Review: ‘The Whales of August’

Muted but engrossing tale about the balance of power between two elderly sisters boasts superior lead performances from two of the screen's most legendary actresses, Bette Davis and Lillian Gish.

Muted but engrossing tale about the balance of power between two elderly sisters boasts superior lead performances from two of the screen’s most legendary actresses, Bette Davis and Lillian Gish.

Adapted by David Berry from his 1981 play, story has two sisters living alone in a comfortable but basic home they have occupied for decades on the striking coast of Maine. Sarah (Gish) is a doting busybody who is obliged to care for her sister Libby (Davis), because the latter is blind.

Trouble rears its head in the form of Vincent Price, a White Russian of considerable charm and gentlemanliness who for decades has lived as a ‘houseguest’ of numerous ladies.

Wearing long, pure white hair Davis looks gaunt, grim and disturbed, but her performance is restrained in such a way that may even increase its power. Gish is a delight throughout.

A black-&-white prolog, in which Mary Steenburgen, Tisha Sterling and Margaret Ladd appear as the women in their youth, gets the film off to a nice start.

1987: Nomination: Best Supp. Actress (Ann Sothern)

The Whales of August

Production

Alive. Director Lindsay Anderson; Producer Carolyn Pfeiffer, Mike Kaplan; Screenplay David Berry; Camera Mike Fash; Editor Nicolas Gaster; Music Alan Price; Art Director Jocelyn Herbert

Crew

(Color) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1987. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Bette Davis Lillian Gish Vincent Price Ann Sothern Harry Carey Jr Frank Grimes
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