From the start, his smile lit the screen.
And in that first moment Albert Finney appeared on film — in a small role in Laurence Olivier’s The Entertainer in 1960 — his smile found a way to reach through the screen to magically connect with the audience.
The actor died Feb. 8 at age 82.
Over more than 50 years, whether playing broad comedy or serious drama, his command of facial expression continued to enable this accomplished actor to create a gallery of memorable characters on screen, television and stage.
Here’s a look at the best of Albert Finney on film.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)
Finney grabbed our attention with his brittle, brutal portrayal of a down-on-his-luck factory worker trying to balance all the demands of an unpredictable personal life. The actor demonstrated an uncanny ability to get inside a character and share what he discovered.
Tom Jones (1963)
The actor captured his first Academy Award nomination for his outrageously funny interpretation of a fun-loving adventurer in this Oscar-winning adaptation of Henry Fielding’s classic novel. Finney’s broad approach to the character made a period piece feel current. And the film’s popularity made him a movie star.
Two for the Road (1967)
In what may be the actor’s strongest screen performance, Finney shined as a philandering architect in Stanley Donen’s smoldering examination of the realities of marriage. The actor never hesitated to share the character’s darker sides in a series of powerful conversations with co-star Audrey Hepburn, also doing her best work.
Finney surprised his fans by showcasing his skills as a song-and-dance man as he gracefully aged on screen in this musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. His range to play Ebenezer Scrooge through many years gives the actor many opportunities to shine. And he showed he can sing, too.
Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
Sporting shiny black hair, and a waxed moustache, Finney had a field day playing detective Hercule Poirot in this all-star adaptation of Agatha Christie’s thriller. While some critics complained he may have over-acted in the role, Finney relished the film’s success at the box office and nabbed his second Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
Shoot the Moon (1982)
How the Academy overlooked both Finney and costar Diane Keaton at Oscar time is an awards mystery. They are unforgettable as a married couple who let their bitterness poison the family they share. Finney dared to show all the layers of this troubled man whose anger defines every step he takes and each word he says.
While John Huston may not know how to direct a musical, and the overdone production numbers swallow the touching moments, Finney proved his earlier song-and-dance success as Scrooge was no movie fluke. He worked his magic to turn what could be a one-dimensional Daddy Warbucks into an insightful man who simply needs to connect with others.
The Dresser (1983)
Oscar nomination number three goes to Finney for this exaggerated exploration of a veteran actor’s efforts to make it on stage performance after performance. The actor has a field day in a part that called upon his many years of playing Shakespeare on stage in England, including a lauded Hamlet at the Old Vic in the 1970s.
Under the Volcano (1984)
Once again, Finney found himself in the Oscar race for Best Actor for recreating one harrowing day in the life of a depressed man who uses alcohol to escape. The actor makes us believe how a man so accomplished can become so dependent. The performance reminds us how powerful Finney was playing any role he is given. And he made it all look so easy.
Erin Brockovich (2000)
Yes, Julia Roberts attracts most of the attention and, yes, she wins the Oscar. But her Erin works because Finney establishes the film’s foundation as Ed, the crusty attorney who figures Erin out before she gets to know herself. The actor seemed to relish the opportunity to play such a rich supporting role and, one more time, Finney found himself a nominee on Oscar night.
Thank you, Albert Finney, for a lifetime of classic work.
Even in small parts — such as Skyfall or the Bourne films — you make the most of every moment on screen, always letting us know that we are in the company of greatness.
Rest in peace.