The Whales of August

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ChrisStockslager

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The Whales of August

PostWed Jun 10, 2015 3:16 pm

I watched this film via TCM a month or so ago and forgot to post on here about how much I loved it. Bette Davis did her typical bitchy old lady routine, but I still found her performance to be very very good -- especially the scenes where she was showing signs of dementia. Never once did it feel anything but real. Vincent Price was his usual self outside of horror films: oodles of that old world charm that just makes you want him to be your well-dressed grandpa. But the real gem was Lillian Gish. I simply couldn't believe that she was 93 during the making of this film! It's sad how with the strokes, Davis, who was almost ten years younger than Gish, looks about 15 years older. That aside, Gish's performance was masterful, and I was pleasantly surprised as to how varied her performance was - be it the sweetness of her character, wistfulness, anger, etc.

The movie itself made me sad, because we truly were watching some of the last dinosaurs from the Golden Age of Hollywood taking their last (or near last) bows in this truly classy, pleasant film. No wonder it didn't do well when the blockbusters of 1987 were films like Moonstruck, Good Morning, Vietnam, and Dirty Dancing. Worlds apart. A very very great film in my opinion.
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Jim Roots

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Re: The Whales of August

PostThu Jun 11, 2015 6:01 am

Wasn't it a TV movie rather than a theatrical release?

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Mike Gebert

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Re: The Whales of August

PostThu Jun 11, 2015 8:02 am

It was released theatrically in the U.S., certainly.
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drednm

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Re: The Whales of August

PostThu Jun 11, 2015 8:27 am

Definitely NOT a TV movie. A lot of it was filmed in Maine.... if not all.
Ed Lorusso
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Jim Roots

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Re: The Whales of August

PostThu Jun 11, 2015 11:37 am

Okay, thanks. I thought I read somewhere someone lamenting that the only film Bette and Lillian made together was only shown on TV and never released in theatres. I'd better stop eating Swiss cheese until the holes in my memory patch over.

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drednm

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Re: The Whales of August

PostThu Jun 11, 2015 12:03 pm

As I remember, there was a big "do" for a Maine premiere in Portland, but I'm pretty sure none of the stars were there, although Davis HAD lived in Maine for years when married to Gary Merrill.
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Re: The Whales of August

PostThu Jun 11, 2015 12:40 pm

Just wanted to mention Ann Southern's wonderful performance as well. This film really deserves a blu-ray release!
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Re: The Whales of August

PostThu Jun 11, 2015 12:55 pm

My favorite story about this production is that someone praised Miss Gish' performance to Bette Davis, kvelling how wonderful Miss Gish looked in the close-ups. "Of course she does!" Miss Davis snarled. "They invented them for her."

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Re: The Whales of August

PostSat Jun 13, 2015 12:13 pm

Even though I admired the performances of both actresses I was amazed at Lillian Gish's performance. It's hard to believe she was 93; she showed no trouble at all with her lines and her acting was so natural.
She was actually about 14-15 years older than Bette but I agree that with Bette's strokes and cancer she looked 14-15 years older than Gish.
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westegg

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Re: The Whales of August

PostSun Jun 14, 2015 6:54 am

I saw this at a Manhattan theater on the east side when first released. it was the smallest theater I ever recall being in!
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Re: The Whales of August

PostMon Jun 22, 2015 5:51 pm

ajabrams wrote:Just wanted to mention Ann Southern's wonderful performance as well. This film really deserves a blu-ray release!


An Oscar-nominated performance for Ann, by the way. Sad how this little but beautiful film could not compete with the big studios for deserved nominations - this was a bit before independent films really started making their marks at the Academy Awards. A nomination for Lillian was widely expected - to the point where Good Morning America accidentally included her among the nominee names shown on the screen, obviously working from some pre-announcement rough draft that hadn't been cleared out and corrected immediately.
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Re: The Whales of August

PostMon Jun 22, 2015 5:58 pm

ChrisStockslager wrote:I watched this film via TCM a month or so ago and forgot to post on here about how much I loved it. Bette Davis did her typical bitchy old lady routine, but I still found her performance to be very very good -- especially the scenes where she was showing signs of dementia. Never once did it feel anything but real. Vincent Price was his usual self outside of horror films: oodles of that old world charm that just makes you want him to be your well-dressed grandpa. But the real gem was Lillian Gish. I simply couldn't believe that she was 93 during the making of this film! It's sad how with the strokes, Davis, who was almost ten years younger than Gish, looks about 15 years older. That aside, Gish's performance was masterful, and I was pleasantly surprised as to how varied her performance was - be it the sweetness of her character, wistfulness, anger, etc.

