The SDMB MLS&DS2: "The Pajama Game"

One of the greatest losses the American Musical Theater ever suffered was the premature death, at 29, of Jerry Ross. With Richard Adler, they only collaborated on two full-fledged musicals—The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees!–, but both works are marked with musical dexterity and thematic ingenuity.

Curiously, both film adaptations have been relegated to cinematic after-thoughts. 1957/58 was a transitional period for film musicals. The era of the original film musical was coming to a close, and Hollywood became increasingly interested in capitalizing on the rejuvenation of Broadway (often credited to Rodgers & Hammerstein and their series of mammoth hits) as their primary source material. It wouldn’t be until the early 60s that huge hits like West Side Story and The Music Man cemented the stage adaptation as the primary incarnation of the film musical, but the late 50s already saw Oklahoma!, South Pacific, and Porgy & Bess, in addition to the two Adler/Ross films.

The Pajama Game remains my favorite movie musical that originated on Broadway for many reasons, but one major one is that it doesn’t suffer from the problems that the adaptations of the 60s fell increasingly easy prey to. 60s musicals often felt they needed to “open up” the action by making songs longer, setpieces bigger, and forcing the action outdoors with lots of location photography. This usually meant more expensive production costs, which in turn meant the need to promote the film as more than just a musical, but a spectacle. As a result, a lot of these films suffer from bloat, with plenty of audience-friendly pandering and gratuitous elements that make the films feel elephantine—something they didn’t suffer from on the stage.

When it comes to movies, I’m a big fan of economy—narrative economy and visual economy. You won’t find any showy, bravura camera movements in The Pajama Game, but if you pay close attention, you’ll notice that director Stanley Donen (aka the greatest movie musical director ever) is constantly tracking and reframing the action in fluid and often subtle ways to maximize the performances. The camera’s never static like in a Fred & Ginger film, but it never draws attention to itself either; even in the one big “opening up” number of “Once a Year Day”, the camera’s still at ground level instead of in constant panoramic/crane mode.

Visual economy also means letting the action speak for itself. I’ve long been a proponent that the more editing that occurs in a musical, the easier it is to cheat, particularly in the dance numbers. PjG isn’t much of a “dancing” movie outside of Carol Haney, but letting the camera roll not only allows you to better see continuity in performance, but it increases the intimacy as well (because the cinematic artifice is reduced), and Donen keeps the cut-cut-cutting to a minimum.

I guess what I’m saying is I like the film’s simplicity—the material is so original and the performances so engaging that there’s no need to fancy things up.

I like the fact that it’s one of the few musicals that deals with real economic stakes in the character’s lives without creating glib rich/poor class dichotomies (My Fair Lady, Annie). Although it’s a love story, the central theme remains the yearning of the working class for a better life—it doesn’t romanticize the elite but rather ennobles the concept of upward mobility through hard work and solidarity. This common man element runs through the film and even colors the details—even the main love song (the terrific “There Once Was a Man”) compares historical and aristocratic love stories with the love two working class folk have for each other.

I also like that the love story subverts many of the expectations we have from other musicals. Babe isn’t the classic ice queen alienated from love; she just hasn’t found the right person. But love doesn’t “feminize” her, either. There’s no personality makeover—a male fantasy that musicals often indulge in (hair down, glasses off: voila! Cyd Charisse!). When the chips are down, she doesn’t abandon love out of disillusionment, but because of a higher principle. We actually see what Sid sees in her. And even though Sid’s more of a “guy’s-guy” than the more typical “sensitive” male musical lead (Crosby, Astaire, Kelly), he’s still the starstruck romantic of the duo.

But none of this stuff matters if the film isn’t good, and boy is it ever. The songs are clever and catchy, the staging of the numbers charming and memorable, and the performances great fun (with the possible exception of Eddie Foy Jr.‘s comic “stylings”). Raitt is one of film’s great one-hit wonders. He’s got charisma to spare, and a terrific voice, but the remaining baritone parts by then were few and far between (Howard Keel took most of them already) and he seems too full of energy to be contained on the screen. Day (the only major cast member not part of the original stage production) is quite good and a far cry from the tedious virgin she’d incarnate just a few years later. And Haney is equal parts goofy and smokin’ when it’s her turn to showcase her dancing abilities.

