James Finlayson

Laurel and Hardy short: Big Business

Laurel and Hardy feature: “The Devil’s Brother”
L&H short: Big Business

James Finlayson is one of my all time favorite comic actors from the 20’s and 30’s.  Scottish born, and known to most people as Finny, he was always a major supporting player at the Hal Roach studios and was the foil for several Laurel and Hardy shorts and features.  It was through seeing the L&H films that I first discovered the great actor, who consistently made return appearances in their films to play different characters.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love Finny.  As you can see from the photos above, he’s an animators dream in terms of the incredible range of facial expressions and his tremendous physicality.  Finny is king of the “double take”.  He might as well have invented it.  Some of his trademark expressions include the quizzical squinting of one eye, and the bulging of his eyes when he looks like his temper is about to explode.  His trademark mustache was always a fake one, but it was a constant among all his characters that distiguished him as a persona.  I think the first film I discovered Finny in was a L&H short called “Men O’ War”, where he plays the soda jerk.  His expressions are priceless!

It was after this film that I started to see him show up all over the place in different films.  When I was at Cinecon I mentioned his performance in the precode comedy “Ladies Night at the Turkish Bath”, where I mentioned in that particular film his performance was a little more subdued, though Finny’s charm still shines through, especially in the hilarious second half of the film.  One of my other favorite performances from Finny is from the silent L&H short, “Big Business”, where the boys try to sell him a Christmas tree and…well, chaos ensues, lets put it that way.   He’s a star I’d like to do more research on, because most of my knowledge of his work comes from L&H.  I saw him once in a Little Rascals short and a few feature appearances, but I know his body of work is tremendous.  You can say in many ways he pretty much played the same character most of his career in different forms.  But he was still an iconic presence during his high point.

Finny made a special contribution to the animation community however.  For those of you who never knew…Dan Castellanetta, who provides the voice of Homer Simpson, said that Homer’s trademark line, “Do’h!” came from James Finlayson, who whenever frustrated would always exclaim, “Dooooooooo’h!”  I suppose because of that, we can live happy now to know that Finny’s legacy still lives in some way today.

This is just the first of many posts I want to write about this actor, and the more I learn about him, the more I plan to share what I’ve seen from this terrific comic genius!


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