One of the more muddled Night Gallery segments, partially redeemed by some inventive direction, “The Tune in Dan’s Café” is reviewed here.
“The Tune in Dan’s Café” **
Teleplay by Gerald Sanford & Garrie Bateson • Story by Shamus Frazer
Directed by David Rawlins
Pernell Roberts as Joe Bellman
Susan Oliver as Kelly Bellman
James Nusser as Dan
James Davidson as Roy Gleason
Brooke Mills as Red
A lonely harmonica playing cues us in that we are in the West. It’s sunset and the neon signs of Dan’s Café are shorting out. Joe and Kelly Bellman (Pernell Roberts and Susan Oliver) are near the end of a long road trip vacation, which has done little to strengthen their crumbling marriage, much to Joe’s frustration.
Kelly is not forthcoming (Joe says she was silent the entire long drive there) about what exactly is making her feel dissatisfied and Joe seems to want to put whatever that is behind them and move forward to happier times. Sitting at a booth, he tries to remind her that they have a decent life together.
The café is strangely devoid of any other people, guests or staff. It has a jukebox and, still wanting to lift the dour mood, Joe discovers it has a song from their past, fifteen years ago when they first met. He feeds coins into the machine and selects the song, but his happy anticipation is ruined when the machine begins to play a different record. Kelly says grimly, “why should the jukebox work; nothing else has.”
It’s a mournful country tune with lyrics such as “Words like love and truth and goodness. Words like till death” at which point the record skips and keeps replaying that last phrase. We then get some unexpected images of the jukebox blowing up, or appearing to receive gunshots, which is not happening in this reality but perhaps at some previous time.
Finally, the proprietor, Dan (James Nusser), shows up to take their orders. After he leaves, Kelly tells Joe she wants a divorce. Joe asks why. The jukebox then plays the same song on its own and we again get the images of it being shot up.
Joe asks the proprietor what the deal is with the jukebox deciding of its own accord to keep playing that same song. Dan explains that a while back, there were two patrons, Roy Gleeson (James Davidson) and his girlfriend, “Red” (Brooke Mills, stunning, and the wife of the director, David Rawlins), and this was “their song.”
In flashback we see that Gleeson was a thief and Red, his girlfriend, was impatient with him and his need to spend time away from her to live his life of crime. It seems she may have taken up with another man while Gleeson was away. Gleeson finds out, slaps her, and she apparently ratted him out to the police.
Later, the police come and there is a long, slow-motion gun battle, including the shooting up of the jukebox, as well as of a number of bottles and glasses along the bar. And of course, Gleeson is gunned down as well. Dan explains that Red picked up the reward money for getting Gleeson and split. He says he has replaced the jukebox numerous times but it keeps playing their song. “It’s almost like every jukebox I install is waiting for her return.”
Joe and Kelly leave and as they walk to their car in the parking lot another car pulls in, with a striking redhead (apparently Red) in the passenger seat. As she and her male companion enter Dan’s Café, the same mournful tune begins to play and we hear her screams.
It’s hard to know what to make of all this, what the connection is supposed to be between the tune on the jukebox and how it connects Joe and Kelly to Gleeson and Red. Sure, it seems like both their relationships are going to end, but under completely different circumstances. Director David Rawlins juices this up with some interesting visuals. Amazingly, not only did he never direct another Night Gallery story, but he never directed anything else at all. His career afterward has been as a film editor. He should have been given other directorial assignments. He injected a lot into a moribund script.