I do miss “A New Town is a Blue Town” (the only cut song I might’ve put back in), but Raitt still has his classic signature tune “Hey There” (with the dictophone duet an inspired touch). “Steam Heat” and “Once-a-Year-Day” are bursting with energy, “Hernando’s Hideaway” (Robert Frost jokes aside) delivers on the match conceit, “I’ll Never Be Jealous Again” is genuinely funny (Foy’s fine when the music’s on; his cut number “Think of the Time I Save” was also a winner), and “Seven-and-a-Half Cents” is an irresistible way to wrap things up.

For me, it’s never a film that blows me away initially. But the cumulative effect, scene by scene, is always so satisfying that it becomes a film I end up falling for over and over again. Most people I talk to have never seen it, but end up being surprised at how something that good could’ve escaped their attention for so long. I’ve always imagined it would be a great candidate for a high school production (great subject, low demands on the dancing, easy-but-colorful production values) or for a theatrical revival (I’ve never seen one mounted that I can recall). I wish the DVD had a better transfer (a lot of the colors are muted and dingy compared to the original feature), but it still doesn’t diminish the quality of the film for me one bit.

So, let the new version of the SDMB Musical Lovers’ Salon & Debating Society commence! :slight_smile:

I enjoyed watching it- and spent a lot of time wondering what made it so much more enjoyable than “Fiddler on the Roof”-also watched recently. They both have music that I could easily sing along to (An absolute requirement for me to think it is a great musical). I’ve enjoyed Fiddler in various live theaters before(and have perhaps aged enough to get a better perspective on the whole leaving home thing at the end) but I don’t think that was what made the movie so dissappointing.

Admittedly, “The Pajama Game” deals with a much lighter topic- getting a raise rather than leaving the only life one’s ever known but that wasn’t really it either.

The big factor I decided was one of “scope”. ArchiveGuy’s described it above (without using that word) but in “The Pajama Game” it was done well- and in Fiddler it was done horribly. Either the scene was “Hey, Look it’s a movie see the scenery” far away or it was “Look into Tevye’s sad eyes” close with almost none of the dancing which has characterized stage versions I’ve seen.

In addition, I have to give “The Pajama Game” credit for one of the more creative and natural ways of showing what’s going on under the ladies skirts- when several of them go rolling down the hill during “Once a Year Day”. It always amuses me how many musicals- especially those set in the past- figure out ways to make the ladies stand on their heads, dance in their petticoats, show off their petticoats or otherwise show off what’s going on under their skirts.

I think it’s one of the great forgotten musicals – it’s really too dated for a revival (7 and a half cents???), but the score is wonderful. I also like the fact that the love story was established early on – the characters didn’t wait until the end to fall in love.

“I’m Not At All in Love” is just a great song, too.

You’re right, ArchiveGuy, about the movie not blowing you away at first. The first few numbers didn’t do anything at all for me (and although I found the story relatively interesting, we all know that—with a few exceptions—it’s the music that makes the musical, not the story), and although the music (and the story) got better as the movie progressed, I was still somewhat unimpressed by the end. So, I slipped the DVD into its little sleeve, slipped the sleeve into the Netflix envelope and sent it on its way.

But over the next few days, I found that the songs kept popping back into my head (especially “There Once Was a Man”, which I think is my favorite song from the show), and I started to wish I hadn’t sent it back so soon because I think I’d like to watch it again. I’m also thinking of buying the original Broadway cast recording so I can hear the songs that were cut.

It was revived once. But I disagree that it’s too dated to revive (again). I mean, yeah, it’d have to be done as a period piece if for no other reason than the seven-and-a-half cent raise, but other than that, I think the show has dated well. Certainly a lot better than other shows of the same time period or earlier. The only problem I can foresee is the potential of a significant part of the audience (at least in this part of the country) to take offense at the story’s pro-union point of view.

P. S. Did anyone else who watched the movie on DVD watch the deleted song, “The Man Who Invented Love”? Oh, and speaking of the death of Jerry Ross (who was my age—I don’t know what bothers me more, that he died at my age or that he was so much more accomplised at my age than I’ll ever be), I think the life—and death at age 39—of Carol Haney was equally as tragic.

Here’s some info on Carol Haney, for those of you who, like me, didn’t know anything about her.

Add my vote to “This is a movie that really grows on you.” I saw it, for the first time, sometime in the last year, and was pretty “enh” – in part, I think, because I have a lot of issues with Doris Day – but enjoyed it a lot more this time. Like MidnightRadio, I wish I’d watched it a second time before I took it back. (The difference is I borrowed it from the branch of the library two blocks from my house, so I can just take it out again any time. :stuck_out_tongue: )

The main thing that struck me about it was that all of the songs fit into the story pretty well, except for Steam Heat, which is just stuck in there totally willy-nilly. It’s a great number, obviously (it’s wonderful watching the early Fosse at work – we’ve got Cabaret coming up later in this set, and then (swoon) All That Jazz later on, so we can talk about Fosse more then) – but it has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Even Hernando’s Hideaway, though different in tone from the semi-realism of, say Hey There (which is a wonderful, rueful, sweet number), has some connection with the story.

