Besides Sid being Babe’s boss, he’s very pushy and controlling and he’d be downright unlikable if it weren’t for the fact that Raitt has a beautiful singing voice. “Small Talk” is such a sweet song, and you can imagine another couple singing it and being adorable but, because of how Sid is with Babe, the song is less cute than it ought to be and they’re not even the most toxic couple in this movie (that award goes to the jealous boyfriend played by Eddie Foy Jr. who throws knives).
Unlike a lot of movie musicals, The Pajama Game cast a good number of actors from the Broadway show, including Raitt and Carol Haney, who won a Tony for playing Hasler’s secretary, Gladys (watch her dance in “Steam Heat” and you’ll understand why). George Abbott, who co-directed the original stage production with Jerome Robbins, co-directs the film with Stanley Donen (Charade). He also co-wrote the book for the musical with Richard Bissell, who shares co-writing credit with him on the film’s screenplay.
The Pajama Game was also the first Broadway musical choreographed by Bob Fosse (Cabaret) and you can spot some of his signature moves already (isolated body parts, bowler hats). Jean and William Eckart’s costumes are too incohesive, but many of the songs are creatively staged, from Sid singing with his Dictaphone on “Hey There” or Babe’s room getting lit by a railway signal outside her window during her reprise of “Hey There.”
Warner Archive’s Blu-Ray comes with a deleted song by Day (“The Man Who Invented Love”).
The Pajama Game is available on Blu-ray starting January 26th from Warner Archive. There’s a reason the cover art plays up the songs. They’re extremely catchy.