The Whales Of August

The ages of the five principal actors in Lindsay Anderson’s featureLillian Gish, Bette Davis, Vincent Price, Ann Sothern, and Harry Carey Jr.added up to just under four centuries, and this fact alone tended to tower over all the other particulars in this film. Adapted by David Berry from his own slender play about growing old gracefully, the film is set on an island off the coast of Maine where two sisters, Sarah (Gish) and Libby (Davis), have spent the past 60 summers. Very little happens, and the issue of whether the blind and cantankerous Libby is willing to spend the money to install a picture window becomes a major pivot in the plot. Obviously, Anderson jumped at the opportunity to use these two distinguished actresses, but unfortunately what he gives them to work with is so flimsy and sentimental that not even the awesome power of Gish (here in her early 90s) can transform the material. What seems missing, paradoxically, is a sufficiently developed sense of history; Anderson’s idolatry of John Ford, reflected in his use of Harry Carey Jr. (at 66, the youngest in the bunch), doesn’t emulate any of Ford’s power to evoke the past, and apart from Mike Fash’s pretty location photography, the story is so threadbare that it doesn’t even seem lived in. With cameos (in sepia) by Margaret Ladd, Mary Steenburgen, and Tisha Sterling, who appear in a prologue as younger versions of the three female characters. (JR)

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