The Whales of August (1987)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Family Drama  |   Release Date - Oct 16, 1987 (USA)  |   Run Time - 90 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

The Whales of August is the cinematic equivalent of a handmade but very old and worn family quilt. It's full of memories, it gives one an initial warmth and fuzziness, but tiny little stray threads can rub against the skin and cause discomfort. Fortunately for viewers, the discomfort affects the characters in Whales, rather than the audience, which is likely to simply revel in the rare opportunity to watch two genuine screen legends (along with two other exceptional veterans of Hollywood's Golden Age) share the screen in the late autumn of their years. Those expecting either a display of fireworks from the explosive talent onscreen may be disappointed, for Whales is a gentle and quiet film; it has drama and tension, but it's of an everyday kind. It inspires sighs of admiration and satisfaction, as well as a slight sense of melancholy, resulting in a surprisingly peaceful feeling in the viewer by film's end. Bette Davis, true both to form and to the character she plays, has a number of moments when she makes power plays and sends down pronouncements from on high; but this actress, who can easily be an overwhelming force of nature, is kept in check by Lindsay Anderson's measured, purposeful direction. Lillian Gish uses her innate guileless ability to keep in step with Davis and to even come out slightly on top; her performance is remarkably natural and effortless and totally winning. Ann Sothern's work is simply lovely, scoring at every possible opportunity, and Vincent Price's sweet performance makes one regret that this talented actor did not have more opportunities to demonstrate his range. Some will find Whales a bit too placid for their tastes, but even they will probably enjoy the work of its cast.