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The Magic Box (1951)

Approved | | Biography, Drama | 21 January 1952 (UK)
A chronicle of the life of William Friese-Greene, a British inventor and early pioneer in cinema.



(based on the biography: "Friese-Greene, Close Up of an Inventor"), (screenplay)

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Nominated for 2 BAFTA Film Awards. Another 1 win. See more awards »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Miss Tagg (as Renee Asherson)
Jack Carter
Lord Beaverbrook
Sitter in Bath Studio
Father in Family Group
John Charlesworth ...
Graham Friese-Greene
Bride's Father in Wedding Group
1st Company Promoter
John Howard Davies ...
Maurice Friese-Greene
Michael Denison ...
Joan Dowling ...
Butler at Fox Talbot's
Mrs. Nell Collings
Marjorie Fielding ...
Elderly Viscountess


Now old, ill, poor, and largely forgotten, William Freise-Greene was once very different. As young and handsome William Green he changed his name to include his first wife's so that it sounded more impressive for the photographic portrait work he was so good at. But he was also an inventor and his search for a way to project moving pictures became an obsession that ultimately changed the life of all those he loved. Written by Jeremy Perkins <jwp@aber.ac.uk>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The British Festival Film! See more »


Biography | Drama


Approved | See all certifications »




Release Date:

21 January 1952 (UK)  »

Also Known As:

A Caixa Mágica  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


| (DVD) | (edited) | (TV)

Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)


(Colour by) (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


Richard Attenborough (Jack Carter) would later direct Laurence Olivier (Police Constable 94-B) in Oh! What a Lovely War (1969) and A Bridge Too Far (1977), Robert Flemyng (Doctor in Surgery) in Oh! What a Lovely War (1969), Young Winston (1972) and Shadowlands (1993), Michael Hordern (Official Receiver) in Gandhi (1982) and Michael Denison (Reporter) in Shadowlands (1993). See more »


The middle-aged Friese-Greene is shown meeting William Fox-Talbot, who actually died when the former was only 22. See more »


William Fox-Talbot: The original thinker - the innovator - mustn't mind seeming a little foolish to his contemporaries. He must always look to his star... In the end, he may still fail. That's unimportant. If he is true to himself, he won't be too unhappy or embittered, even in failure, and will still speak for what is good.
See more »

Crazy Credits

Opening credits prologue: WILLIAM FRIESE-GREENE 1855 1921 followed by the year 1921 See more »


Features The Arrival of a Train (1896) See more »


Till the Boys Come Home
(1914) (uncredited)
Written by Ivor Novello and Lena Guilbert Ford
See more »

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User Reviews

Wonderful Robert Donat!
24 April 2005 | by See all my reviews

A first-class actor ,playing a character from his youth to an old man,with the same talent:he is as convincing as the mischievous boy who takes photographs unbeknown to his boss as the old man who tries to save the seventh art from the moneychangers in the Temple . The film has an unusually inventive construction:it is roughly made of two flashbacks ,but the first one takes place after the second one."The magic box" tells the story of a pioneer of the cinema who died in dire straits ("that's the price for a seat for pictures" )His destiny resembles that of Georges Méliès who ended his life selling candies in a railway station and who never complained about his fate.Geniuses often die unnoticed.The cinematography is splendid with tasteful colors ,the dialog does not forget humor (Donat:"Enjoy yourselves!Schell:"We're going to the church!!"),and there are very powerful scenes:the concert where Schell sings a moving solo "Where is he?I know not!I know not!";an ecstatic Donat showing his film to a constable .The cast is incredibly various and includes such luminaries as Laurence Olivier,Margaret Rutherford,Peter Ustinov,Stanley Holloway and more ,all in supporting parts or even often cameos.

How prophetic the pioneer's last words were!

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