Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 18, 2021)
One of the biggest movie stars through the 1950s and 1960s, 1957’s The Pajama Game finds Doris Day in her prime. Paired with famed director Stanley Donen, the film places Day in a mix of music, comedy and romance.
Taken from a 1954 stage show, Game takes us to the Sleeptite Pajama Factory in Iowa. Company VP Myron Hasler (Ralph Dunn) brings on Sid Sorokin (John Raitt) to negotiate a new contract with the workers.
These activities pit Sid against union representative Katie “Babe” Williams (Day). As these two battle over a 7 and ½ cent pay raise, might love bloom?
Of course it will – what would a Doris Day musical comedy be without romance? While I can’t claim to know Day’s filmography well, she did seem to find herself in more than a few flicks where she initially butts heads with the ultimate object of her desire, so the narrative of Game seems unlikely to provide many surprises.
Nonetheless, as I often say, movies are more about the journey than the destination. While we might be able to see the finale of Game miles in advance, that doesn’t mean it can’t offer a fun ride.
Which it manages to some degree, mainly due to its many musical segments. Whatever my synopsis implied, Game comes very light on plot, as it really exists more as a collection of character moments and songs.
Normally that would make such a film a major turnoff for me, as this style of musical doesn’t typically appeal to me. However, Game shows enough creativity to make it a lively affair.
Some of that comes from Donen, of course. With films like Singin’ in the Rain under his belt, he’d demonstrated the ability to create a good movie musical, and that experience comes through via Game.
In addition, Game pairs Donen with a young choreographer named Bob Fosse. We can clearly see Fosse’s influence on the dance numbers, as those show a spark and vivacity I wouldn’t expect from the typical Doris Day flick.
As for our star, she seems perfectly competent here, though I don’t think Babe allows Day to really shine. The role just seems a bit too dour to suit Day’s standard girl next door effervescence, and Day can’t quite overcome this tone.
It doesn’t help that a) Raitt can’t act and b) he and Day demonstrate little chemistry. They create a reasonably attractive couple but they don’t form a duo that really appeals to the audience.
The supporting cast manages to take up some of the slack, at least. With a good roster of character actors, they manage some comedic charm – even though I can’t believe Reta Shaw was only 45 in 1957, as the poor woman looked closer to 70.
Even without much of a plot and with a wooden leading man, Pajama Game manages reasonable fun. We get a good roster of vivid musical numbers and just enough comedic charm to make it a likeable effort.