The Whales of August (1987) Poster

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  • While summering at their seaside cottage in Maine, two elderly, widowed sisters, mild-mannered Sarah Louise Webber (Lillian Gish) and blind, cantankerous Elizabeth 'Libby' Strong (Bette Davis), spend an August day gossiping with their lifelong friend Tisha Doughty (Ann Sothern) and entertaining an old Russian aristocrat, Baron Nicholai Maranov (Vincent Price), who seems to be interested in renting a room from them. As the sisters reminisce about their past and ruminate on their futures, Sarah keeps hoping to catch a glimpse of the migrating whales that once graced their waters but seem to have dwindled since World War II.

  • The Whales of August is based on a play of the same name by American playwright David Berry. Berry also adapted his play for the movie's screenplay.

  • After telling Sarah that she looks a little peaked, Tisha asks 'Do you have a touch of the collywobbles'? 'Collywobbes' is an old term (originated in the early 1800s) for a feeling of nervousness in the stomach. Similar terms include queasiness, gripes, cramps, and 'butterflies in the stomach'.

  • Early the next morning, as Sarah clears the table from the previous night's dinner, Libby asks her whether she intends to leave her. Worried about being able to care for Libby any longer, Sarah wonders if that might be the best thing for them. Libby could return to Philadelphia where her daughter would get a caretaker for her, and Sarah could remain in the cottage surrounded by all of her memories. Tisha unexpectedly drops by with Mr Beckwith (Frank Grimes), the real estate agent who assessed Hilda's house. As the agent looks around, counting bedrooms and making suggestions about how well the cottage would sell, Sarah suddenly balks and orders him to leave. 'Mrs Doughty is mistaken,' she says. 'My house is not for sale.' After Tisha and Beckwith leave, Sarah assures Libby that she's never been a trouble to her, and Libby assures Sarah that she's always been a good sister. Their poignant moment is suddenly interrupted when handyman Joshua Brackett (Harry Carey Jr.) noisily enters the house looking for a wrench he left there yesterday. Libby surprises Sarah by asking Joshua how long it would take him to install the picture window that Sarah wants, and he assures her that he'll order the lumber tomorrow. 'It looks like a beautiful morning,' Libby says to Sarah. 'Let's go down to the point.' Hand-in-hand, the sisters make their way to the whale-watching cliff. In the final scene, Libby asks Sarah if she can see them. Sarah replies: 'The whales have all gone..' 'You can never tell,' Libby assures her, and they put their arms around each other.

  • Gish was born in 1893, making her about 93 years old when the movie was filmed. By contrast, Davis was about 78 (born in 1908), Ann Sothern was about 77 (born 1909), and Vincent Price was about 75 (born 1911). All four actors have since passed away, Davis in 1989, Gish and Price in 1993, and Sothern in 2001.


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