I viewed this low-budget 1917 fantasy film several years after I'd read the 1911 novel from which it's adapted. The film is a solid improvement on the novel ... but both of them are a rip-off of the 1902 fantasy novel 'The One Before' by Barry Pain. 'The One Before' is about a magic ring: each person or animal who wears the ring acquires the personality of its previous wearer. In 'The Haunted Pyjamas', we have a set of pyjamas made by an ancient Chinese sorceror: whoever wears them is magically transformed into a physical duplicate of one of the pyjamas' previous occupants ... though not necessarily the most recent wearer.
The novel 'The Haunted Pyjamas' is written in first-person narration by a silly-ass Englishman who sounds like a parody of Bertie Wooster before the fact, and who even has a Jeeves-ish butler. The Englishman lives in New York City, and is apparently a remittance man. This film version greatly improves on the novel by substituting a much more sympathetic and believable protagonist: wealthy young man-about-town Richard Hudson, briskly played by Harold Lockwood. He acquires the titular pyjamas, and puts them on without being aware of their curse. Hudson is straight away transformed into a Chinese warrior (played energetically by Oriental actor Goro Kino), and promptly terrifies Hudson's butler Jenkins. Hudson himself is unaware of the transformation. When he takes off the pyjamas, all is well again.
Next, a young man named Francis dons the pyjamas and is transformed into an attractive young lady named Frances. Hudson, unaware that she is actually a he, is enchanted by this young lady and intrigued by some of 'her' mannish habits. Meanwhile, Francis (the man) seems to be blissfully unaware that he has turned into a woman. If it ever happens some day that I change my sex, I'm fairly certain I'd notice it. How 'bout you?
Later, a blustery and very stout man puts on the pyjamas and is transformed into a duplicate of a thinner man wanted for murder. Nobody in this movie seems to notice that the pyjamas are always magically just the right size for whoever puts them on. A more obvious detail is the fact that the pyjamas also change colour (from red to black, apparently; it's hard to tell in this monochrome film) when anybody's wearing them, then they change back when taken off.
SPOILERS NOW. Eventually Hudson discovers the curse of the pyjamas, and this film ends in the same way as its namesake novel ... with the pyjamas burning merrily.
'The Haunted Pyjamas' is briskly paced and amusing, but the production design is weak and this movie's basic idea was done much better in Barry Pain's novel. I'd like to see a film version of Pain's 'The One Before'. Meanwhile, I'll rate 'The Haunted Pyjamas' 6 out of 10.
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