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The Whales of August
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The Whales of August More at IMDbPro »

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72 out of 75 people found the following review useful:

The waning days of one last summer on the coast of Maine

10/10
Author: drednm from United States
18 May 2009

This 1987 film is truly remarkable in its own small way. The film centers on a beautiful and simple story about the bonds of sisters, the disappointments of life, and the waning days of one last summer on the coast of Maine.

The legendary, and I mean LEGENDARY, Lillian Gish stars here at age 93 as Sarah. Having appeared in about 120 films over an incredible span of 75 years (1912-87), Gish goes about her business of being an actress with great dignity and skill. There are several quiet scenes in which she talks to old photographs as she cleans or fixes up her hair and makeup. She's truly enchanting.

The legendary Bette Davis doesn't fare quite as well playing the harsh Libby. Davis (post- stroke) is certainly easy to believe as the flinty sister who is blind and bitter. Davis was almost 80 here and had also racked up about 120 films, dating from 1931.

As Tisha, Ann Sothern (more than 100 films) earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination as the nosy, pushy friend who hasn't quite given up on life. Sothern started as a dancer in films in 1927 as a delicate blonde beauty. Vincent Price (almost 180 films from 1938) plays the charming drifter (and foreigner) who may be looking for a new place to live. And Harry Carey, Jr. (son of Harry Carey, a cowboy star in silent films) plays the fixit man who wants to install a picture window.

There's little action here as the sisters squabble about daily routines and long-ago events in their lives. Gish is ever hopeful while Davis is always mistrusting. The 4 stars work well together although the age differences are apparent. Davis uses her usual Boston voice; Sothern tries out a pretty good "down east" accent. Price plays a Russian émigré, and Gish speaks in her own voice.

The feeling of 50s Maine is just right. The house, perched on a small cliff looking out to sea, looks right. The island (this was filmed in Casco Bay) is gorgeous and captures the simplicity of old Maine just perfectly. The atmosphere is windy and overgrown and rocky. It's the Maine of my childhood.

This marks the final film appearance of Gish and Sothern. While Sothern was the only one to win an Oscar nomination, she, along with Gish and Price, won Independent Spirit nominations. What a pity that Gish did not win Oscar recognition for this role and for her astonishing longevity in film. Gish earned only one Oscar nomination (for DUEL IN THE SUN) and an honorary award in 1971.

Gish did win the best actress award from the National Board of Review.

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56 out of 57 people found the following review useful:

A Lost Breed of Movie

10/10
Author: Shelly_Servo3000 from Wisconsin
16 August 2002

I'm 22 years old and yet this movie about two elderly sisters and their friends touched my heart deeply.

I must admit before I begin that I am a fan of Bette Davis and Vincent Price, and that Miss Lillian Gish is my all time favorite actress, so my view of this film may be skewed. However, I must admit and admire the sheer artistry of these actors (including the unsung Ann Sothern) and their ability to take a simple story and turn it into an engaging, emotional tour de force film of power and majesty.

Miss Gish was in the twilight of her life in this, her last film, but you could still see the same actress who touched audiences in 1919's "Broken Blossoms"...the same powerful skills which are on display in 1928's "The Wind", and the same quiet dignity portrayed in 1959's "The Night of the Hunter". Her scenes are by far the finest of the movie.

I must respectfully disagree with my fellow reviewers in their dismissal of Bette Davis's performance. Her character was supposed to be hard-headed, mean, and in bad health (why else keep harking on dying?). Bette is all of these things. I could really feel that she WAS Libby. Although her constant yelling of "SAY-rah" was a little annoying, but that's Ms. Davis for you.

Vincent Price was a revelation for those of us who have only seen him as a schlockmiester. His role as the Count, warm, friendly, scared and courtly, was probably the most sympathetic character in the film.

All in all, a touching, beautiful tribute to the legends of the screen and to the movies themselves. A lost breed of film.

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47 out of 48 people found the following review useful:

Quiet, contemplative little drama

8/10
Author: Keith F. Hatcher from La Rioja, Spain
10 November 2002

This is a delightful piece set on the magnificent shores of New England's Atlantic Ocean, with an absolutely unrepeatable cast. Starring not only Bette Davis and Lilian Gish, alone worth anybody's money, well advanced into the autumn of their years, but also a very welcome Vincent Price, and a magnificent Ann Sothern together with her real daughter, Tisha Sterling.

