During his war service Finch was given leave to act in radio, theatre and film. He appeared in a number of propaganda shorts, including Another Threshold (1942), These Stars Are Mine (1943), While There is Still Time (1943) and South West Pacific (1943), the latter for Ken G. Hall. He also appeared in two of the few Australian feature films made during the war, The Rats of Tobruk (1944) and the less distinguished Red Sky at Morning (1944).

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Finch was nominated for an Oscar for Network and went on to posthumously win the award, which was accepted by his widow, Eletha Finch. Although James Dean, Spencer Tracy and Massimo Troisi were also posthumously nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, Finch was the first actor to have won the award posthumously, as well as the first Australian actor to win a Best Actor award. He was the only posthumous winner of an Oscar in an acting category until fellow Australian Heath Ledger won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2009; there were many earlier posthumous Oscar winners in non-acting categories.[30][31] Finch also won five Best Actor awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), including one for Network.
In 1934–35 he appeared in a number of productions for Doris Fitton at the Savoy Theatre, some with a young Sumner Locke Elliott. He also worked as a sideshow spruiker at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, in vaudeville with Joe Cody and as a foil to American comedian Bert le Blanc.[13] At age 19 Finch toured Australia with George Sorlie's travelling troupe.
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