Nationality: British. Born: Peter Ingle-Finch in Kensington, London, England, 28 September 1916. Education: Attended French primary schools until age ten; North Sydney Inter High School, Australia. Military Service: Australian First Army antiaircraft battalion, organized troop entertainments during World War II. Family: Married 1) the dancer Tamara Tchinarova, 1943 (divorced 1958), daughter: Anita; 2) the actress Yolande Turner, 1959 (divorced 1966), children: Samantha and Charles; also daughter Diana by Eletha Barrett. Career: After leaving high school, reporter-trainee on Sydney Sun newspaper, and traveled around Australia as hobo; 1935—toured New South Wales and Queensland in While Parents Sleep; began working in Australian radio; 1945—formed stage company, Mercury Players, named after Orson Welles's Mercury Theater; 1948—under personal contract by Olivier; 1949—London debut; featured role in first British film, Train of Events; early 1950s—active on London stage, including Old Vic: roles include Iago to Orson Welles's Othello in 1951 production of Othello; 1954—first starring film role, opposite Elizabeth Taylor, in Elephant Walk; 1955—contract with J. Arthur Rank Organisation; 1961—with wife Yolande Turner, wrote, produced, and directed low-budget short The Day. Awards: Best British Actor, British Academy, for A Town Like Alice, 1956; Best British Actor, British Academy, for The Trials of Oscar Wilde, 1960; Best Actor, Berlin Festival, and Best Actor, British Academy, for No Love for Johnnie, 1961; Best Actor, British Academy, for Sunday, Blood Sunday, 1971; Best Actor Academy Award, and Best Actor, British Academy, for Network, 1976. Died: Of heart attack, in Beverly Hills, California, 14 January 1977.
Films as Actor:
Magic Shoes (Fleming—unreleased)
Dad and Dave Come to Town (The Rudd Family Goes to Town) (Hall) (as Bill Ryan)
Mr. Chedworth Steps Out (Hall); Ants in His Pants (Freshman)
The Power and the Glory (Monkman)
The Rats of Tobruk (The Fighting Rats of Tobruk) (Chauvel) (as Peter Linton); South West Pacific (Hall—Finch may appear only in footage taken from The Rats of Tobruk); Jungle Patrol (Gurr—short) (as narrator)
Red Sky at Morning (Escape at Dawn) (Arthur) (as Michael)
A Son Is Born (Porter) (as Paul Graham); Indonesia Calling (Ivens—short) (as narrator); Native Earth (Heyer—short) (as narrator)
Eureka Stockade (Massacre Hill) (Watt) (as John Humffray); "The Actor" ep. of Train of Events (Dearden) (as Philip Mason); Primitive Peoples: Australian Aborigines (Heath—in three parts) (as narrator, + asst d)
The Wooden Horse (Jack Lee) (as the Australian); The Miniver Story (Potter) (as Polish officer)
The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (Annakin) (as Sheriff of Nottingham)
The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan (Gilbert and Sullivan; The Great Gilbert and Sullivan) (Gilliat) (as Rupert D'Oyly Carte); The Heart of the Matter (O'Ferrall) (as Father Rank)
Elephant Walk (Dieterle) (as John Wiley); Father Brown (The Detective) (Hamer) (as Flambeau); Make Me an Offer! (Frankel) (as Charlie)
The Dark Avenger (The Warriors) (Levin) (as Count De Ville); Passage Home (Baker) (as Captain "Lucky" Ryland); Josephine and Men (Boulting, Harvey, and Balchin) (as David Hewer); Simon and Laura (Box) (as Simon Foster);The Queen in Australia (Hawes—short) (as narrator); Melbourne—Olympic City (pr: Hawes) (as narrator)
A Town Like Alice (Rape of Malaya) (Jack Lee) (as Joe Harman); The Battle of the River Plate (Pursuit of the Graf Spee) (Powell and Pressburger) (as Captain Langsdorff); The Royal Tour of New South Wales (short) (as narrator)
The Shiralee (Norman) (as Jim Macauley); Robbery under Arms (Jack Lee) (as Captain Starlight); Windom's Way (Neame) (as Alec Windom)
The Nun's Story (Zinnemann) (as Dr. Fortunati); Operation Amsterdam (McCarthy) (as Jan Smit); A Far Cry (Peet) (as narrator)
Kidnapped (Stevenson) (as Alan Breck Stewart); The Sins of Rachel Cade (Rachel Cade) (Gordon Douglas) (as Colonel Henri Derode); The Trials of Oscar Wilde (The Man with the Green Carnation; The Green Carnation) (Hughes) (title role)
No Love for Johnnie (Thomas) (as Johnnie Byrne)
I Thank a Fool (Robert Stevens) (as Stephen Dane)
Girl with Green Eyes (Desmond Davis) (as Eugene Gaillard); In the Cool of the Day (Robert Stevens) (as Murray Logan)
First Men in the Moon (Juran) (as guest); The Pumpkin Eater (Clayton) (as Jake Armitage)
Judith (Daniel Mann) (as Aaron Stein); The Flight of the Phoenix (Aldrich) (as Captain Harris)
10:30 P.M. Summer (Dassin) (as Paul)
Far from the Madding Crowd (Schlesinger) (as William Boldwood)
The Legend of Lylah Clare (Aldrich) (as Lewis Zarkan)
La tenda rossa (Krasnaya palatka; The Red Tent) (Kalatozov) (as General Umberto Nobile)
Sunday, Bloody Sunday (Schlesinger) (as Dr. Daniel Hirsch)
Something to Hide (Shattered) (Reid) (as Harry Field)
Lost Horizon (Jarrott) (as Richard Conway); A Bequest to the Nation (The Nelson Affair) (James Cellan Jones) (as Lord Horatio Nelson); England Made Me (Duffell) (as Erich Krogh)
The Abdication (Harvey) (as Cardinal Azzolino)
Network (Lumet) (as Howard Beale)
Raid on Entebbe (Kirshner—for TV) (as Yitzhak Rabin)
A Look at Liv (Kaplan—doc) (as himself)
Film as Director:
Antonito (The Day) (short) (+ pr, sc)
By FINCH: articles—
"How I Learnt to Laugh at Myself," in Films and Filming (London), September 1958.
"Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater," in Films and Filming (London), June 1964.
"The Mind's Eye," in Films and Filming (London), August 1970.
On FINCH: books—
Faulkner, Trader, Peter Finch: A Biography, London, 1979.
Dundy, Elaine, Finch, Bloody Finch: A Life of Peter Finch, New York, 1980.
Finch, Yolanda, Finchy, New York, 1981.
On FINCH: articles—
Nemy, Enid, in The New York Times, 22 September 1968.
Current Biography 1972, New York, 1972.
Obituary in New York Times, 15 January 1977.
"Peter Finch," in Cinéma (Paris), March 1977.
Ecran (Paris), April 1978.
Norman, Barry, in Radio Times (London), 26 July 1980.
* * *
Dead at 61 of a heart attack induced by a life of drink, sex, and hard living, Peter Finch belongs on the roster of stars who were expert at projecting insecurity on screen. A confident Finch is indeed a contradiction: indecision, sexual confusion, the drag of ambition or the demands of good manners undermined his most memorable screen characters. The high, sloping brow would wrinkle and the sensitive eyes would narrow as he contemplated yet another painful choice in which no one would suffer more than himself.
The product of a broken Australian/English marriage, Finch initially was thrown into the desert of the prewar Australian film industry. He alternated featured film roles for Cinesound as scapegrace sons with stage work and radio acting that exploited his distinctive and resonant voice. The independent director Noel Monkman wrote The Power and the Glory for the man he called "the finest film actor in Australia," but the story—about a Nazi saboteur down under—was too clichéd to win overseas interest.
It was Finch's stage work that attracted the attention of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh during their 1948 Australian tour, and Olivier subsequently put him under personal contract. This was the beginning, Olivier was to claim, of the end of his marriage to Leigh, with whom Finch had one of his many calamitous affairs, culminating in her nervous breakdown while on Sri Lankan location with Finch for Elephant Walk. The film, however, earned Finch star status. He was an effective aristocratic thief pursued by Alec Guinness's Father Brown, a percipient antique dealer in Make Me an Offer!, and the captain of the German battleship Graf Spee who elects to scuttle the boat in Michael Powell's The Battle of the River Plate. British companies' increased use of Australia as an exotic location drew Finch back for Robbery under Arms, A Town Like Alice, and The Shiralee. His respective roles as a period bandit, an Australian soldier tortured by the Japanese for helping refugee Englishwomen, and an itinerant on the Australian roads forced to take along his young daughter like a "shiralee," or blanket roll, helped Finch to define his screen persona.
It was evident his future lay with the international roles such as that in the Powell film rather than with the then-limping Australian industry. The Trials of Oscar Wilde is emblematic of this new stage of his career, with Finch building a vivid portrait of the homosexual playwright destroyed by hubris. His portrayal of a politician in No Love for Johnnie, choosing ambition over love, and films such as The Pumpkin Eater and Girl with Green Eyes, further established him with American studios as a compelling leading man. During this period, he was dividing his time between Europe and the United States, appearing opposite Audrey Hepburn in The Nun's Story as an idealistic doctor, with Sophia Loren in the Israeli drama Judith, and for Robert Aldrich in the embarrassing flop The Legend of Lylah Clare as a film director reminiscent of Josef von Sternberg. Finch also tackled period dramas, with varying success. As the cuckolded farmer in Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd, he was superbly distraught, the model of wounded British rectitude. He played opposite Liv Ullmann in The Abdication, a gloomy account of the Queen Christina story, and was Nelson to Glenda Jackson's Emma Hamilton in A Bequest to the Nation.
Sunday, Bloody Sunday and especially Network are the two films for which Finch is best-remembered. In the first, he is the model of world-weariness, with his Jewish homosexual doctor in love with a feckless bisexual boy a brilliantly credible portrait of well-mannered urban desperation. In the second, he is the model of outrageous anger. In Network, Paddy Chayefsky's caustic satire of television, Finch deservedly won a posthumous Best Actor Oscar for his performance as Howard Beale, the frenzied television anchorman turned "mad prophet of the airwaves." His classic pronunciation—"I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore"—has become a symbolic rallying cry of those exasperated by the inanity of television programming (which serves to mirror the superficiality of contemporary materialist society).
—John Baxter, updated by Rob Edelman