Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Pajama Game


After far too many days of plaster imprisonment, the orthopedic surgeons arrived yesterday and pronounced my femur mended and freed my leg from its cast. It was simply heavenly to be able to walk again but my legs are still a bit wobbly. I tried to do a few entrechats in celebration down the length of the ward here at Cedars Sinai and nearly fell on my graceful derriere. I was given permission to return home to Chateau Maine and to resume my life, but no strenuous activities as of yet. A delightful young man named Max, who is some sort of dance therapist, will attend me there every morning for the next few weeks, getting my famous legs back into shape. I was not sorry to forego bed jackets and hospital gowns for a darling little navy Chanel suit and to climb into a taxi for the trip home. 

My return to Chateau Maine was highly unpleasant. Patrick, my usually amiable cat, miffed at my prolonged absence, celebrated my return by vomiting all over my Ferragamo pumps. The Beverly Hills police department are still crawling all over the grounds, gathering evidence on the recent unfortunate demise of Herbert Scrawcrunch. Fortunately, they did remember to remove him from the pool; all, that is, except his toupee. It seems to have become permanently attached to the filter intake valve. Doreen and Herbert also seemed to have been making quite free with my possessions. Room after room on the main floor damaged, full of clutter, or ransacked. They seem to have turned my beloved home theater, with all of its Ottoman detailing, into some sort of rancid love nest. There were quite a number of open Vicki's Secret brand lingerie packages (size XXL) and lots of unidentifiable stains on the upholstery. 

I was so exhausted just surveying the damage, that I needed to rest with a film. I found an apparently undamaged Afghan in the hall cupboard, threw it over one of the divans in the home theater, and decided to view a movie with a wholesome approach to nightwear; the vision of Doreen in one of my dainty little Thinga Thongs being more than my weakened system could tolerate. My choice was the 1957 film version of The Pajama Game starring Doris Day, brought to the screen by the original stage director, George Abbott in collaboration with the great Stanley Donen. 

The Pajama Game is a faithful adaptation of the 1954 Broadway hit by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. While the show was a success in its day, and a number of its songs have become standards, it's not as frequently revived as some of its contemporaries such as My Fair Lady or West Side Story. Its greatest claim to fame is the number of careers it launched. It was the first Broadway show produced by stage manager turned producer Harold Prince. (He didn't start directing until She Loves Me, nearly a decade later.) It was the first major choreographic assignment of a young dancer, who had failed to make much of a mark at MGM, named Bob Fosse. One star, Carol Haney, went on to become an important choreographer and, when she was ill, her understudy, Shirley MacLaine, was spotted by a Hollywood producer in the audience one night and signed to her first film role. It brought another star, Eddie Foy Jr., out of semi-obscurity and into comic supporting roles for years. Adler and Ross followed this show up with another hit, Damn Yankees, the following year. They were well on their way to becoming one of the more important Broadway composing teams until Ross tragically died at the age of 29 of lung disease. Richard Adler has continued to write for Broadway in the intervening decades, but none of his post-Ross endeavors has met with much success. 

The story of The Pajama Game is adapted from a novel by writer Richard Bissell, Seven and a half cents, which details labor problems in a Midwest pajama factory and the people who get caught up on both the management and the labor sides. Bissell and George Abbott, the grand old man of the Broadway musical, turned this unpromising subject into a kicky comic musical which uses the factory setting to set up a number of different love stories, both dramatic and comic. The film opens with Sid Sorokin (John Raitt, reprising his Broadway role), coming to work at the Sleep-Tite pajama factory as the new superintendent. He's an old union man who's bluffed his way into a management job. After a mild altercation, he meets Babe Williams (Doris Day), head of the union grievance committee, and is immediately smitten. While he pursues Babe, who recognizes the problems they'll have, being on the opposite sides of the labor dispute, the plant's efficiency expert, Hines (Eddie Foy Jr.), has a comic romance with the bookkeeper Gladys (Carol Haney), egged on by Sid's secretary Mabel (Reta Shaw). When management refuses to grant labor their seven and a half cent an hour wage increase, labor wants to go on strike, there's problems on the shop floor; complications ensue but, as this is a fifties musical, everything works out all right in the end. 

The film is a faithful adaptation of the stage show. Several minor musical numbers have been trimmed and the lyrics and relationships cleaned up somewhat to meet the Hayes code. With the exception of Doris Day, who replaced Janis Paige, the leads are from the original stage cast. The film has been opened up slightly to take advantage of the film medium, but even still, most of the numbers are staged very similarly to the way they were on Broadway. Steam Heat, for instance, is danced by the same three dancers who played the show on stage for years and uses the stage Fosse choreography. With the angular postures, finger snaps, and derby hats, all of the elements of Fosse's unique style come together here, even at this early time in his career. Another famous number, Hernando's Hideaway, uses the same Zippo lighter tricks that made it so effective on the stage. The music for this song will be familiar to all viewers as it's used regularly as the quintessential schmaltzy tango. The most famous song, Hey There, an unattributed lift from Mozart, remains lyrical and lovely and is well sung both by Raitt and by Day in their separate choruses. 

While the film is not as well known as some other contemporaneous musical films, it's good fun and an interesting record of stage musicals of the period. It's point of view on relationships between the sexes in the workplace is severely dated; the whole main love story could be construed as sexual harassment by modern definitions. But, as played by Raitt and Day, the characters are strong enough to keep the more objectionable elements at bay. It's also one of the most colorful of musical films. The art department went wild with fabrics for the pajama factory. The costumes and sets also make use of a riotous Technicolor palette. 

The DVD contains the film in widescreen with a reasonable sound and picture transfer. There are the usual cast and crew listings and trailer. As a bonus, there is an additional song, written especially for the film, The Man Who Invented Love, sung by Day which was not used in the final cut. 

Pajama cutting. Pajama sewing. Pajama steaming. Neon signs. Poopsie hunting. Gratuitous hill rolling. Polka in the park. Knife throwing act. Drunk bookkeeper. Gratuitous beer guzzling. Parking lot rally. Passing trains. Gratuitous petrified bat.

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