In a major change of genres, Lindsay Anderson (IF. . ., O LUCKY MAN!) directs two legendary American actors in this charming, simple story of two elderly women looking back on their lives, and still planning for the future, as they wait to see the migrating whales pass their summer house on the coast of Maine. Lillian Gish, the star of WAY DOWN EAST in 1920, plays Sarah Webber, a slightly frail but still active woman who now cares for her blind sister, Libby, played by Bette Davis. Famous for her acerbic tongue, Davis does not disappoint as the domineering older sister.
The film opens with a black and white montage of Libby (Margaret Ladd) and Sarah (Mary Steenburgen) running to see the whales when they were young girls. Later Anderson uses photographs of the sisters in their youth using actual photos of Davis and Gish themselves. These have a striking familiarity, Davis's black hair and those penetrating eyes and Gish's beautiful smile, give instant recognition to how time has passed for these two women.
THE WHALES OF AUGUST is like a Checkov play, complete with an exiled Russian nobleman, about faded memories and family loyalties. Vincent Price brings a quiet dignity to the role of Mr. Maranov, who asks if the sisters will take him into their home as a boarder. Ann Southern as Tisha Doughty, a neighbor who has know the sisters all their lives, tries to mediate between the always-quarreling sisters. But this film clearly belongs to its leads. Bette Davis and Lillian Gish play off each other perfectly, turning a rough stone of a story into a polished gem.
Harry Carey Jr. - American actor, 3 GODFATHERS/THE UNDEFEATED
Bette Davis - Oscar winning american actress, JEZEBEL, DANGEROUS
Ruth Elizabeth Davis - Oscar winning american actress, JEZEBEL, DANGEROUS
Lillian Gish - American actress, BIRTH OF A NATION (1915)
Lillian de Guiche - American actress, BIRTH OF A NATION (1915)
Ann Sothern - American actress, singer
Harriette Lake - American actress, singer
Hariete Lake - American actress, singer
Vincent Price - American actor, author
Lindsay Anderson - British Director/Actor
Screen legends Lillian Gish and Bette Davis deliver unforgettable performances in this poignant and memorable film. Two octogenarian sisters, sarcastic Libby and sweet-hearted Sarah, spend the summer together at their cottage off the coast of Maine reminiscing about their lives. But when a Russian gentleman strikes up a romantic friendship with Sarah, Libby, who's now blind and completely dependent on her sister, begins to feel threatened.
Bette Davis plays the older sister although she is acutally fourteen years younger than Lillian Gish. THE WHALES OF AUGUST was Lillian Gish's last screen appearance. Although she previously worked on stage, Gish's film career began in 1912 when Mary Pickford recommended her and her sister Dorothy to director D.W. Griffith. Griffith provided the golden-haired beauty with some of her finest roles: Elsie Stoneman, the northern girl in THE BIRTH OF A NATION; Anna Moore, the suffering innocent in WAY DOWN EAST; and, most memorably, the abused waif in BROKEN BLOSSOMS. If Gish was the queen of the silent era, Bette Davis reigned during the "Golden age of Hollywood." But unlike Gish, who always radiated a saintly innocence, Davis most frequently played strong and rebellious women, such as Jezebel in the film of the same name or Eve in ALL ABOUT EVE. She sometimes took played this role off-screen as well, sparring with the powerful studio heads and refusing to star in movies she considered sub-standard. Rumor has it that one such fight cost her the role of Scarlett O'Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND. THE WHALES OF AUGUST uses this history, by having both actresses maintain their personas from earlier films. This was British director Lindsay Anderson's first US-made film. Tisha Sterling, Ann Sothern's real-life daughter, portrays Sothern's character as a young woman. Additional cast: Frank Grimes (Mr. Beckwith), Frank Pitkin (Old Randall), Mike Bush (Young Randall), Margaret Ladd (Young Libby). Additional credits: Derek Wadsworth (music), Bob Fox (art direction).
"...A cinema event....Two very beautiful, very different, very characteristic performances by [Gish and Davis]..." - 10/16/1987 New York Times, p.C3
"...Quietly elegiac..." -- Rating: A- - 09/16/1994 Entertainment Weekly, p.130
"...Lovely on all counts....Gish is a delight throughout....[The] picture casts a quiet, special spell and has a number of privileged moments film lovers will cherish..." - 05/13/1987 Variety
"...An intimate gem of a film....THE WHALES OF AUGUST is most unforgettable in its quietest, most privileged moments..." - 10/23/1987 Los Angeles Times, p.C1