The movie itself made me sad, because we truly were watching some of the last dinosaurs from the Golden Age of Hollywood taking their last (or near last) bows in this truly classy, pleasant film. No wonder it didn't do well when the blockbusters of 1987 were films like Moonstruck, Good Morning, Vietnam, and Dirty Dancing. Worlds apart. A very very great film in my opinion.


Lillian did look great although whether she was actually 93 is disputed. Her publicity long claimed she was born in 1896 but somebody at AFI found a "birth certificate" listing her as born in 1893 and now that date is written in stone in the eyes of film historians although it's no secret that birth certificates fake ages (upped forward to be able to work as an adult) were easily obtained in the late 19th and early 20th century. Lillian claimed such and I believe her, although she appeared to be confused at the time and said 1896 was the fake age on the birth certificate and she was really born in 1899.
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Re: The Whales of August

PostThu Oct 26, 2017 4:54 pm

Kino will release a blu-ray edition of The Whales of August on December 19. Many of us, I suspect, will want this lovely film in our Christmas stocking.

Special features, according to Amazon:

Special Features:
-Audio Commentary by producer Mike Kaplan, moderated by film critic Stephen Farber
-Peer Talk: The Raw September 1986 Interviews with stars Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, Vincent Price, Ann Sothern and Harry Carey Jr.
-Behind the Camera: Raw September 1986 interviews with director Lindsay Anderson, cinematographer Mike Fash and production designer Jocelyn Herbert
-New interview with actress Mary Steenburgen
-New interview with actress Margaret Ladd
-New interview with actress Tisha Sterling
-New interview with executive producer Shep Gordon
-Mike Kaplan Vignette 1 Bette Davis
-Mike Kaplan Vignette 2 Cab Ride
-Mike Kaplan Vignette 3 Cliff Island
-Never Apologize Malcolm McDowell on Lindsay Anderson
-Five 'Whales' Tales by Mike Kaplan - Limited Edition 16 Page Booklet
-Song: You Can Never Tell - Performed by Tisha Sterling, written by Mike Kaplan
-Original Theatrical Trailer
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salus

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Re: The Whales of August

PostThu Oct 26, 2017 5:17 pm

Lillian could not have been born in 1899 , she was older than her sister Dorothy who is listed as being born in 1898.
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Re: The Whales of August

PostThu Oct 26, 2017 5:21 pm

Bette was really affected by that book written by her daughter BD Hyman. I believed her daughters account but not Christina Crawford's. book especially after the other adopted daughters completely rebuked Christina. If Joan was that bad some of that behavior would have come out on the other daughters too. Nobody can changed that completely.
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Harlowgold

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Re: The Whales of August

PostThu Oct 26, 2017 6:02 pm

Dean Thompson wrote:Kino will release a blu-ray edition of The Whales of August on December 19. Many of us, I suspect, will want this lovely film in our Christmas stocking.

Special features, according to Amazon:

Special Features:
-Audio Commentary by producer Mike Kaplan, moderated by film critic Stephen Farber
-Peer Talk: The Raw September 1986 Interviews with stars Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, Vincent Price, Ann Sothern and Harry Carey Jr.
-Behind the Camera: Raw September 1986 interviews with director Lindsay Anderson, cinematographer Mike Fash and production designer Jocelyn Herbert
-New interview with actress Mary Steenburgen
-New interview with actress Margaret Ladd
-New interview with actress Tisha Sterling
-New interview with executive producer Shep Gordon
-Mike Kaplan Vignette 1 Bette Davis
-Mike Kaplan Vignette 2 Cab Ride
-Mike Kaplan Vignette 3 Cliff Island
-Never Apologize Malcolm McDowell on Lindsay Anderson
-Five 'Whales' Tales by Mike Kaplan - Limited Edition 16 Page Booklet
-Song: You Can Never Tell - Performed by Tisha Sterling, written by Mike Kaplan
-Original Theatrical Trailer


Wonderful though I wish some of the tv interviews Lillian did at the time were among the bonus features. Still very happy this film is finally being rereleased and treated as something special.
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Harold Aherne

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Re: The Whales of August

PostThu Oct 26, 2017 9:24 pm

Re: Lillian's birth date -- She provided various years between 1894 and 1899 (or ages that corresponded to those years) on ship's manifests, census entries and the like. Her 1917 passport application gives the date 14 Oct 1894, but her 1922 application says 14 Oct 1898. She wasn't unusual in this regard; many other performers played "musical ages" when asked to provide that information.

I believe 1893 is correct, however, because of the family's entry in the 1900 census. Their surname is misspelled "Geitz", but the other details are so close that I have to believe it's them. They were living at 743 Lexington Street in Baltimore and household members were James L. (Nov 1872), Mary R. (Sep 1875), Lillian (Oct 1893), Dora E. (Mar 1898) and a boarder named Ella Kuhn. Mary, Lillian and "Dora" were all said to be born in Ohio.