A slow sensitive story in which each one looks back on life from differing perspectives; as usual, Bette Davis is in a dominating rôle, which, despite her advanced years, carries off quite well; Lillian Gish is just superb, lending that toned-down equanimous nature of hers which pervades the whole atmosphere of the film. And as the film develops around their house and in the garden and on the cliff-tops looking out to sea in earnest attempts to see the whales making their way south, the quiet contemplativeness of the film holds you. This is a film you will cherish and savour long afterwards. Which is why it is in my video collection since 1993 and why IMDb contributors 15 years on are still commenting on this heart-warming piece, half a dozen of them only so far this year.

So as to make a contrast, I suggest that impressive classic 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?' (1962), with Bette Davis playing against Joan Crawford: an intense dramatic piece.

Just a few weeks after being invited to the San Sebastián Film Festival – her last public engagement – Bette Davis died, as has Lillian Gish: unrepeatable.

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43 out of 45 people found the following review useful:

Timeless grace and beauty

8/10
Author: Howard Schumann from Vancouver, B.C.
10 May 2004

Lindsay Anderson's The Whales of August stars silent film legend Lillian Gish, in her 95th year, and Bette Davis, 79, as widowed sisters, one warm and supportive, the other cold and cantankerous, who have been coming to a small cottage on the Maine seacoast for sixty years. Every August, they watch the journey of the whales passing in the nearby waters together but the sense is that this may be their last summer together. Knowing that their time is limited, the siblings attempt to resolve long-standing differences but face many obstacles. The Whales of August takes place during the course of a single day and the camera stays mostly inside the house except to follow the sisters on occasional walks to the ocean. It all sounds static but there is a great deal of emotion churning beneath the surface.

Libby (Davis) is nearly blind and very difficult to live with, always talking about how her life is over. Her sister Sarah (Gish) on the other hand is the polar opposite. She is sweet in her sisterly devotion to taking care of Libby and avoiding getting drawn into her moods (she always calls her dear). She brushes her hair, fixes breakfast for her, gets her clothes together and tends to the garden. "Busy, busy, busy" is how Libby talks about her and irritatingly calls her Say-rah throughout the film. Ms. Davis looks gaunt but her face shows a strength that is as craggy as the seacoast rocks. The film also features Vincent Price as Mr. Maranov, a down on his luck but charming Russian refugee whom Libby suspects is trying to worm his way in with them, and Haray Caray, Jr. as Joshua Brackett, a handyman who is forever making a racket in the house.

Also featured is Ann Sothern as Trish, a friend and neighbor who is close to convincing Sarah to leave Libby's care to her daughter until she remembers how Libby supported her when her own husband died. Sarah draws every ounce of emotion from a lovely scene in which she celebrates her 46th wedding anniversary by having an imaginary conversation with Philip, her long deceased husband. "Forty-six years, Phillip", she tells him. "Forty-six red roses; forty-six white. White for truth--red for passion. That's what you always said - passion and truth; that's all we need. I wish you were here, Phillip." Another moving sequence is when Libby brushes her face with a lock of her husband's hair while sitting alone in her bedroom.

I had heard that The Whales of August was little more than a vehicle for two aging stars to sing their swan song; however, I found the screenplay by David Berry to gracefully complement the performances with an emotional honesty that captures the truth of the characters. Not a great deal happens in The Whales of August but that is often true of life. It is a gentle and civilized character study that lets us know it is never too late to bury long-standing grievances and open a picture window to possibility. It may be elegant and old fashioned in its style but it has a grace and beauty that is timeless.

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33 out of 35 people found the following review useful:

Brings tears to this middle aged man's eyes

Author: bekayess from Orlando, FL
29 November 2004

Until tonight, I had not seen this charming film since it was first released in 1987--at that time I was 30. Now I'm quite a few years older [you do the math--:)]. . .I'm not easily brought to tears, not at weddings, not at funerals, not by sad movies. But the beauty of the final moments with the Misses Davis and Gish caused me to tear up and cry like a baby. How wonderful it is to see these two ladies--plus Mr. Price and Ms. Southern--give such moving and real performances, well past the years when most people have retired and decided it was time to sit around and wait for death. If just one person of my age--or any age, older or younger--sees this film and changes a defeatist attitude, then the actors and writer have done their job.

