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Film / What the Deaf Man Heard

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What the Deaf Man Heard is a 1997 Hallmark Hall of Fame film starring Matthew Modine, James Earl Jones and Frankie Muniz.

In 1945, a young boy arrives in a small Georgia town on a bus from which his mother was abducted and murdered. Alone he sits quietly and everyone becomes convinced that he is deaf and Never Learned to Talk. Deciding that silence offers some power and protection, the boy decides to remain mute and just listens to all that is being said around him by people who think that he cannot hear. The ruse works so well that for twenty years he is custodian to all the town's secrets.

The film contains examples of:

  • Bookends: The film opens and closes with Sammy travelling on a bus.
  • Cain and Abel: Turns out Sammy is Tolliver’s half-brother.
  • Cute Mute: Sammy.
  • Dead-Hand Shot: The last scene of Sammy’s mother.
  • Evil Is Petty: Tolliver Tynan is an arrogant Royal Brat who is denied money from his family, so he resorts to conning people out of their money.
  • The Film of the Book: Adapted from the novel What the Deaf Mute Heard by G.D. Gearino.
  • Freudian Excuse: Norm kept Sammy around as a substitute son, as he had lost his wife years ago. With that said, he serves as a good father to Sammy: he traces his mother’s path over the years, he keeps Sammy’s inheritance safe till it’s okay to reveal it, and he eventually lets Sammy go off on his own.
  • Just Following Orders: Sammy's mother tells him to keep quiet, wanting to surprise him. He starts off with this in mind, but is smart enough to see the security it offers and keeps it up.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Tolliver Tynan told his sister Tallasee that she was adopted and thus was automatically disinherited. Guess what happens to him at the end?
  • Leitmotif: The musical theme “My Ship Comes In” is heard throughout the film.
  • Parental Abandonment: Most people think this is what happened to Sammy. The real truth is a lot sadder.
  • Police Are Useless: The Barrington police officer does a half-hearted inquiry and then just drops it.
    • Also, this story is set in 1945-65. Law enforcement wasn’t too strong back then.
  • Obfuscating Disability: The whole film runs on this.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Sammy leaves Barrington on a bus to St Louis. Tallasee joins him.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Sammy couldn't keep his secret for twenty years without someone finding it out. Turns out the man who hears of it doesn't really have any issues with it.
  • Secret-Keeper: Being deaf-mute means people can open their mouths around Sammy with confidence and security that he can't reveal them.
  • Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: Sammy’s mother gets raped and murdered. In a Hallmark movie.
  • Wham Line: When Sammy is asked to swear in court to tell the truth, he finally speaks “I do.” The shock in the town is severe, and Tolliver’s mother suffers a fatal heart attack.