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|What the Deaf Man Heard|
|Created by||G.D. Gearino (novel)|
|Written by||Robert W. Lenski|
|Directed by||John Kent Harrison|
James Earl Jones
|Theme music composer||J.A.C. Redford|
|Country of origin||USA|
|Running time||120 minutes|
|Production company||Hallmark Hall of Fame|
|Original release||November 23, 1997|
|"What the Deaf Man Heard"|
|Hallmark Hall of Fame episode|
|Episode no.||Season 47|
|Original air date||November 23, 1997|
What the Deaf Man Heard is a 1997 Hallmark Hall of Fame television movie that aired on CBS television on November 23, 1997. It concerns Sammy, a man who pretends to be deaf and mute, when in reality he can hear and speak perfectly well. The movie starred Matthew Modine and James Earl Jones. Based on the novel What the Deaf Mute Heard by G.D. Gearino.
The Ira Gershwin/Kurt Weill song "My Ship" (sung by Bernadette Peters) is heard at the end of the film, as Sammy listens to a music box.
Helen Ayers and her young son Sammy board a intercity bus to move to a better life. Sammy’s curious questions annoy Helen but she won’t reveal the surprise and admonishes him to be silent, putting him to sleep. At a rest stop, Helen goes into a bar to get a drink but is dragged into a vacant lot and murdered as the bus leaves. Sammy sleeps through the night until the bus arrives at the end of the route, Barrington, Georgia.
When a despondent Sammy ignores him, the cynical bus driver believes he is deaf and abandoned by his mother. Norm Jenkins, the kindhearted terminal manager, takes an immediate liking to Sammy and is very protective, as is Lucille, the owner and cook at the terminal’s cafe. Norm sees Sammy and Lucille as his surrogate son and wife as he had lost his own family to the Influenza pandemic of 1918. Young Tolliver Tynan stops with his adopted sister, Tallasse, and mother, Maddie, to watch Sammy being questioned by the police chief and tries to spook Sammy by lighting a cherry bomb. Sammy sees Tolliver’s activity in a reflection and steels himself to not react to the blast, which convinces the entire town that he is in fact deaf. Norm sets up Sammy to sleep in the storage room. Looking through Helen’s suitcase left on the bus, Norm finds important documents.
Sammy spends the next decades living in the terminal and working as the town’s handyman, hearing various secrets from people who believe him to be deaf. Norm backtracks along the route of the bus and eventually tracks down Helen’s cold case. Tallasse has returned after years away with dreams of becoming a professional photographer. Tolliver is still arrogant and patronizing as the treasurer of the town church. As his inheritance is tied up in a trust until his mother dies, he has various unsuccessful moneymaking schemes, all financed by funds he has embezzled from the church. Sammy hears all of Tolliver's secrets.
Black junk dealer Archibald Thacker and his sons masquerade as poor but are actually Harvard-educated businessmen as well as moonshine runners. They scheme to temporarily store a shipment of the liquor in the church’s large, new baptismal font.
The Tynan house hosts the church’s newly ordained and unsure preacher, Reverend Pruitt. Seeing a newspaper article where a rock & roll group, the Weevils, claimed to be bigger than God (inspired by Beatle John Lennon’s “More popular than Jesus" remark), Pruitt is inspired to hold a record-burning event. The event grows out of control and gains a festive atmosphere. Embers from the bonfire ignite nearby fireworks, sending a skyrocket into the church and directly into the font full of alcohol, burning the church down.
Tolliver is put on trial for his embezzlement as the church is revealed to be uninsured. Sammy is called as the first witness and everyone is surprised when he speaks. Tolliver’s mother collapses and dies from shock. Tolliver believes he is finally entitled to his inheritance. Norm reveals the notarized affidavit he found decades earlier in which Tolliver’s father identifies Sammy as his illegitimate son by Helen, born just before Tolliver. As firstborn, Sammy is the legal heir to the Tynan fortune according to the terms of the will. Tolliver is sentenced to jail.
Sammy gives away much of his newfound wealth to charity as well as to Norm and Lucille. He boards a bus to begin exploring the country. Tallasse chases down the bus in her car and joins Sammy on his trip.
- Sammy Ayers — Matthew Modine
- Norm Jenkins — Tom Skerritt
- Lucille — Judith Ivey
- Tolliver Tynan — Jake Weber
- Tallasse Tynan - Anne Bobby
- Percy - Stephen Spinella
- Reverend Perry Ray Pruitt - Jerry O'Connell
- Archibald Thacker — James Earl Jones
- Maddie Tynan — Claire Bloom
- Young Sammy — Frankie Muniz
- Helen Ayers — Bernadette Peters
In her New York Times review, Caryn James wrote: "Nothing seems real in What the Deaf Man Heard. Instead, its soothing, storybook quality has Hallmark written all over it." Tony Scott gave it a more favorable review in Variety: "Primed with a quirky premise and by charmingly offbeat characters, penned by Robert W. Lenski, What the Deaf Man Heard is a joy."
The film received 1998 Emmy nominations for Outstanding Made for Television Movie and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie (Judith Ivey) and won for Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or a Movie. It also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV (Matthew Modine).
- "What the Deaf Man Heard: Cast and Overview". TCM. Retrieved July 5, 2016.
- James, Caryn (November 21, 1997). "Television Review; Silent 20 Years, but Really Listening". The New York Times.
- Scott, Tony (November 17, 1997). "What the Deaf Man Heard". Variety. Retrieved October 4, 2020.
- Jennifer Alpeche (2010). "Hallmark Movie Channel". movies.lovetoknow.com.
- Bill Carter (November 26, 1997). "TV NOTES; The Ratings, From All Angles". The New York Times.
- "What The Deaf Man Heard". Emmys. 1998. Retrieved July 5, 2016.