This 1987 film is truly remarkable in its own small way. The film centers on a beautiful and simple story about the bonds of sisters, the disappointments of life, and the waning days of one last summer on the coast of Maine.
The legendary, and I mean LEGENDARY, Lillian Gish stars here at age 93 as Sarah. Having appeared in about 120 films over an incredible span of 75 years (1912-87), Gish goes about her business of being an actress with great dignity and skill. There are several quiet scenes in which she talks to old photographs as she cleans or fixes up her hair and makeup. She's truly enchanting.
The legendary Bette Davis doesn't fare quite as well playing the harsh Libby. Davis (post- stroke) is certainly easy to believe as the flinty sister who is blind and bitter. Davis was almost 80 here and had also racked up about 120 films, dating from 1931.
As Tisha, Ann Sothern (more than 100 films) earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination as the nosy, pushy friend who hasn't quite given up on life. Sothern started as a dancer in films in 1927 as a delicate blonde beauty. Vincent Price (almost 180 films from 1938) plays the charming drifter (and foreigner) who may be looking for a new place to live. And Harry Carey, Jr. (son of Harry Carey, a cowboy star in silent films) plays the fixit man who wants to install a picture window.
There's little action here as the sisters squabble about daily routines and long-ago events in their lives. Gish is ever hopeful while Davis is always mistrusting. The 4 stars work well together although the age differences are apparent. Davis uses her usual Boston voice; Sothern tries out a pretty good "down east" accent. Price plays a Russian émigré, and Gish speaks in her own voice.
The feeling of 50s Maine is just right. The house, perched on a small cliff looking out to sea, looks right. The island (this was filmed in Casco Bay) is gorgeous and captures the simplicity of old Maine just perfectly. The atmosphere is windy and overgrown and rocky. It's the Maine of my childhood.
This marks the final film appearance of Gish and Sothern. While Sothern was the only one to win an Oscar nomination, she, along with Gish and Price, won Independent Spirit nominations. What a pity that Gish did not win Oscar recognition for this role and for her astonishing longevity in film. Gish earned only one Oscar nomination (for DUEL IN THE SUN) and an honorary award in 1971.
Gish did win the best actress award from the National Board of Review.