"If You Could See What I Hear" is a movie made up of superficial slices from the life story of Tom Sullivan, a blind musician and pop vocalist of evidently indomitable vitality and determination.
Given the ingredients tossed into the movie itself by screenwriter Stuart Gillard and director Eric Till, "If You Could See What I Hear" could be summed up accurately by a title like "Animal House Meets the Other Side of the Mountain."
Opening today at area theaters, the film spends most of its time celebrating collegiate frivolity. Sullivan, impersonated with considerable comic exuberance and charm by Marc Singer, who suggests a brawny, athletic improvement on Robert Morse, is identified as a notable prankster, daredevil and coed's man on the Providence College campus. When he's not up to something with his buddy Sly (R.H. Thomson), the hero is usually snuggling under the covers with a fresh conquest. When one conquest proves more important than the others, the emphasis shifts from campus capers to budding romance.
Still, the prevailing tone is so cheerful and raffish that any awareness of blindness as a handicap almost disappears. Presumably, it's an exaggeration inspired by understandable respect for Sullivan, so robust and competitive that he goes out of his way to shrug off obstacles and participate in any physical test that appeals to him--wrestling, golfing, skydiving, driving, seduction. "Don't feel sorry for me," the hero insists during a definitive speech. "I had sympathy up to here when I was a kid, and I'm sick of it."
It's this utter rejection of self-pity combined with superlative athletic ability that enables him to perform heroically in a desperate situation based on a remarkable incident from Sullivan's life, when he managed to rescue a little girl in danger of drowning in a backyard swimming pool.
Altering the facts in a curious way, the filmmakers identify this little girl, played by Sarah Torgov, as the kid sister of Sullivan's fiance' in the movie, and then drop an emotional bombshell after the fadeout by noting in a written epilogue that Sullivan really saved his own daughter in similar circumstances.
This episode is so terrifying and astonishing that one may be inclined to overlook the fact that Till doesn't depict it all that astutely. His timing seems rather sluggish, given the urgency of the occasion. Having treated blindness as a kind of humorous personality quirk when applied to their hero, Till and Gillard aren't quite prepared to capitalize on the dramatic consequences of situations in which sight obviously matters.
Despite its trifling tendencies, "See . . . Hear" enjoys some genuine personality resources in Singer and Thomson. At the same time, it's difficult to work up more than a lukewarm mood of enthusiasm for a movie that might as well find its public on television. One can imagine the whole story being told with more impact as a segment on "That's Incredible!"