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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.

Director:

John Boulting

Writers:

Ray Allister (based on the biography: "Friese-Greene, Close Up of an Inventor"), Eric Ambler (screenplay)
Reviews
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 ... 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 (Robert Donat) 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 at which he was so good. 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 {J-26}

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

A rich and deeply moving story of a man whose achievement opened up a new world, and of the two women whose love and sacrifices made it possible! 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:

The Magic Box See more »

Company Credits

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

Purchased from its USA television distributor, National Telefilm Associates, by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) for a much heralded color telecast on Producers Showcase Monday 25 July 1955, but preempted at the last minute by a live presentation of Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy re-creating their Broadway success, The Four Poster. It was re-scheduled a year later, again after heavy fanfare, on Kraft Television Theatre Wednesday 15 August 1956, and was once again preempted, this time by the Democratic National Convention. Meantime, NBC's license to show it was scheduled to expire 15 September 1956, and so it was "trimmed" down to about half of its original running time, and shoved into a one hour time slot on Sunday 9 September 1956. One can only guess how many of its highly, much publicized cast of "Sixty British Stars" landed on NBC's cutting room floor. See more »

Goofs

In 1915 when Green's three eldest sons join the army, the landlord's agent mentions that the Spanish influenza is going around. In actuality the Spanish influenza did not begin until 1918. 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

Look to Your Stars..
25 July 2008 | by derekcreedonSee all my reviews

Whether or not William Friese-Greene was actually the father of motion pictures he was certainly in there trying. And though Edison and some French guys get a mention in passing this beautifully-mounted star-laden tribute to dogged endeavour is all Willie's show - made thirty years after his death and timed for the Festival of Britain. It almost missed the bus in this regard and wasn't generally released until the following year,something charmingly British about that. The film itself is charmingly British too, handling its huge cast and period detail with steady quietly-absorbing assurance. Eric Ambler's deftly-crafted script provides romance, comedy, poignancy and an absolutely splendid pinnacle-scene which sums the picture up both in terms of story and production-plan. His dual-flashback structure, which some find confusing, permits the masterly Robert Donat to re-wind from forgotten old codger to eager young whippersnapper and back again with a shift in the middle for 'changing reels' on the assertion of his second wife that "Willie was before my time". This second marriage assuaged his widower-loneliness and certainly produced quite a brood but was blighted by despondency - he's not mentioned in the Encyclopedia - and his ever-present financial incompetence which severs their union. It's the more distant past, the era of inspiration and achievement, which is the film's ultimate destination.

The cameo stars fall to with aplomb - 'The Play's the Thing, what would you like us to do ?' There's the fun of the Living Statues, Margaret Rutherford at her most formidable, wiping the floor with Mr. Guttenberg, Joan Hickson's cute scene-stealing as the customer with the facial twitch, Muir Mathieson appearing on-screen for once conducting the Bath Choral Society while the only solo male vocalist is miles away chinwagging forgetfully with the inventor of photography. Eric Portman bulldozes through as Willie's irascible business-partner and almost every trade and profession is represented along the way by a famous face - doctors, reporters, bank managers, estate agents, instrument-makers, pawnbrokers and company promoters - this last attributed in the credits to Roland Culver and Garry Marsh who do not appear in the release-prints. The BFI site solves the vexing question of the truncated version short by fifteen minutes which is now apparently the only one that survives. The most illustrious guest is fittingly the last to make an entrance - Olivier as the apprehensive bobby on the beat dragged in off the street by Willie to watch Hyde Park shimmering on a sheet. One of the great scenes in British cinema its magical blend of narrative-significance and emotional realism is in effect the movie's climax. The quibbling over technical inaccuracies here is irrelevant, it's not a documentary and as long as the audience gets the point the purpose is served. Maria Schell is enchanting as the first Mrs. Willie and Jack Cardiff - the Technicolor Kid - would have made our hero proud. It's the visionary labour of Willie and his contemporaries which has given us what we love. To correct another poster the last ironic line in the film after Willie's demise is spoken not by Dennis Price but by Michael Denison.


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