Saturday, September 5, 2020

Happy Labor Day! - The Pajama Game

Warner Bros, 1957
Starring Doris Day, John Raitt, Carol Haney, Eddie Foy Jr.
Directed by George Abbott and Stanley Donen
Music by Richard Adler; Lyrics by Jerry Ross

We celebrate a holiday about working with the only musical I know of that revolves around a labor dispute. The Pajama Game debuted on Broadway in the mid-50's, when many Americans still worked blue-collar jobs in small factories in the north and Midwest like the Sleep-Tite Pajamas. How does the story of how Sleep-Tite's employees fought for a raise - and how one employee fell for a new manager - look today? Let's start at Sleep-Tite, just as it's new superintendent Sid (Raitt) is arriving, and find out...

The Story: On Sid's first day at Sleep-Tite, he insults a man who goes to the grievance committee. The head of the committee is Katherine "Babe" Williams (Day), who clashes with him at first before ultimately dropping the complaint. The other women in the factory think she's in love...and they eventually turn out to be right. She and Sid finally admit their feelings at the company picnic.

Babe, however, doesn't think it'll work out. She's an employee, and he's management. The garment union is pushing for a 7 1/2 cent raise, but the factory's manager ignores it. Fed up with his not listening, the factory workers slow down production. Babe jams the equipment, forcing Sid to fire her. Hoping to make amends, Sid turns to Gladys (Haney), the manager's secretary, to get her key and find out what he's hiding in his ledgers...and how he can help get the factory their raise and Babe back into his arms.

The Song and Dance: The unique story is the hook for some classic numbers, especially chorus routines. Day is absolutely dynamic as Babe, especially in the second half, when she thinks she has to give up Sid for the good of the union. Reta Shaw is hilarious as Sid's tough secretary Mabel, and Thelma Pelish is equally fun as Mae, the biggest member of the union (in all senses of the word). The color's gorgeous, especially during the "Once a Year a Day" chorus routine outside, with its brilliant swirling rainbow petticoats and gleaming gold light.

If the delightful choreography looks familiar, this was Bob Fosse's first full film assignment, having done the dances for the Broadway version as well. "Steam Heat" in particular shows off the dramatic, knock-kneed Fosse style that would become more familiar on Broadway and in Hollywood in the 60's and 70's.

Favorite Number: Babe claims "I'm Not at All In Love" after meeting Sid for the first time, but the ladies of Sleep-Tite know better. "Hey There" was the big hit ballad, and it gets an interesting number too, with Sid singing it into the Dictaphone, then playing it back and singing to scold his romantic notions. "Once a Year a Day" is that colorful, swirling number at the picnic that gets so wild, it ends with everyone collapsing! "Steam Heat" is extraneous, basically existing for Haney and the male dancers to do their bowler-and-knock-knees thing, but it still looks pretty darn good. "Hernando's Hideaway" has Haney bringing Raitt to Iowa's most infamous dive infamous, everyone needs to light matches to find their way around.

Trivia: Frank Sinatra was considered for the male lead that eventually went to original Broadway cast member Raitt.

Pajama Game debuted on Broadway in 1954 and was a huge hit, running just shy of three years. It made it to just under two on the West End. It was revived briefly on Broadway in 1978, and more successfully with Harry Connick Jr. as Sid in 2006. Three new songs were added to the 2006 version. It's said to be popular with community and high school theaters.

What I Don't Like: As unique as the story is, it really hasn't dated well in spots. Sid comes off as a bit of a jerk early-on and kind of forces himself on Babe, who kept saying 'no.' Gladys and Hines' subplot is even worse. Hines actually throws knives at Sid in the end when he's drunk and thinks Gladys has been with him - frankly, I'm amazed Gladys even considers returning to him after that. Speaking of Sid, Raitt is really kind of stiff in front of a camera when he's not singing. No wonder this would be his only film.

The Big Finale: Lively background music for your Labor Day barbecue if you're a fan of Day or 50's musicals.

Home Media: Easy to find on DVD; most streaming services have it for purchase only.

Amazon Prime (Buy Only)

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