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You're never too old to see things anew.
Cast | Awards | Deceased | Notes | Mini Reviews | Pictures | Summary - Official | My Summary | My Review
|Elizabeth 'Libby' Strong||Bette Davis|
|Sarah Webber||Lillian Gish|
|Nikolai 'Nick' Maranov||Vincent Price|
|Tisha Doughty||Ann Sothern|
|Joshua Brackett||Harry Carey, Jr.|
|Mr. Beckwith||Frank Grimes|
|Young Libby||Margaret Ladd|
|Young Tisha||Tisha Sterling|
|Young Sarah||Mary Steenburgen|
|Old Randall||Frank Pitkin|
|Young Randall||Mike Bush|
Directed by Lindsay Anderson
Written by David Berry
1987 - Won NBR Award for Best Actress - Lillian Gish Tied with Holly Hunter in Broadcast
1987 - Nominated for the Critics Award in the Deauville Film Festival - Lindsay Anderson
1988 - Nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Ann Sothern
1988 - Nominated for an Independent Spirit Award Best Female Lead - Lillian Gish, Best Supporting Female - Ann Sothern, Best Supporting Male - Vincent Price
1988 - Won a Wise Owl Award for Television and Theatrical Film Fiction at the Retirement Research Foundation, USA - Mike E. Kaplan & Carolyn Pfeiffer
10/6/89 - Bette Davis - next to last role
2/27/93 - Lillian Gish - final role
10/25/93 - Vincent Price
8/30/94 - Lindsay Anderson
3/15/01 - Ann Sothern - final role
91 minutes, not rated - recommended for all ages
35mm By Alive Films released by Nelson Entertainment
The original play was written in 1981 and first performed in 1982.
VHS Hi-Fi Mono 7600, ISBN 1-55847-037-9
Soundtrack available on Varese Sarahbande CD
US premiere was 10/16/87, grossed $1.34 million
Filmed on Cliff Island, Maine
"Lillian Gish and Bette Davis, magnificent and moving, should have Oscar seeing double. Just sit back and behold." - Peter Travers, People Magazine.
"The true glory of the cinema. 'The Whales of August' celebrates its two great, very different actresses. Miss Gish glows with sweetness and beauty...Miss Davis's rudeness is heartbreaking and hilarious." - Vincent Canby, New York Times
"A cinematic masterpiece, the four stars Lillian Gish, Bette Davis, Vincent Price and Ann Sothern are clearly virtuosos. They make music through acting." - Rex Reed, San Francisco Chronicle
Lillian Gish, Best Actress. - National Board of Review
Cover - Front
VHS Cover - Back
Bette Davis and Lillian Gish. Two of Hollywood's
longest-reigning leading ladies. Each a legend in her own time. Now, after
careers that span the history of cinema, they're together on the screen for the
first time in director Lindsay Anderson's critically acclaimed masterpiece,
"The Whales of August"
In virtuoso performances, Ms. Davis (two-time Academy Award Winner) and Ms. Gish (First Lady of American Cinema) play two elderly sisters, one contrary and cantankerous, the other patient and kind. After having spent sixty summers on a Maine island together, they must finally decide whether to give up their family home, independence and life together.
A sentimental, engaging story, "The Whales of August" features a distinguished supporting cast including two, equally-gifted veterans, Vincent Price and Ann Sothern.
A story of survival, hope and triumph, "The Whales of August" proves one thing above all. You really are never to old to see things anew.
Many years ago in Maine two sisters and their friend run down toward
the water to see the whales that come every August. Sixty years later the two sisters are still together in the same house.
Sarah owns the house built by her aunt nearly fifty years ago and is taking care of her sister Libby because she has gone blind. One August morning Sarah is taking care of her chores when Libby awakes and comes in the living room to sit down. She asks what Sarah is doing here and she tells her she is dusting. "Busy, busy, busy" she tells her, always busy. She complains about the cold and Sarah tells her that she wouldn't want to be down in her house in Philadelphia right now because it is too hot. "The heat keeps people from being busy", she replies. Sarah isn't concerned and goes about her work. Libby wants to know if she is wearing her blue dress because blue is her favorite color. Sarah tells her that she is and puts the radio on for her so she can hear her favorite show - Arthur Godfrey. Libby quickly turns it off, uninterested. Sarah sits down to work on some projects that she always makes for the upcoming fair and tells Libby she has found their old stereoscope viewer and looks at the pictures of them when they were young. She has decided to donate it to the silent auction because they have become valuable. Libby tells her not to donate the pictures. Sarah dusts the picture of her husband Philip on the mantle and says 46 years. Libby chides her for talking to herself again.