Wonderful film, Archive Guy – thanks for choosing it, and thanks for your major-league OP!

If you don’t mind my asking, twickster, what issues do you have with Doris Day? Personally, I’ve recently discovered a new admiration for her talent, not just as a singer, but as an actress, too. I saw her not too long ago in The Man Who Knew Too Much and was really impressed by her acting (then again, maybe it just doesn’t take much to impress me). It also seems she puts more into her songs than other singers. This isn’t the best way to say what I want to say, but she seems to have a great deal of control over her voice. She doesn’t just unleash the notes and when she goes soft or gets louder, you really feel there’s some… I don’t know—intelligence behind it, as opposed to other singers who sound like they’re just adjusting an internal volume knob because the sheet music says to.

Damn, I think Doris Day killed a hamster – I was trying to post the following when the boards went down for 45 minutes:

Long answer will have to wait – I’m at work (can’t you tell?) – but the short answer is, it’s not about her performance skills, it’s the “professional virgin” persona Archive Guy refers to (briefly) in the OP. The Doris Day-Rock Hudson films were made when I was an impressionable age, so I can’t just shrug them off as artifacts of another era.

The '60s were a weird decade…

I don’t think that the Pajama Game is dated–I have seen the film a while back, but I ahve also seen it done in summer stock theater.

The amount of money may be different now, but the issues are still valid.

I enjoy the songs and the realism present in what is basically escapist entertainment. Even the songs are grounded–except for Steam Heat, but I forigve them that.

pssst…Joe sent me!

The other thing that I liked about the romance in this musical is that the couple split up over a real issue (opposite sides in a labor battle). Too many musicals or romances split up over stupid missunderstandings.

(Like “Lullaby of Broadway”- also featuring Doris Day which I just watched. It’s much more of a musical with just enough plot to justify all the staged songs and dances type. But the irritating part is that the audience knows the true relationships between the characters almost from the beginning- but the characters keep secrets most of the way through the movie.)

I finally finished watching it last night…

I didn’t love it. (I find myself saying that a lot in these threads.)

It was great seeing “Not at all in love,” “Hernando’s Hideaway,” “Steam Heat,” and “Hey There” in context. Great songs that I’ve always known and never known why I know them.

My big problem with it was the love story, and the changing ideas and ideals of masculinity since 1957. Sid didn’t come off and strong, and courageous, and manly (which I think is what they were going for) but as a complete and total jerk. He started bad, he then went to sexual harrasser, and bully. The combination of the actor, the director, and the script just made him worse and worse and worse as the movie went on. I didn’t care if he ever got together with Rizzo, I wanted him off the screen. I didn’t get the rush when they first got together or when they finally reconciled, because I didn’t like him and I didn’t like them as a couple and I didn’t care.

Perhaps I’d like it more with a different actor and director combo. Or redone 50 years later.

Loved the staging on “Hey There” the solo/duet thing was cool. I needed something different on “Once a Year Day.” “Seven-and-a-Half Cents” was a good wrap up song. I liked how it stayed a musical throughout the picture, rather than a first act musical, second act straight show.

I agree with amarinth about Sid—I wasn’t crazy about him. And she’s right, he was a bit of a bully and definitely hypermasculine, which was off-putting.

The Pajama Game was the first play I ever saw on stage. I was knocked out, and there are some scenes I still remember. That’s remarkable, considering I was a little kid in (I think) 1955. I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen the show since then. I still have the program around here, somewhere.

My parents had four season tickets for several years to Starlight Musicals, where plays were staged through the summer in an open-air amphitheater at one end of the Butler University football field. Each show would play for a week, then move to another city.

Our seats were close to the orchestra pit, and we looked up at the stage. I was one wide-eyed little boy :eek: when the whirling dancers showed me glimpses of the ladies’ underwear! I don’t think I knew the word “lust” yet, but that was exciting. This was in 1955, when you didn’t routinely see pop stars on TV in chrome-plated bras and leather garter belts.

I’ve been thinking about the movie – and this discussion – quite a bit, and hoping (without avail) that my thoughts would gel into some kind of coherent form.

