What the Deaf Man Heard

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.

What the Deaf Man Heard
What the Deaf Man Heard.jpg
What the Deaf Man Heard
Created byG.D. Gearino (novel)
Written byRobert W. Lenski
Directed byJohn Kent Harrison
StarringMatthew Modine
James Earl Jones
Theme music composerJ.A.C. Redford
Country of originUSA
Original language(s)English
Producer(s)Richard Welsh
Brent Shields
Running time120 minutes
Production company(s)Hallmark Hall of Fame
Original networkCBS
Original releaseNovember 23, 1997 (1997-11-23)
"What the Deaf Man Heard"
Hallmark Hall of Fame episode
Episode no.Season 47
Episode 1
Production code307
Original air dateNovember 23, 1997
Episode chronology
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"Rose Hill"
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"Ellen Foster"
List of Hallmark Hall of Fame episodes

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.

Plot summaryEdit

Helen Ayers readies her young son Sammy board a intercity bus to move to a new 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 she 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.

When a despondent Sammy ignores him, the cynical bus driver believes he is deaf and abandoned by his mother. Norm Jenkins, the kind-hearted 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 action in a reflection and steels himself against 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 from college 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 money he has embezzled from the church. Sammy hears all this.

Black junk dealer Archibald Thacker and his sons masquerade as poor but are actually Harvard-educated 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 is hosting 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 (based on Beatle John Lennon’s “More popular than Jesus" remark), he is inspired to hold a record-burning event. The event grows out of control and gains a festive atmosphere. Sparks from the bonfire ignite nearby fireworks, sending a skyrocket into the church directly into the font full of alcohol and 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 dies from shock and Tolliver believes he is finally entitled to his inheritance. Norm reveals the notarized documents he found decades earlier which show Sammy is the illegitimate son of Tolliver’s father, but as firstborn is the legal heir to the Tynan fortune according to the terms of the will.

Sammy gives away most of his money to charity as well as to Norm and Lucille. He boards a bus for St. Louis. Tallasse chases down the bus in her car and joins Sammy on his trip.




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."[2]

The film was the highest-rated made-for-television movie on any network since 1991 with approximately 36 million viewers.[3][4]

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.[5] 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).

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "What the Deaf Man Heard: Cast and Overview". TCM. Retrieved July 5, 2016.
  2. ^ James, Caryn (November 21, 1997). "Television Review; Silent 20 Years, but Really Listening". The New York Times.
  3. ^ Jennifer Alpeche (2010). "Hallmark Movie Channel". movies.lovetoknow.com.
  4. ^ Bill Carter (November 26, 1997). "TV NOTES; The Ratings, From All Angles". The New York Times.
  5. ^ "What The Deaf Man Heard". Emmys. 1998. Retrieved July 5, 2016.

External linksEdit