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30 user 12 critic

The Magic Box (1951)

A chronicle of the life of William Friese-Greene, a British inventor and early pioneer in cinema.

Director:

John Boulting

Writers:

Ray Allister (based on the biography: "Friese-Greene, Close Up of an Inventor"), Eric Ambler (screenplay)
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Nominated for 2 BAFTA Film Awards. Another 1 win. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Renée Asherson ... Miss Tagg (as Renee Asherson)
Richard Attenborough ... Jack Carter
Robert Beatty ... Lord Beaverbrook
Martin Boddey ... Sitter in Bath Studio
Edward Chapman ... Father in Family Group
John Charlesworth John Charlesworth ... Graham Friese-Greene
Maurice Colbourne ... Bride's Father in Wedding Group
Roland Culver ... 1st Company Promoter
John Howard Davies John Howard Davies ... Maurice Friese-Greene
Michael Denison ... Reporter
Robert Donat ... William Friese-Greene
Joan Dowling Joan Dowling ... Maggie
Henry Edwards ... Butler at Fox Talbot's
Mary Ellis ... Mrs. Nell Collings
Marjorie Fielding Marjorie Fielding ... Elderly Viscountess
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Storyline

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

Taglines:

One of the world's great actors in the crowning performance of his career. See more »

Genres:

Biography | Drama

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

UK

Language:

English

Release Date:

21 January 1952 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

A Caixa Mágica See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Festival Film Productions See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

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

Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound System)

Color:

Color (Colour by) (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

In the documentary, Embracing Chaos: Making The African Queen (2010), Jack Cardiff states that personnel on this movie agreed to work for reduced salaries in exchange for a percentage of profits. Because he made no money on this, Cardiff declined a similar deal from Sam Spiegel on The African Queen (1951), which he regretted, as it would have made him very wealthy. See more »

Goofs

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

Quotes

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 »

Connections

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

Soundtracks

There's a Long, Long Trail a-Winding
(1913) (uncredited)
Written by Zo Elliott and Stoddard King
See more »

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User Reviews

 
A Forgotten Pioneer
5 January 2009 | by bkoganbingSee all my reviews

I'm sure it didn't hurt in the resolve of the British film industry to honor one of its pioneers and one who some claim to have been the actual inventor of motion pictures, William Friese-Greene, to have one of his grandchildren, Richard Greene as a film star in his own right. The Magic Box is a fine tribute to someone generally forgotten if known at all to American audiences especially.

Robert Donat brings his Mr. Chips character and weaves it into the character of William Friese-Greene. The story is told in flashback and in reverse order, first by his second wife Margaret Johnston from their first meeting in 1897 through their marriages and then later by Donat himself as he remembers his first wife Maria Schell. But in both remembrances, the thing that stands out is his driving obsession to capture movement on some medium. As Donat eloquently puts it, 'movement is life'.

It costs him dear, he does not get the credit he feels due him, it goes to that upstart Thomas Edison from the USA. Actually fellow Britishers George Alfred Smith and Charles Urban and Frenchmen Auguste and Louis Lumiere and Emile Reynaud all could claim pioneering contributions to the motion picture as well. Friese-Greene was a fine portrait photographer, but spent all his money on his experiments, even selling the patent he took out on his early motion picture camera.

Donat, Johnston and Schell are supported by a massive cast of the best British players doing small parts in tribute and belated recognition to the guy who now is considered if not THE inventor of motion pictures, the founder of British cinema. From Laurence Olivier in the role of an astonished policeman who is the first to see Robert Donat's breakthrough, to Bernard Miles as Donat's stuffy cousin who's worried about having the bite put on him, to young John Howard Davies as the youngest of Friese-Greene's sons, you'll recognize lots of familiar faces.

Still the film belongs to Donat as the obsessed, but touching Friese- Greene who helped give the world a universal medium of entertainment. Donat never gave a bad performance on the screen and Friese-Greene ranks among his best.


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