A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
The two old sisters have been at war for years, until they have become beloved enemies. Now death is near for both of them -- not today or tomorrow or perhaps even this year, but before long.
For decades, since they were children, they have returned to this old cottage on an island off the coast of Maine, where in August it has been their custom to watch at twilight as the whales pass on their journeys to wherever it is that whales go. Although they make plans for the future, and argue over whether they should install a new picture window, there is the sense that this will be their last summer in the cottage.
That is the story. As stories go, it is conventional enough, but in "The Whales of August," as in grand opera, the story is only the occasion for the performances. This film stars Lillian Gish and Bette Davis, and to cast those two actresses as the leads of the same movie is to make their very presences more important than anything else. This is not their fault, nor do they use it as the occasion for self-conscious acting, for any inappropriate drawing of attention to themselves. It is just a fact.
Gish, who was born in 1896, was the star of D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" (1915), the first great narrative film. Her career includes some 150 movies. Davis, who was born in 1908, was one of the great movie queens of Hollywood's golden age. Together they make this movie into the kind of project that filmmakers dream about but are rarely able to arrange. They are supported in the film by two other actors who bring a lot of memories onscreen with them: Vincent Price and Ann Sothern.