|Doris Day's Got 'Game' in this High-Energy Musical
The Pajama Game, the delightful 1957 Doris Day musical, was released two years prior to Pillow Talk. That glossy sex comedy, with Rock Hudson, set Doris’ image stylishly in stone for the next decade. For me, Day is more naturally appealing in The Pajama Game. That’s not a revisionist knock on Pillow Talk, which re-invented Day and the rom-com genre. But Doris Day is a down-to-earth delight in this underrated Broadway adaptation.
|Doris Day plays Babe and is a babe in 'The Pajama Game.'
Doris Day was 35 and filled with snappy energy, smarts, not to mention natural sex appeal, in The Pajama Game. Though Doris sports several shades of gingham as a small town Iowa girl, she also looks fetching in sleek ‘50s dresses, Capri pants, and DA hairdo that Day helped make popular.
The story is as lightweight as those jammies they make Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory, where the workers’ call for a seven-and-a-half cent raise is turned down by the boss. He then hires a tough guy to become the factory superintendent to keep everyone on task. John Raitt plays Sid, the new man on the job; Doris plays Babe, the head of the grievance committee. Guess what happens next?
Some internet nitpickers have complained that Doris is loud and unsubtle in her musical numbers. Well, Doris was a big band singer and movie studios back then strongly encouraged their musical stars to belt out their numbers. And stars with small voices often found themselves dubbed. Yes, Doris is brash and boisterous in “There Once Was a Man,” but Babe is supposed to deliriously in love, at this point. Imagine Betty Hutton performing this number, and the difference is obvious.
|Doris and John Raitt duet on 'There Once Was a Man.'
If the ‘one-note’ performing criticism applies to anyone, that would be John Raitt. His stage-like projection belongs on Broadway, where Raitt originated the role. Raitt was just not made for movies. His acting has the broad feel of musical theater, not the real feel of film. Raitt’s booming voice and energy come alive in the Day duet, “There Once Was a Man.” But the baritone falls painfully flat in his solos. Rait’s bit of business is to sing the great standard “Hey There” into a Dictaphone, with a call and response to his own performance. Contrast that to Doris’ reprise of “Hey There,” after Babe has broken up with Sid. Getting ready for bed, she sings as the mirror catches her reflection. Babe is eventually overcome with emotion, as Doris’ subtle singing dissolves into tears—it’s one of her best moments, totally movie-style natural.
It’s no surprise that The Pajama Game didn’t lead to more film roles for Raitt. True, musicals were waning in popularity, but they were still being made. The problem was Raitt wasn’t versatile enough to perform in a variety of genres like Sinatra, Dean, Bing, Judy, and Doris Day. Raitt fell into the category of Gordon MacCrae and Harve Presnell… one-dimensional actors with a big voice.
|Carol Haney gets to shine in the outdoor dance, 'Once a Year Day.'
The rest of the cast is a delight down to the smallest parts. Vaudevillian Eddie Foy, Jr. and character actress Reta Shaw have a great song and dance number, “I’ll Never Be Jealous Again.” For Carol Haney, this would be her only film role with dialogue, but she’s a scene stealer as the bookkeeper who keeps the numbers close to her heart! Her big number, “Steam Heat,” is a stellar Bob Fosse choreographed number, and Haney’s moves are marvelous. Haney also leads the cast in the exuberant company picnic number, “Once a Year Day.”
It’s noteworthy that The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees were both by the same creative team, words and music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, with books by director George Abbott and Richard Bissell. A sad footnote to the stellar Adler/Ross collaborations was that they were cut short when Ross died suddenly at 29, after Damn Yankees opened. Stanley Donen, co-director for both movies, commented that Abbott let him do the directing. George Abbott was on board only to ensure faithful film adaptations of his stage musicals. The famed Broadway writer, producer, and director was 70 when he teamed up with his one-time protégé Donen. Amazingly, Abbott lived to be 107, working up to the end of his life.
|'The Pajama Game' is filled with fun, clever numbers put over by a fine ensemble cast.
I love musicals like The Pajama Game, smaller in scope, unlike the spectacles that were taking over Broadway, and eventually Hollywood, when they became movies. Though I don’t mind The Sound of Music or My Fair Lady, I prefer the less overblown, understated The Pajama Game, Funny Face, or Damn Yankees. I don’t need my musicals to be epics. There is such simple joy in The Pajama Game, like the slinky Hernando’s Hideaway, where the greatest special effects are matches struck to illuminate the dancers’ faces and body parts. For me, imagination trumps over-the-top any day.
Though The Pajama Game debuted 60 years ago in 1957, and it looks like a snapshot of an era, the film still feels fresh. Aside from the great material, credit must go to Stanley Donen, whose body of work is filled with some of the most stylish, imaginative musicals and comedies of the post-war era: Take Me Out to the Ballgame, On the Town, Singin’ in the Rain, Royal Wedding, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Funny Face, Indiscreet, Charade, Two for The Road, and Bedazzled.
The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees may not be true classics, but considering Donen was working under the scrutinizing eye of stage director Abbott, he presented the material in a both faithfully and lively way, unlike so many other leaden Broadway to Hollywood adaptations.
Both musicals were Broadway smashes—each played over a 1,000 performances—and George Abbott got his way, with most of the stage cast brought to the screen. I think The Pajama Game has the slight edge over Damn Yankees because the former has a versatile movie star to sell the show, whereas the latter relies on a teen idol’s modest talents. Both movie versions starred All-American blondes, but Doris Day was the star who shined brightest.
As of 5/13/19, this is a great link to watch 'The Pajama Game':
As of 5/13/19, this is a great link to watch 'The Pajama Game':
|The film version of 'The Pajama Game' featured much of the Broadway cast, but Doris Day was the star!