“The Pajama Game,” the 1957 musical directed by George Abbott and Stanley Donen, provides good entertainment throughout with sparkling dance numbers choreographed by Bob Fosse and wonderful performances by Doris Day, John Raitt and Carol Haney. The interesting score includes such numbers as “Hey There,” “Steam Heat,” and “Hernando’s Hideaway.” Even the story about labor troubles at a pajama factory provides a surprising amount of conflict in the midst of a joyous production. Although some of the actors from the original Broadway show appearing in this movie are unfamiliar, they elevate the production to higher standards through their experience and teamwork.
Raitt stars as Sid Sarokin, a former fabric cutter whose gets a job as the superintendent of the Sleeptite Pajama Factory. Sid runs into trouble when he shoves a worker who failed to give him the screwdriver he needed to fix a sewing machine. The worker sends for the factory’s Grievance Committee, headed by the especially lovely Katherine “Babe” Williams (Doris Day). Sid becomes smitten by her immediately, and Babe feels the same way. However, she envisions trouble because the couple is on opposite sides of the labor divide. Sid repeatedly asks her out on a date and gets rebuffed, but she really does like him. The couple finally comes together at the raucous company picnic, an energetic dancing affair where couples sneak into the woods to kiss.
As an actress, Doris Day can deliver both conflict and emotion realistically. As a union representative, Babe must dig her heels in and fight relentlessly. But her sweetness seems genuinely endearing, particularly when she reprises the “Hey There” song sung earlier in the film by John Raitt. She seems the most giddy and particularly attractive when she sings the “There Once Was a Man” number with Raitt. That’s a witty song, but unlike other romantic roles played by Day, this movie gives most of the comedy to another couple. The laughs are provided by Carol Haney, who plays factory clerk Gladys Hotchkiss, and Eddie Foy Jr., who plays plant supervisor Vernon “Hinesie” Hines.
The showstopper, “Steam Heat,” is performed at a union rally. It’s inventive and transfixing, and they have 3 great dancers to perform it, including Haney and Fosse. Haney also joyously performs the “Hernando’s Hideaway” number, a fun tango that uses the light from kitchen matches for much of its illumination. Foy Jr’s Hinesie character also sings a couple of numbers, but I would have preferred a toned-down version of him, especially when he starts throwing knives around the pajama factory. Overall, the performances elevate this musical and score, by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, is witty, touching and hummable.