Despite the presence of Stanley Donen as co-director, The Pajama Game (1957) isn’t a great deal more cinematic than theater legend George Abbott’s solo-directed Damn Yankees of the following year. (Strangely, Abbott’s early talkies for Paramount aren’t nearly so stodgy.) The best Donen can do is keep the camera fairly fluid and play with the lighting. The former works in the scenes in the pajama factory sewing room; the latter works in Day’s reprise of “Hey There” and in the film’s one truly stunning sequence, “Hernando’s Hideaway.”
That said, the film is fascinating as an early example of Bob Fosse’s choreography, for capturing Broadway star John Raitt’s (father of Bonnie) stage performance, for giving dancer Carol Haney her only real film break, and for preserving a kind of record of a bit of 1950s American musical theater. It may not be especially distinguished filmmaking, but historically, it’s a treasure trove.
The plot (such as it is) features Day as the head of the grievance committee trying to get a seven-and-a-half-cent-an-hour raise for her co-workers at the Sleeptite Pajama company. She has the misfortune to fall in love with the new factory supervisor (Raitt). This serves mostly as an excuse for middling comedy and an array of better musical numbers. With her usual legs-apart-feet-planted-firmly-to-the-floor-singing-with-both-fists approach to the brassier numbers, Day fits in nicely with the film’s stagy quality. Her comic timing is better than the material warrants, but her dramatic scenes are less successful (as in Love Me or Leave Me, when she pulls the bury-her-face bit when she’s called on to cry). Despite its success at the time, it would be her next-to-last full-blown musical.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke