Rest In Peace, Leo: Why Albert Finney personified old school Hollywood

Rest in Peace, Albert Finney.

The acclaimed actor passed away at the age of 82 last month, and it’s a loss for film history as well as the present day of film. I wrote a nugget about him for KSDK News back when he passed, but wanted to come back to my old haunt here, and really dig into more of what he meant to film fans and audiences for several decades.

Finney hadn’t made a film in years, battling an illness that eventually got the best of him. What he left behind was an encyclopedia of film that should live on. He was nominated for an Oscar for Erin Brokovich and was superb in so many movies, but to me, two roles will remind me of Finney’s work.

Leo and Ed Bloom.

In the Coen Brothers’ classic, Miller’s Crossing, Finney played one of the most ruthless mob bosses of all time who happened to have a heart as well. In one of the film’s signature scenes, he thwarts an ambush from a rival mobster in his own house, lighting up two henchmen with a Tommy gun while in his robe and smoking a cigar while “Oh Danny Boy” plays along. Talk about the iconic moments of film that don’t get talked about enough, and this ranks near the top easily.

In Tim Burton’s Big Fish, Finney played Bloom, a wide-eyed old man with a fairy tale past that may or may not be true. Played in his youth by Ewan McGregor, Finney tells the tall tales of his life to his son, played by Billy Crudup. Burton rarely ventures out of the whimsical in his movies, and this was his dreamy ideals being put to great use. The caliber of acting from Finney made it all work and believable.

Like a lot of his films, Finney’s work will hold up. The best actors don’t require a time period to have their work mean something. In 20-30 years, my son can sit down, watch Finney dazzle audiences in films that came out nearly 50 years ago, and feel something. That’s the power of film. Unlike some things in life, they don’t expire or lose relevance with age.

Finney was no bullshit. Old school Hollywood personified. Before social media and sequels dominated the market and remakes became a common theme, Finney was a titan in film. When he stepped on screen and spoke, you listened. That’s why it hurts to see the greats like Gene Hackman and Sean Connery stay retired; they were true grit on film. Makeup? Nope. Drama on the set? Forget it. They came, conquered, and made you remember.

When Finney died last month, I found myself looking at his filmography and seeing a lot of films I hadn’t watched. They looked like unopened Christmas presents that you find stuck behind the tree after the last piece of pie is finished. Movies just wait around for you to come by and visit. With Finney, I have some homework to do.

When a great actor dies, it’s not the end. More like the beginning of a new friendship with old Hollywood. A day and age where the movie counted for everything instead of merely for something.

Thank you for being you, Mr. Finney. Rest in peace.


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