What the Deaf Man Heard (1997)

For my money, the best Hallmark Hall of Fame Collection film.  Starring Matthew Modine, James Earl Jones, Judith Ivey, Tom Skerritt, Bernadette Peters and Claire Bloom. How can you top this cast!

Sammy, an orphan, pretends to be deaf and a mute.  After his mother goes missing from

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Sammy and his mother

a bus trip they are taking, Sammy becomes the ward of Norm, the manager of the bus station.  Sammy keeps up the pretense as he becomes a young man who does odd jobs around town.  What he doesn’t know if that Norm spends his weekends traveling by bus along the route that Sammy’s mother might have taken, hoping to find out what happened to her.

Most of the film takes place with Sammy as young man and events going on around him, things he knows but doesn’t know what they mean.  Some of the jobs he does are for the Tynans, the rich family in town.  He discovers some skullduggery going on and decides to get involved, which leads to his secret being found out.

The film is a mixture of light comedy and drama, as Sammy learns many secrets of the those around him, who figure he can’t understand.  Sammy has Norm and Lucile, who runs the diner in the bus station, as his surrogate family.  Sammy also has a secret, one he doesn’t even realize, he pines for Tallassee Tynan, who is his age, and has spent most of her time away at school, but has returned.

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Young Sammy and Norm

Frankie Muniz plays the young Sammy and Matthew Modine as the adult Sammy.  Bernadette Peters is Sammy’s mother in a brief role.  Tom Skerritt is Norm, his surrogate father who discovers the secret of her disappearance.  Lucile (Judith Ivey) is like Sammy’s aunt, and you wonder why she and Norm never got together, it is obvious they have feelings for each other.

James Earl Jones has an interesting role as Archibald Thacker, the local junk hauler who is it learned has many side businesses and is wealthier than anyone realizes. It is Thacker who discovers Sammy’s secret when they complete over a deal.

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Archibald Thacker and older Sammy

Claire Bloom has a brief role as the matriarch of the Tynan family after her husband dies.  She looks down on the commoners, as does her son, Tolliver Tynan who is dishonest and weaves himself into quite a web of trouble.  Tolliver’s greatest problem is that he’s not very smart but thinks he is.

The film was nominated for several Emmy and Golden Globe Awards.  It was also the highest rated program of the sweeps month in which it aired, and the highest rated make for television film for the previous six years.  Viewers and critics agreed, this was a special film.  I think so too.


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