Seemingly Forgotten Films – If You Could See What I Hear (1982)

Posted: November 14, 2018 in Entertainment, Life, Movies


In Spring of 1982, Marc Singer was still about six months away from becoming an icon to genre fans by starring in The Beastmaster and about a year away from cementing that status by fighting the evil, lizard-faced alien invaders of television’s science fiction epic miniseries V. I became a fan of Marc Singer because of an entirely different (and different kind) of role. Despite my lifelong status as typically being one of the bigger geeks in whatever company I was keeping, I discovered Marc Singer around this time as an actor in a non-genre film that is still to this day my favorite of his many roles.

If You Could See What I Hear was promoted as an inspirational biopic based on the autobiography of actor, writer, producer, singer, and author Tom Sullivan. I knew absolutely nothing of any of this. I was still in my preteens, had not seen any of the advertising for the film, and only ended up seeing it on The Movie Channel back when there was only one rather than a dozen or more of them with that name and you had to pay a premium price to get it with your cable. I didn’t even know there was a book, let alone that it was supposed to be a true story until the end credits rolled and made mention of it.  It just knew it was a great film with some great acting in it. 


Picking up with and keeping largely in his college years, the film focuses on Tom Sullivan (Marc Singer) and his various hijinks with his best buddy Will Sly (R.H. Thomson) as they try to get through school around long hours of chasing women, drinking way too much, chasing women, figuring out ways to make ends meet, chasing women, and, in Tom’s case, performing on the piano wherever he can get the work and playing golf. Oh, there’s also the fact that Tom is blind.

As the character of Tom Sullivan explains in the film while correcting someone who refers to him as having been born blind, Tom was a premature birth baby. He was placed in an incubator at the hospital to save his life, but, as occasionally happened back then, too much oxygen was pumped into the incubator. This really was a thing that happened. The increased oxygen would cause the blood vessels in the eye to become overdeveloped and thus damage the retina. Before Dr. Arnell Patz was able to convince the medical community that upping the oxygen supply in incubators was the culprit in a growing epidemic of blindness in premature birth babies, over 10,000 premature birth babies had been blinded by this practice.

While growing up, Tom Sullivan decided that he wanted to be seen as equal to and just as capable as everyone else despite his blindness, and he assumed he’d have to be better than everyone else at everything he chose to do in order to be seen as equal. It’s this Tom Sullivan we get as Marc Singer’s character in the film. Whether it’s about having the quickest wit, coming up with the craziest plans, handling his beer better than everyone else, getting the prettiest girls in school to fall for him, or attempting to out-do the sighted at various sports, the Tom Sullivan of the film is a character who goes all out in his pursuit of everything life has to offer.


The film starts with the first meeting of Sullivan and Sly in the college’s gymnasium showers, giving us an exchange that lets us know these two will grow into the perfect partners in crime. From there, we basically dive straight into Sullivan and Sly’s many madcap misadventures in college. In the case of Sullivan, this very often involves the pursuit of the fairer sex. Enter into the picture Heather, played by Shari Belafonte.

Heather’s initial reaction to Tom is seemingly more bemusement than genuine interest, but she eventually agrees to go on a date with him. Their relationship becomes a fun part of the first half of the film, and the chemistry between Singer and Belafonte (and Thompson) really makes some of their scenes together work better than they might otherwise come across with others in those roles. From a storytelling point of view, her presence in the film also serves to both break Sullivan’s heart in order to set him up for the second act romance as well as providing us some small look at how Tom’s lack of sight impacts how he saw some things when it came to matters of race.

Eventually, as should be obvious from what I just wrote, Heather chooses to break things off with Tom. While still having feelings for him, the idea of struggling against the societal norms of that era with regards to perception of race starts to become too much for her to consider going further with the relationship. Based on the things she’d experienced growing up, the idea of struggling against the prejudices against a mixed-race couple would be hard enough for her, but struggling with some of the societal prejudices against the handicapped on top of that would be too big of a hurdle for her to deal with. Tom objects, but she’s already started things in motion to leave the area for a different school and new job opportunities.

Tom’s way of dealing with the lowest of lows in his life is to overcompensate on having fun. However, he occasionally seeks out “fun” as a diversion to literally dangerous levels. Sly is there for much of this, working in equal parts as Tom’s enabler and (sometimes) as a check on his more extreme and self-destructive impulses.

Tom is just about over Heather when Patti (Sarah Torgov) enters his life. Patti isn’t like most of the girls Tom typically falls for. She’s far more devoutly religious than he is, she takes things in a relationship far slower than he likes, and she’s generally more interested in what she sees as him than she is in the over the top persona he typically puts on display for public consumption. She both captivates him and frustrates him to just about equal levels as their relationship grows, but, despite a few screw-ups and setbacks along the way, it becomes clear that this woman is going to be the love of his life.

For all that I’ve just written here that makes the film itself seemingly come across as too serious or looking at some social issues of the day through an analytical lens, that’s all for the most part only noticeable if you’re actively looking for it while you’re watching it. It handled well enough in the film that it simply comes across as (mostly entertaining) moments in the characters’ lives. For the bits I’ve written that make the film come across as primarily a romance, it’s not. While aspects of all of those things are certainly there to greater or lesser degrees, the film is through and through, with a few exceptions along the way, a very often laugh out loud comedy.

Tom and Sly as characters in the film are hilariously funny. Both characters are written with a level of intelligence and wit about them, and the way Singer and Thomson play the characters off of one another is engagingly entertaining. Almost all of the characters throughout the film come across as people you’d want to hang out with because you know you’d spend an evening laughing nonstop. Many of the moments depicted on screen are almost infectious in how gleefully silly and fun they actors bring them to life.

Well, there is one scene that very much does not fit that category. This scene involves an incident in a swimming pool. It’s actually a very intense, chilling scene. The emotional punch of what happens and the moment of darker revelation for Tom about how much of the world may see him is magnified greatly at the start of the ending credits when it’s revealed that this incident actually took place later in the life of the real Tom Sullivan with someone far closer to him than was depicted in the scene we get in the movie.

If You Could See What I Hear hasn’t been available on the US video retail market since the days of VHS. It can typically be found on the web somewhere at any given moment, most often on YouTube as an upload by fans. It’s a genuinely fun film, and one well worth tracking down and watching if you’ve never seen it before. Seek it out, watch it, enjoy it, and then start pestering the powers that be for a good quality print on DVD and/or Blu-Ray.


Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek who, while enjoying most everything fandom has to offer, finds himself most at home in the horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction genres. He has in the past contributed to websites like Needless ThingsGruesome Magazine, and others while occasionally remembering to put up the odd musings on his own blog. He’s been a guest on several podcasts from the ESO Network, on Decades of Horror, and on the Nerdy Laser. He is also a regular co-host on The Assignment: Horror Podcast as well as the primary writer for its affiliated blog.

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