There might be a county birth registration or baptismal record for Lillian, but until that information becomes publicly available, this census record (assuming it's really them) is the earliest reference we have to Lillian's birth.

-HA
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R Michael Pyle

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Re: The Whales of August

PostFri Oct 27, 2017 5:40 am

Harold Aherne wrote:Re: Lillian's birth date -- She provided various years between 1894 and 1899 (or ages that corresponded to those years) on ship's manifests, census entries and the like. Her 1917 passport application gives the date 14 Oct 1894, but her 1922 application says 14 Oct 1898. She wasn't unusual in this regard; many other performers played "musical ages" when asked to provide that information.

I believe 1893 is correct, however, because of the family's entry in the 1900 census. Their surname is misspelled "Geitz", but the other details are so close that I have to believe it's them. They were living at 743 Lexington Street in Baltimore and household members were James L. (Nov 1872), Mary R. (Sep 1875), Lillian (Oct 1893), Dora E. (Mar 1898) and a boarder named Ella Kuhn. Mary, Lillian and "Dora" were all said to be born in Ohio.

There might be a county birth registration or baptismal record for Lillian, but until that information becomes publicly available, this census record (assuming it's really them) is the earliest reference we have to Lillian's birth.

-HA

Interesting that the NY state census records of 1905 already have her as born in 1894! Also seems she is 9th cousin 2x removed from the Thomas Edison family!
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Re: The Whales of August

PostFri Oct 27, 2017 6:05 am

Good to see this happening.
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Dave Pitts

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Re: The Whales of August

PostSat Oct 28, 2017 11:53 am

I wish I liked this movie better, because, yes, it's rare to see a cast with this much history. At the time, movie reviewers were adding up the collective career spans of the star quartet, and it was something like 250 years. But there are things about the film that keep me from watching it over. First, all the to-do about the window for the cottage. Okay, get the window! No? Okay, don't get the window... Then there's Bette, looking like an invalid, which she pretty much was -- sad to see. In her final films, many of them TV movies, she seemed to be concentrating mightily on just getting the words out. She did not know when to retire until the issue was forced on her during the aborted shoot on Wicked Stepmother.
There are stories in one of the Bette bios about her resentment of both Helen Hayes and Lillian Gish, who were older than her but better preserved when they did their costarring appearances. She made catty remarks about both women. In Hayes case, she (Hayes) made a perfect squelch by saying that Bette's health and appearance were reason enough to forgive her. In the Gish episode, they were both at an industry function and Lillian was at the microphone speaking about the history of the movies. Bette, in the audience, got bored and annoyed and reportedly said that Gish should stop talking, adding, 'Silly bitch!'
(I love Lillian and Bette, but there are better things to see them in.)
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Re: The Whales of August

PostMon Oct 30, 2017 6:39 pm

Dave Pitts wrote:I wish I liked this movie better, because, yes, it's rare to see a cast with this much history. At the time, movie reviewers were adding up the collective career spans of the star quartet, and it was something like 250 years. But there are things about the film that keep me from watching it over. First, all the to-do about the window for the cottage. Okay, get the window! No? Okay, don't get the window... Then there's Bette, looking like an invalid, which she pretty much was -- sad to see. In her final films, many of them TV movies, she seemed to be concentrating mightily on just getting the words out. She did not know when to retire until the issue was forced on her during the aborted shoot on Wicked Stepmother.
There are stories in one of the Bette bios about her resentment of both Helen Hayes and Lillian Gish, who were older than her but better preserved when they did their costarring appearances. She made catty remarks about both women. In Hayes case, she (Hayes) made a perfect squelch by saying that Bette's health and appearance were reason enough to forgive her. In the Gish episode, they were both at an industry function and Lillian was at the microphone speaking about the history of the movies. Bette, in the audience, got bored and annoyed and reportedly said that Gish should stop talking, adding, 'Silly bitch!'
(I love Lillian and Bette, but there are better things to see them in.)



"Better preserved" is not the issue; Bette was in ill health and in pain and dying. I think Lillian was actually more sympathetic to Bette's condition than Helen although one of her comments (you probably know it, the "such a tragic face" one) was an unintentional lapse in taste. Helen seemed a little less sympathetic in some of her remarks, along the lines "She's running us all of the business" re both Hayes and Gish's comments about these projects being their final ones and leading to retirement. I'm sure Bette was quite a handful to work with at any stage in her life, old and sick it had to be much worse. I enjoyed both Lillian and Bette's work in this film and Lillian really did deserve the Oscar nomination she didn't receive to the surprise of many.

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