Sarah brushes Libby's long white hair outside. She wants to know if her hair is as white as the swans they used to look at when they were kids. Sarah assures her that it is. She also wants to know if it is the same color as their mothers was and she agrees that it is. Libby says she doesn't want to be a burden any more and she can go down and live with Anne, her daughter. Sarah tells her she would never go for that - she hasn't been much of a daughter and Libby hasn't been much of a mother. Sarah says how she has always wanted a picture window on the front of the house so she could get a better view of the water and that Joshua said he could do it for a good price, but Libby is against it. Sarah goes out to work in the garden and Libby goes to sit on a rocker on the porch. Nick Maranov comes by with a long bamboo fishing pole to fish near Sarah's property. He sees her and promises to give her some of the fish he catches since she has the best fish around. She assures him they aren't her fish, that they belong to everyone and would gladly take some.
Soon after Sarah sits in the garden painting a picture of the the trees and the water. Libby asks where she is and she tells her she is finishing a painting. Libby wants Sarah to take her for her walk on the property. Sarah reluctantly puts aside her paints and does what she asks. They walk along a well worn path and stop to check the flowers which have gotten huge. Libby asks that since it is Friday is their friend Tisha coming over and she tells her she is. Libby complains about things and talks about death saying they lived longer than their mother did. They stop by a log for a while and talk about old times. Sarah reveals her anniversary is tomorrow and that her husband was killed in WWII, so she has been alone for a long time. She also wonders if she was a good matron at Libby's wedding. Libby lost her husband Matthew more recently and they talk about a cross-country trip they took after the war.
Tisha is walking over to Sarah's picking berries along the way and putting them in a bucket. She spots Nick fishing and goes over to see him. He isn't a regular on the island, but has been staying there for the summer. His lease is almost up and if he wants to stay he is going to have to find another place soon. He catches another fish and asks her what the local name for the fish is and she tells him. She goes up to the house to see Sarah whom she has been best friends with for the last fifty years.
They exchange small talk and blueberries, but Tisha knows there is something wrong. Sarah confesses that Libby has gotten a lot more bitter lately and has talked about death. She isn't sure she can take care of her much longer and that she'll have to go visit her in Philadelphia in the winter. Tisha has another plan though. She knows without her sisters money Sarah can't afford the house, so she proposes to send Libby to Philadelphia, sell the house and move in with her. Sarah isn't comfortable about that though. Then they go into the living room to sit with Libby who is by the window. Just then there is a loud bang which upsets everyone. Sarah yells to Joshua to stop making that noise and goes outside to find the town handyman working on her pipes under the crawl space. They have been waiting for him since June and now he has finally suddenly shown up. He complains about the tightness of the crawl space and she invites him in for some tea which he accepts.
He tells her how people have gotten so rude nowadays and don't even offer tea anymore. He got so fed up with one couple telling him to hurry that he left in the middle of the job and didn't even bother to retrieve his tools. He then tells the women about how he can get a good deal on lumber to put in that picture window. Libby tells him that they don't need anything new at their age and to just forget it. He knows there is no point arguing and goes back to work.
Soon after Nick comes by with the fish he promised. Tisha sees him coming and tries to doll herself up a bit for him. For some reason Libby doesn't like him and doesn't want him there. Sarah puts the fish in the fridge and offers Nick some tea. He joins the three women, bowing to each in the living room and Libby asks him if he was going to stay for the winter. He says he wants to and Sarah says he is the last man who bows anymore and he is in trouble then because there is no place to stay. He seems unphased and tells Tisha he hasn't seen her driving around at all lately. She confesses she was in an accident, had her license suspended and can't accept the whole situation because she has been driving for 77 years without ever being in an accident, so it wasn't her fault. Nick marvels at the view from the window and says it must be lovely in the moonlight. Sarah tells him if he'll clean the fish she'll cook them and promises him a moonlight view. He graciously accepts. Joshua comes in then having finished his work and then departs. Soon after Nick and Tisha both leave.
Libby tells Sarah she doesn't want Nick or his fish around. Sarah tells her it is nonsense and Libby goes to take a nap while Sarah starts to get ready. Sarah goes upstairs to her room and brushes her hair and puts it up. She then takes out a trinket box with things from her husband. Downstairs Libby does the same things with her own trinket box. At 5 o' clock she starts setting the table and cooking the biscuits. Libby comes out and Sarah tells her she should change into her flowered dress. Libby doesn't want to and she won't eat the fish. Sarah tells her she'll make a pork chop for her. Libby continues to be stubborn about it and arguing with Sarah until she winds up burning her biscuits.
