Judge Bryan Pope dons his bunny slippers, brushes up on his workplace ethics, and cuddles up with this classic Doris Day musical.
The Pajama Game
Is the game I'm in.
And I'm proud to be
In The Pajama Game
I love it.
I can hardly wait to wake
And get to work at eight
Nothing's quite the same as the Pajama Game.
Who knew labor disputes and musical comedy could make such compatible bedfellows? Apparently, Richard Adler and Jerry Ross did back in 1954 when they created the hit Broadway musical The Pajama Game. The show was adapted for the screen in 1957 with Doris Day as its headliner, and now the film makes its appearance—wait, make that second appearance—on DVD.
Facts of the Case
Workers at the Sleeptite Pajama Factory are having more than a few sleepless nights when salary negotiations come to a grinding halt. The company's grievance committee, headed by Babe Williams (Doris Day), is pushing for a seven-and-a-half cent hourly wage increase, but management won't budge. Complications arise when the factory hires a new superintendent, Sid Sorokin (John Raitt), and Babe discovers she loves him "more than a dope fiend loves his dope." Will the increasingly heated negotiations and impending strike jeopardize their romance? In case you weren't paying attention, I already said this is a Doris Day musical comedy.
After almost fifty years, George Abbott's and Stanley Donen's The Pajama Game is an amusing time capsule of 1950s-era workplace sensibilities. There's so much flirting and hanky-panky going on among the workers at the Sleeptite Pajama Factory, one wonders when they find time to stitch their long johns. The worst offender by far is Sid, the macho new superintendent who shoves a lackey, makes a pass at the head of the grievance committee, then intoxicates and propositions office manager Gladys (Carol Haney) so that he can gain access to Sleeptite's locked-away ledgers. And that's just within his first week on the job. What's in store once he makes it through his probationary period—stag films in the break room during lunch hour? Things go from bad to holy freakin' crap when Gladys' jealous boyfriend, a professional knife thrower, almost makes a pin cushion out of Sid. (Really, though, can you blame the fella?)
With all of the lousy management infractions, and with the many instances of sexual harassment and workplace violence on display, it's a wonder nobody at the factory has ever blown the whistle on, well, everyone else. After all, the shenanigans here would be enough to send even the most-experienced HR director into hysterics.
But that's taking things much too seriously, because The Pajama Game also happens to be a delightful, fun lark. Sure, the story's office politics are cringe-inducing in today's litigation-happy environment. And, yes, the 1950s setting elicits more than its share of unintentional chuckles, but it also evokes a happier, more carefree time when people flocked en mass to sunny, day-long company picnics at which employers sprung for unlimited free beer. A time when "going out" meant dressing to the nines and dancing the tango at Hernando's Hideaway (olé!). A time when someone as spunky and freshly scrubbed as Doris Day could be box office gold. And speaking of Day…
The Pajama Game was originally marketed as a Doris Day vehicle, and the über-coiffed Day certainly gives it her all. She sings, she dances, and she sports scarves in 90 percent of her scenes. It's the all-purpose Doris Day! She's paired with Broadway baritone John Raitt (who's so stiff you'd swear he must have been blasted with starch before each take), but the supporting cast is the cat's pajamas. Most are holdovers from the Broadway cast, all are interesting to look at (the marvelous Haney being a prime example), and they look pleased as punch at having their work immortalized in the screen version. Occasionally, their stage training betrays them, as their broad theatrics (alas, Haney again) are better suited for the stage than the movies, but they give the film an undeniable shot of energy.
Not that this movie needs it. So much old-school musical comedy lives or dies on the basis of its songs and production numbers, and the songs here are catchy and abundant, the production numbers grandiose. Songwriters Adler and Ross, who also gave us "Damn Yankees," penned some real keepers here, including "I'm Not at All in Love," "Hey There," "Small Talk," "Hernando's Hideaway" and "Steam Heat." The songs hold up well, thanks in part to shockingly saucy lyrics like "I've got something better for your lips to do." (Wholesome, my foot. Clearly, Doris Day was a trollop in her heyday.)
The one and only Bob Fosse (Cabaret, Star 80) took on choreography duties, but you'd never know it. The dances are elaborate, inventive and athletic, but they're also not as mature as Fosse's later work (case in point: the spirited but overblown "Once-A-Year-Day"). Perhaps it's because of the comedic nature of the material, but, with the exception of "Hernando's Hideaway" and, especially, "Steam Heat," with its cockeyed bowler hats and whiplash style, the numbers here smack more of Michael Kidd than sexed-up Fosse. In fact, it's easy to believe that the cheerfully crowd-pleasing Pajama Game inspired the weightless musical comedy Joe Gideon struggles so painfully to choreograph in Fosse's All That Jazz.
Of course, that's pure speculation, and this package's deplorable shortage of extras offers nothing to substantiate or refute my theory. What we do get are a theatrical trailer, brief notes about the stage version (under the cutesy title "Pajama Party"), and a deleted scene featuring Day's performance of "The Man Who Invented Love." This sequence was ultimately replaced by a reprise of "Hey There." That's it, folks. And from what I can tell, it's the same roster of extras found on the previous edition.
The Pajama Game is presented in both 1.85:1 widescreen anamorphic and full-frame format. I watched the widescreen version, and it saddens me to report that the quality doesn't even approach that of other recent Warner Bros. releases, such as Singin' in the Rain, The Band Wagon and Easter Parade. Even without the "special edition" treatment, I didn't expect inconsistent, often faded colors that harm the film's lavish and colorful production design. Nor did I expect to see so much grain in certain sequences (the opening shot of Sid approaching the factory was in such poor shape that I thought I was watching a vintage promo piece). Seriously, was this thing scrubbed with sandpaper? The audio fares better, but it's still unremarkable. The Dolby mono track is clean, but not as dynamic as it should be for this film. English and French subtitles are included.
Doris Day and musical fans may be a little steamed themselves over this redundant double-dip, and they should be. This film is as cute, comfy, and fluffy as a pair of bunny slippers, and it deserves better than VHS-quality video, unspectacular audio, and scant extras. Still, for around $15, it's hardly a rip-off if you don't own the previous edition.
The Pajama Game is cleared of all charges, but the bench is disappointed with Warner Bros. for paying so little attention to this title. All Sleeptite Pajama Factory supervisors are advised to undergo serious managerial training within the next 30 days. Let's clean up our act, people.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Theatrical trailer
Review content copyright © 2005 Bryan Pope; Site design and review layout copyright © 2016 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.