I know my attitude is changed. . .

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30 out of 32 people found the following review useful:

Wonderful film that will stand the test of time

10/10
Author: funkyfry from Oakland CA
6 November 2002

Elegantly tasteful inter-personal story about 2 elderly sisters -- played by Gish and Davis, the all-time queens of the screen -- who are haunted by the past and unsure of the future. One sister, the elder (Davis) is literally blind -- an attribute she claims is intentional: "I'm working on my ears, now." Gish suffers her changing emotions and bitter appraisal of life only so far -- she wants to have a future, even if it is a frightening, uncertain one. Price is also excellent as a Russian nobleman: "a race extinct." They're all "Whales of August", sometimes as if already dead, always living on hope.

Beautiful movie.

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27 out of 30 people found the following review useful:

A Golden Tribute

9/10
Author: Rainsford55 from Melbourne, Australia
25 July 2002



I will attempt to be as impartial as possible in my review, but right from the outset, I do believe that the flaw in this magnificently presented ‘tribute' is not in the actresses (as most commentary' seem to be intent – particularly on Davis), but in the film itself.

Libby (Davis) provides with gusto a controlled, deep and thoughtful portrayal of ageing that has soured with time. Hating being dependent on anyone, she has to rely heavily on her sister Sarah (Gish) because of her physical limitations and her near blindness. She provides the backbone to this gentle fable and without her strength we would have little to learn from. Her solo scene in her bedroom with her late husbands clip of hair, is touching and heart-warming. Here she is photographed superbly and you come away from this shot reassured that there is timeless and unconditional love still around us in the world somewhere. If there is one fault in her overall performance, it is her first scene, where appearing to almost glow in the dark like a ghostly image, wanting to convey to us her blindness, she relies heavily upon her trademark hand and eye movement, for which she is renowned for instead of allowing us to observe more gently the introduction of Libby Strong.

Gish stands out as truly magnificent. Her denial of an `Oscar' nomination for Best Actress is a sad fact, for if ever she earned it in the last twenty or so years, this was the one. Her expressions and reactions to her fellow characters are without blemish. We feel for `Sarah' and are delighted when she gets her picture window. Not solely for the ‘picture window' but more for the fact that `Libby' shows her first sign in possibly many years of not giving in to death. Gish also carries her solo scene effortlessly when celebrating alone, her beloved husband Philip's memory on their 46th Wedding Anniversary. It's beautiful and elegant.

Sothern, Carey Jr. and Price add substantial weight to their respective supporting performances and they also give us a little uplift when the ‘spirits' almost seemed to be weighing down with age. Sothern, though, appears too young for the storyline though in fact she wasn't. Price is grand. His ‘sponge' is likeable and meticulously interpreted; though I was always glad when his part had finished, I wanted back to the ladies. Carey Jr. could have hung around a bit longer. He was a delight in his too few scenes. He gave it a charge. Davis and Carey Jr. where a good match – I must say!!

The fault as far as I'm concerned lay in the storyline and the static photography with the conversation pieces. We didn't need the real estate scene and we could have had more in depth conversation between Sarah and Libby alone. The hand held photograph viewer scene was the perfect opportunity for a journey into the realm of their respected lives – the sad moment and the happier moment. Again it escaped us on the shoreline when seated on an upturned dinghy. A breath of fresh air, from the almost claustrophobic feel of being confined to and around Sarah's home, beautiful though it was – this was cinema after all.

Then there is the cinematography. Heavily reliant upon editing, the camera didn't seem to have any interest in following the cast nor the story. It broke off as if bored to show us ‘Sothern' picking a berry from a bowl, then upon approval, taking it to share with the others. The entrance back inside the house after their walk to the edge (Gish and Sothern), broke off from Davis hanging her coat to seating herself, when I feel that we could have had more interest for the viewer if we could have done that in a single take. Some POV shots from the arm of the Libby's armchair or her pondering over the ocean when recalling the November chill in her bones (remembering her late husbands passing) to see the scene as she could only feel it and not seen it, could all have been handled better – much better. These are only two of the faults as I have seen them.