Soon after Nick arrives in a suit and graciously brings flowers for Sarah. He hopes his filleting skills are up to snuff and sets to work on the fish. Sarah goes to put the flowers in a vase and Libby has changed after all. Libby tells him she doesn't like fish because of the bones and he agrees that can be troublesome. Nick shows her a picture of his mother and she tells him pictures are no good because they fade away unlike memories. He tells her memories can fade as well. They eat and go to the living room to chat. Sarah invites Nick to come see the whales tomorrow and he joyfully accepts as he has never seen a whale before. Sarah knows he has been wandering around and asks him how he has done it all these years. So he tells his story. He was a Russian Count named Nicholas who was part of the royal family until it collapsed. After the death of the last tsar his mother gave him some jewels wrapped in her handkerchief and sent him away to Paris. She only told him that when he spent the money, to make sure it was well spent. He then takes out the handkerchief and shows them the last jewel he has - an emerald. Both women touch it and Libby says he should go as she plans to retire.
Sarah and Nick go out on the porch and look at the moonlight. He tells her that her sister doesn't know how to make small talk, she just makes points. She tells him to ignore her, but he tells her she is right and he should be going. He asks if she is going to come by tomorrow and see the whales, but he admits that he will not be able to after all
The next day Tisha comes by with a man who turns out to be a realtor. She told him that Sarah was interested in selling the house and he was going to come up with an offer. He is very impressed, especially with the view and asks a few questions. When he asks about going upstairs, Sarah abruptly cuts him off saying the house is not for sale. They leave and Libby comes out wondering what the fuss was about and who the man was. The topic of the picture window comes up again and Libby tells her again they don't need knew things in their life. Libby says Sarah owes her for the 15 years she took care of her after her husband died. Sarah says they are even from the 15 years she has taken her in.
That night Sarah readies herself for her 46th wedding anniversary. She sets the table and places the photo of her husband opposite her and brings out flowers a candle and other trinkets. She misses him so much and wishes he was there. When she finishes and puts everything back and goes to bed.
The next day Libby sees the roses out and knows what her sister did last night. Sarah joins her in the living room and soon after the door slams open. It is Joshua looking for his wrench that he lost. Sarah tells him to go out and look under the crawl space and he goes out the front door slamming it as well. Libby says he must be the loudest man who ever lived. He finds the wrench right where she suggested he look and comes back in to thank them and leaves. Libby stops him though asking how much the picture window in would cost and how soon could he put in. He says a few weeks. She tells him she wants in by Labor Day. Sarah is thrilled. Joshua tells them he'll order the lumber right away and he can't figure them out, they are always keeping him guessing.
The two women go out for the walk and Libby tells Sarah their father used to tell her silly stories about the whales and she believed him. Libby also asks the same questions about her hair she did the day before. They head out to the bluff to look for the whales, but they have not come. The End.
It would've been nice for Malcolm to have a small role in
this film like his wife Mary did. I wonder why he wasn't involved? Generally
there would be no chance that I would watch a film like this, but since Lindsay
Anderson directed it and Vincent Price is one of my favorite actors, I couldn't
pass it up.
The camera work is brilliant here. It is so simple and perfect that is it almost like you are in the house with these people. Lindsay will always be dearly missed because when he went, his style went with him. If I was a director this is how I would do it. There are shows today that I just can't psychically watch because the camera never stops moving. The youth of today has no attention span and you can count to 1 and there is a cut. Every second there is a new cut.
Not much happens, no fights, shootouts, blood, car cases or action. It's just a great character study. Sarah is so sweet an loyal never remarrying after 40 years of her husband dying. She tolerates her sister only because she is her sister. If she wasn't related, she wouldn't have anything to do with her. It would be nice if all old people ended up so sweet and independent, for the most part. It's different to see Vincent Price play a Russian nobleman, but he could be lying about that and be a total fraud, either way he's fun to watch as always.
The film is also important as it is one of the last films made by all those involved and is the only film to have leading roles by people so old. Sadly they have all since passed away. The primary four actors are legends and of course could handle the roles without any problem. The whole story flows smooth and easy and you can really believe in the characters. The beauty of the story is that it is so simple. It is really just a couple days in the life of three women near the end of their lives.
This page © 2002-08 Alex D. Thrawn for www.MalcolmMcDowell.net