Abbot+Donen+Curtiz/USA/1949+57; R4
Warner Bros, NZ$14.95 | Reviewed by Tim Wong

DORIS DAY, America’s virtuous sweetheart, made an entire screen career out of her prim, button-nosed upkeep; blonde becoming not only the hair colour of fun, but insurmountable purity. Come the sixties, Day remained firmly upright in her spotless self-image, a virtue sorely lacking in today’s corruptible celebrity. When no longer in vogue, she begrudgingly signed off with the out-of-date Doris Day Show, a small-screen foray that coincided awkwardly with The Graduate, Counter Culture and the Vietnam War. Now appearing as somewhat of an artifact in these Warner Bros. reissues, Day seemingly expired with the sexual revolution, one of the last deities of Hollywood’s dream factory and the collective hypnosis it helped maintain. If the movies were an illusion, Doris Day was the prism that skewered a harsh reality.

And yet, to consider The Pajama Game a frivolous precursor to a decade of unease is to deny the very levity and escapism of musicals; even today, the gleam of Day’s persona brightens any room, at least until the malaise of the 6 o’clock news rolls around. On opposite sides of an employment dispute, Doris falls for factory superintendent John Raitt; the couple striving to requite their love while negotiating picket lines, pay parity, and labour strikes. Day and her sweatshop colleagues get their 7 ½ cents raise in the end, but not before riding a conveyor belt of song and dance: “I’m Not at All in Love” the best of the Doris Day numbers, punctuated by Bob Fosse’s unpredictable choreography, and Stanley Donen’s sprightly economy of movement. Then things really take off when the employees are treated to a company picnic, costumed in a confectionary of blinding seasonal attire from a wardrobe that Jacques Demy surely raided when he made The Young Girls of Rochefort. Through all of this, Day never wavers from her wholesome core; her sunny disposition never threatened, her decency never questioned. After all, what could be more virginal than a film about pajamas?

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In one of her earliest roles, Day gets second billing to a strident Kirk Douglas; slacks pulled waist high, he mimics the life and times of Bix Beiderbecke with urgency and soul in Young Man With a Horn. Early on, the film is a smoky black and white evocation of twilight jazz tropes, rendering the stranglehold of music as an incurable disease. When the melodrama kicks in, Douglas lets the affliction get the better of him, trumpeting his artistic vocation vs. pragmatism as a musician, and spiraling into self-destruction as a result. Rock bottom, Day and Hoagy Carmichael drag him from the gutter, reforming him to live like a human being first, and a jazzman second. Throughout, Day gets to lay down some great tracks to Harry James’ virtuoso trumpet, the dub man to Douglas’ pretend hornwork. Unlike Robert De Niro in New York, New York, he actually looks like he’s blowing the notes. Vocal credentials aside, Day also establishes herself as a puritan in this film: with Kirk stuck in the middle, her shimmering halo is yinged off the yang of Lauren Bacall’s smoldering brunette, most infamous here for implying a (then) taboo lesbian fling. Michael Curtiz milks the on-screen polarity as much as he does the noirish shadows and light. Rarely, has jazz looked as tempestuous as this.

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DESPITE neither disc offering extra features apart from original trailers, these are vintage bargins at $14.95, along with the rest of the Warner Bros/Doris Day collection. For added value, all six reissues – Love Me or Leave Me (1955), Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960), Billy Rose’s Jumbo (1962), The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) + The Pajama Game and Young Man With a Horn – are also available as part of the Doris Day Collection at $59.95 ($49.95 until May 31).