Play It Again: The Pajama Game

Play It Again: The Pajama Game. By Jess Lomas.

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which classic-film connoisseur Jess Lomas revisits a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up … or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

In what could be described as ‘Norma Rae: The Musical’, The Pajama Game is a 1957 feature starring Doris Day and Broadway star John Raitt. Directed by George Abbott (On the Town) and Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain), the film is based on the stage musical of the same name, with many of the original cast reprising their roles in the Hollywood version.

Set at the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory, the workers – led by the always luminescent Doris Day as Katherine “Babe” Williams – are looking for a seven and a half cent an hour pay rise. Complications arise when Babe, the employee representative, connects with Sid Sorokin (Raitt), the factory superintendent, and the two don’t see eye to eye on union issues. After deliberately sabotaging the pajamas and machinery, Babe is fired, but Sid starts to investigate the factory’s manager and the possibility that he’s hiding a secret, all of which may lead to Babe and Sid’s reunion.

This isn’t a musical I’d lump in with the greats, especially when considering the directors’ filmographies, but it isn’t without its charms. Doris Day is in fine form working with what can only be described as one of the more unusual plots for a musical. The film does feature some brilliant choreography from the legendary Bob Fosse, and the songs are lively and fun, with Hernando’s Hideaway being a clear stand out sequence, as is the company picnic scene.

The Pajama Game excels at vibrant colours, and song and dance numbers used to entertain and not necessarily spur the film forward (which can at times make the film plod along). Despite the pretty exterior, it’s hard to disguise that this film is hanging on to a very thin plot – and a very uninteresting thin plot at that. It’s thanks to the film’s strong performances – Carol Haney as Gladys Hotchkiss in particular steals the show – that one can gain some enjoyment from this 1950s musical, though it might not lend itself to multiple viewings as many of Day’s other films do.

Discuss: The Pajama Game!

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