20
Feb
22

100 Movie Musicals #29: The Pajama Game (1957)

Tonally messy but rousing labor musical from Stanley Donen, Bob Fosse, and Doris Day. The songs are merely fine, but by god how many full-throated union organizing musicals are there? Never trust a boss, and especially don’t date one.

workers of the world unite

Real wide gap between the sex farce the posters make this look like and the relatively (by musical standards, anyway) grounded labor and gender politics movie it actually is. The movie is about the manufacture of pajamas, not the wearing of them, and Doris Day’s Babe Williams is an organizer and workers’ committee leader who starts dating the new floor manager, despite everyone including them recognizing what a fucking terrible idea that is during the buildup to a strike.

The amazing thing—the incredibly bracing, delightful thing—is that when push comes to shove, Babe chooses solidarity over love, and the floor manager is the one who has to betray his class, sneaking a look at the company’s books to discover that the owner has been denying the workers a raise merely to pump up their profits margins. That this is treated as a huge scandal is shocking from the vantage point of 2022, frankly.

the most rousing paean to tiny raises

The gender politics of this thing are all over the place, or rather they’re pretty good for 1957, but the way the grievance committee is ready to throw down against physical violence and economic extortion from management is starkly at odds with the way that sexual harassment and fraternization are just taken as a matter of course. John Raitt’s Sid Sorokin harasses Babe repeatedly from the instant he meets her, and not only does management not care, the union people don’t either. Babe’s coworkers tease her repeatedly about how cute the abusive new boss is, and how much he’s hitting on her. Narratively, she doesn’t have to back down to his goals, or change her beliefs for love, which is nice and all, but you have to wade through a lot of “so what if the boss doesn’t force a kiss on you at the company picnic? it’s his Once a Year Day!” to get there. There’s also an extended runner about how poisonously jealous the shift leader gets about his bookkeeper girlfriend that culminates in an extended chase where he’s trying to stab her that the movie plays entirely for laughs, and it’s unnecessary and horrible.

sexual harassment in the workplace: fun for the whole family!

This is the first movie choreographed by Bob Fosse on our list, I think? It’s not particularly Fossean, except for the Steam Heat number, which goes straight to the friggin’ wall with bowlers and slacks and jazz hands. It’s ridiculous as an amateur performance during a union convention, but you know, that’s fine, let the man have his fun. God knows it’s less out of place than Gene Kelly’s dream ballets.

ssssssteam heat, indeed

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