Whales of August, The (1987): Starring Lillian Gish and Bette Davis

More than anything else, Whales of August represents a coup of casting, bringing two legendary icons, Lillian Gish and Bette Davis, to Lindsay Anderson’s delicate melodrama.

Based on the play by David Berry, who adapted it to the big screen, this 1987 movie concerns Libby Strong (Bette Davis) and Sarah Webber (Lillian Gish), widowed sisters vacationing on a Philadelphia island for their 60th consecutive summer.

Libby is blind and embittered, while Sarah is healthy, supportive, and chipper. Their neighbor Tisha (Ann Sothern) tries to convince Sarah to put Libby in the care of her daughter, but Sarah hasn’t forgotten Libby’s moral support when her own husband died.

Things change when she becomes smitten with an aging roué, a Russian emigre named Mr. Nikolai Maranov (Vincent Price). When Libby sabotages this romance, the infuriated Sarah decides that gratitude has its limits. Even so, she can’t bring herself to sell their summer house and send Libby away

In the film’s flashback sequences, Libby is played by Margaret Ladd, Sarah by Mary Steenburgen, and Tisha by Ann Sothern’s real-life daughter Tisha Sterling.

Harry Carey Jr., is also well cast as the sisters’ handyman.

Anderson’s American directorial debut features Lilian Gish in her final performance; Davis made several other movies and TV appearances.

It’s impossible to watch this movie without thinking of the long and impressive cultural and filmic baggage that each actress brings to her role.


Running time: 91 minutes.

Directed by Lindsay Anderson

DVD: October 7, 2003