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  Pajama Game, The Worker's Playtime
Year: 1957
Director: George Abbott, Stanley Donen
Stars: Doris Day, John Raitt, Carol Haney, Eddie Foy Jr, Reta Shaw, Barbara Nichols, Thelma Pelish, Jack Straw, Ralph Dunn, Owen Martin
Genre: Musical, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Mr Hasler (Ralph Dunn) is the boss of the Sleeptite Pajama Factory and he's looking to hire a new superintendent, so when Sid Sorokin (John Raitt) arrives on the scene looking for a job, Hasler snaps him up for the post, starting immediately. Sorokin is just the hard-headed employee the company needs, he thinks, but his brusque manner doesn't win him any favours among the staff, even if the women do find him very attractive. When Sorokin pushes over a slacking engineer, the head of the union's department on labour troubles turns up in the person of Katherine "Babe" Williams (Doris Day), and once the minor dispute is settled, the women wonder whether there could be anything romantic on the cards for her?

Based on the hit Broadway musical, The Pajama Game brought over a substantial portion of the stage show cast, including leading man Raitt, to assist in recreating the accomplishment for the Hollywood film. Day wasn't an original player, but acquitted herself well and more importantly brought in that star power needed to sell the project at the box office. But while it was a big success in the eyes of many at the time - Jean-Luc Godard famously calling it the first socialist operetta - and is still fondly thought of today, watching it now it doesn't seem it's all it's cracked up to be.

In fact, what it looks like is the fifties musical equivalent of Bus Stop. A film regarded with much affection featuring a blonde superstar, enjoying a cute reputation, but in fact making for a pretty obnoxious hour and forty minutes or so. Despite the apple-munching Babe's protestations in song, she does quickly fall for Sid, although the reasons for this seem to be exclusively to further the labour relations plot. Sid is frankly a rather unpleasant character, pushing the workers around and refusing to back them on their plea for a wage rise (of seven and a half cents an hour!), never mind practically forcing Babe to go out with him.

The supporting characters get their chance to shine, supplying the chorus to the romance and joining in enthusiastically with the big production numbers. The choreographer was Bob Fosse, and his full blooded dance sequences add much needed colour - and distraction from the troubling storyline. The first chance these bits get to shine are when the workers go on their annual picnic and the screen is filled with leaping and rolling bodies, but then there's the business with Sid pursuing the coy Babe which resembles sexual harrassment. That, however, is nothing compared with the way one narrative line resolves itself.

The overall effect is akin to watching a society sent crazy by its frustrations. Babe is eventually sacked by Sid for organising a "slowdown" in protest at the low wages, but being on opposite sides of the divide doesn't dampen Sid's ardour. Gladys (the talented Carol Haney) meanwhile is suffering the attentions of the pathologically jealous Hinesy (Eddie Foy Jr, looking old enough to be her father) which culminates in him throwing large knives at her in a light hearted murder attempt (!). The message of compromise is welcome, and the setting is novel, but treated flippantly instead of bitingly - I'm All Right, Jack this isn't. The main reason to watch is the song and dance, with recognisable tunes from Richard Adler and Jerry Ross such as "Hey There" and "Hernando's Hideaway", but even these don't take away the uneasy feeling.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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