It seems like there are two pretty visceral reactions happening here – mine (“Ew. Doris Day. Ew.”) and that of Amarinth and Midnight Radio (“Macho bullshit. Ew. Macho bullshit.”) Both of these are about being presented with '50s gender roles in ways that seem to be evoking stuff above and beyond what’s directly presented within the context of the movie.

[Full disclosure, for the sake of context of what I’m about to say: I was born in 1954, and raised by a rabid feminist – when the women’s movement kicked in in the late '60s, there was no need to raise my consciousness – it was already high. OTOH, I was also growing up surrounded by various forms of pre-feminist pop culture – including, but not limited to, the various skittish virgin movies done by Doris Day and a couple of costars. (Rock Hudson was the most famous, but she did That Touch of Mink with Cary Grant – a movie that is perhaps the fullest, er, flowering of that particular dynamic.)]

So – The Pajama Game is interesting in that she plays a much more feminist character than the ones she starts taking on after that. Babe, after all, is “a working woman,” an independent woman who takes her job seriously, and takes her responsibilities to her fellow workers seriously as well. Note, however, that she’s not some wrong-headed/up on her high horse/humorless/perspective-free spinster who can’t tell the difference between real issues and fake ones – she quickly dismisses as bogus the “shoving” incident that is the reason for her first encounter with Sid. So there’s a great deal of respect being shown to her character as a working woman, and we can call her a kind of proto-feminist heroine.

Sid, OTOH, isn’t any kind of precursor to the later feminist ideal of masculinity (oft-mocked as the SNAG – “sensitive new-age guy” – most famously embodied by Alan Alda). There is no such prototype available for him, and so he acts as a manly man would act at that time – assertive to the point of creeping us out from the perspective of 50 years later.

What I’ve been thinking about is this – why are we so much more bothered by this than we are by other pre-feminist male-female relationships? The '30s gold-digger model that we’ll see in a few weeks, for instance, seems more dismissable as a product of its time. Is it because these relationships tend to be the secondary relationships (cf. Gladys and Hinesy in this movie), whereas the primary relationships (Fred and Ginger, say) tend to be more “romantic,” less politically charged? Is this all connected with my “thing” about Gene Kelly, which archive guy finally talked me around on?

As I said, don’t know where I’m going with this – does anyone have any light to shed?

Sorry I haven’t contributed more since the OP (work and all), but I am a little confused about the “bully” label for Sid. The one incident I can think of is the “shoving” incident, and he was very obviously not shoving to assert his authority, but simply to get the job done (with the shovee in his way). Not necessarily “acceptable” behavior, but nowhere near as mean-spirited as some have characterized it. And after that…what else?

Yes, the office sexual politics date a little, but Sid is still very clear in trying to break down the authority barriers between him and Babe (connecting as two people) instead of using his position to unduly throw his weight around. I certainly wouldn’t call it “harassment” (in the legal sense at least).

I think an important plot point (which is emphasized more in the original stage production) is that Sid has bluffed his way into a higher position–he used to be a foreman and has been able to talk himself into the front office out of pure will and intiative. But he’s still full of self-doubt, and his two solo numbers (including the one, “Blue Town” that got cut) highlight his crisis of confidence. That he’s able to fire Babe without batting an eye is a tribute to his ability to separate his responsibilities from his personal feelings, just as his faith in their relationship shows that he represents a new type of management. Much of the hyper-macho posturing should be seen in this light–in some ways, he’s clearly overcompensating in order to be taken seriously. But if he was a real chauvinist, we’d see it clearly in his relationship with Babe. But we don’t, and I think that speaks much more to the heart of his character (as well as his resolve to fix the labor dispute) than his “cock-on-the-walk” bluster.

There have been a lot of other really good comments and observations that I haven’t had a chance to comment on yet, but thanks to twickster for bumping the thread (and I’ll have more to add to her post as well–hopefully soon).

Hate to hijack - but to go further out of context of the movie, I’d like to recommend watching Love Me or Leave Me to get another Doris Day, Non-Virgin role. It’s one of my favorite movies, and she definitely is no shrinking violet in it.


A question I have:

How much of an actual role, if any, did George Abbott play in the filming of this film and, for that matter, Damn Yankees?

Yeah, I was definitely surprised by her work in Love Me or Leave Me – but note that that’s even earlier than Pajama Game. (See a chronological listing of her films here.)

Damn, I’m gonna have to find a good critical study on Ms. Kapplehoff: Can anyone recommend one?