Anderson deserves much credit for allowing this opportunity see the light of day in such a ‘commercial' day and age. And also some of his handling is gentle and sensitive. However it is obvious that he holds a long held passion for `Lillian Gish' in her hey day and this somewhat overshadows the whole project – a deserved as it may be. When you consider the wealth of talent dabbling in their shallow pool of opportunity, you can't help but wish that they had made more of their Whale of an opportunity and given us something deeper for the Whales of August to dive away into.

Still…. it's a golden tribute to America's greatest. Thank you Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, Sothern, Carey Jr. and Price. It's well worth the 88 minutes of watching time, just to see you on the screen where you always belonged.

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22 out of 22 people found the following review useful:

Veterans brings emotions

8/10
Author: Mario Bergeron from Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Canada
1 October 1999

I don't know exactly how many years of movies Davis, Gish, Carrey, Sother and Price had together. Probably 300 ! But all of them are absolutely wonderful in this beautiful quiet film about two aging sisters. Being a fan of Lillian Gish, I was amazed to see her full of gentle emotions, like in the films she made in the silent era. When she let down her hairs to brush, while listening to an old record Roses of Picardy, I saw the eternal Gish. Bette David is also great. It seems that the two women are playing the kind of parts we learned to love them. See this, it's a beauty.

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22 out of 25 people found the following review useful:

Legends and grace!

7/10
Author: rosscinema from United States
28 August 2003

This was the last film of Lillian Gish and it has to be the most graceful exit an actor or actress has ever had. All screen legends should have the dignity of their last film being this touching. This story is about two elderly sisters who are staying in their family cottage on the coast of Maine. Lillian Gish plays Sarah Webber the oldest of the two and she is caring for her sister Libby Strong (Bette Davis) who is blind and maybe in the early stages of senility. They have a neighbor and life long friend in Tisha (Ann Sothern) who suggests to Sarah that she might want to think of selling the old cottage. An acquantance named Mr. Maranov (Vincent Price) asks to fish on their shore but he really is fishing around for a place to live. He is of European nobility and full of stories but he has no money and seems to exist on the kindness of others. Both Sarah and Libby are widows and frequently relate events of the past to each other. The film is directed by Lindsay Anderson who usually makes satirical English films and this was his first American feature. He does an adequate job but he has the sense of just allowing the camera to catch every emotion these actors convey. This is not a great film but it is a very special one. Its a very simple story but thats just fine, something extra special doesn't have to be happening for this film to work. Gish was an amazing 93 when she made this and even at that age she showed she could carry a film and display an incredible amount of energy. She still had that girlish nature about her and her performance is a revelation. Davis was also incredibly strong but she suffered from having to recite some unbelievable dialogue. I didn't quite buy the scene where she comes out of her bedroom saying she had a dream about her and Sarah. But her best moments come in the quieter scenes. When Davis is gazing at nothing and thinking about her future you can only guess what is going on in her head. I thought she was at her best when the camera would just focus in on her face and she didn't speak. These two actress's were very different in their personalities and Davis was very difficult to work with later in her career. But I read a wonderful thing about the wrapping of this film. When the shooting was done Bette walked over to Lillian Gish and gave her a hug of mutual respect. It was high praise to have a cantankerous Bette Davis show that type of respect. Of course, Gish could charm anyone. She spent her career doing it. For you trivia buffs, Ann Sotherns real life daughter Tisha Sterling (Valley of the Giants) plays her as a young woman and Mary Steenburgen plays a young Sarah. This film is a must for all film buffs.

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20 out of 23 people found the following review useful:

Charming

9/10
Author: Dick Laux from Rochester, NY
31 May 2004

This movie has two possible effects. You will be bored or charmed. I was charmed by the simple beauty of watching aged movie stars in their final film roles. Ann Sothern is truly the high point in the movie and still has her "Maisie-like" (the character she made famous in the 30's and 40's) wit and sarcasm. Bette Davis, Lillian Gish and Vincent Price, as well as Ann Sothern, are all veterans of the great "Hollywood Era" and it shows. One can only hope that Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Taylor, Meryl Streep and Brad Pitt age as well as these legends. Beautiful scenery and seascapes and a chance to see people who make aging appear elegant. Sadly, all are gone now. Rest peacefully!

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