When it comes to musicals, it’s tempting to preëmpt criticism with the injunction to stop, look, and listen. “The Pajama Game,” which I discuss in this clip, has an infectious score by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross that features such classics as “Hernando’s Hideaway,” “ [Heat,]” “Hey There,” and “Seven and a Half Cents,” and choreography by Bob Fosse (filmed by the directors Stanley Donen and George Abbott) that brings out the best in its performers, making the athletic vigor of John Raitt and Doris Day [romantic], the vaudevillian craft of Eddie Foy, Jr., and Reta Shaw touching, and—most of all—the wide-eyed avidity of Carol Haney dramatic. But the question of stopping is what the story’s all about: the workers in the Sleeptite pajama factory are threatening to strike over their boss’s denial of a seven-and-a-half-cent per hour raise, and the head of the grievance commitee, Babe Williams (Day), has been fired by the new superintendent, Sid Sorokin (Raitt), for an act of industrial sabotage.
For all the virtues of its comic drama, musical allure, and choreographic splendor, the movie belongs nonetheless to one performer, Carol Haney, whose brief and troubled career yielded only this one major role. Beside the raucous picnic number and the inescapably catchy “Hernando’s Hideaway,” she’s the androgynous core of the spectacularly spare “Steam Heat” extravaganza: three black-suited, fedora-capped dancers perform startlingly angular variants on the song’s jaunty industrial rhythms. Haney is the only only one we notice, and we can’t take her eyes off her; her deadpan face represses the terpsichorean ecstasy that her body exuberantly yet precisely conveys.
P.S. In 1954, when the play on which the film is based opened on Broadway, Haney, interviewed by K. Ritchie and Geoffrey T. Hellman for The New Yorker, said, “What a satisfaction it is to get on the stage with the lights on and beat your brains out! It’s a form of insanity, I guess.”
P.P.S. In his review in the magazine of a recent revival of the play, John Lahr recalls seeing the play at the behest of Foy—his godfather.