GenreBiography, Drama ScreenplayEric Ambler, Ray Allister CountryUK
Release date1951 WriterRay Allister (based on the biography: "Friese-Greene, Close Up of an Inventor"), Eric Ambler (screenplay) DirectorsRoy Boulting, John Boulting CastRobert Donat (William Friese-Greene), Margaret Johnston (Edith Harrison Friese-Greene), Maria Schell (Helena Friese-Greene), Richard Attenborough (Jack Carter), Robert Beatty (Lord Beaverbrook), Renée Asherson (Miss Tagg) Similar moviesRelated Roy Boulting movies
TaglineA 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!
The magic box 1951 you must be a very happy man
The Magic Box is a 1951 British, Technicolor, biographical drama film, directed by John Boulting. The film stars Robert Donat as William Friese-Greene, with a host of cameo appearances by actors including Peter Ustinov and Laurence Olivier. It was produced by Ronald Neame and distributed by British Lion Film Corporation. The film was a project of the Festival of Britain and adapted by Eric Ambler from the controversial biography by Ray Allister.
This biographical drama gives an account of the life of William Friese-Greene, who first designed and patented one of the earliest working cinematic cameras. Told in flashback, the film details Friese-Greene's tireless experiments with the "moving image", leading inexorably to a series of failures and disappointments, as others hog the credit for the protagonist's discoveries.
The magic box 1951
In 1921, William Friese-Greene, in dire financial straits and separated from his wife, but still working, attends a film conference in London. He is saddened that all those attending are businessmen interested only in moneymaking. He attempts to speak, but no-one is interested and he sits down. He thinks back to his early pioneering days.
Young "Willie" works as an assistant to photographer Maurice Guttenberg, who will not let him take portraits his way. He leaves and, with his new wife, a client of his former employer, he opens a studio. After a slow start, he does well and opens other studios, but he is more interested in developing moving pictures and colour films. He single-mindedly works on his ideas, spending more and more money, and is eventually declared bankrupt. With the coming of World War I, their sons (one under age) enlist in the army to relieve their parents of the burden of providing for them.
In partnership with a businessman, he develops his ideas, but the partnership sours and he's on his own, bankrupt, again. Nevertheless, he perseveres and, late one night, he projects the short film he has taken in Hyde Park that afternoon. Excited, he rushes out and drags in a passing policeman, portrayed by Laurence Olivier (credited as Larry Oliver), to witness the success of the film. The policeman is dumbfounded, not quite comprehending what he has just seen.
Back at the conference, Friese-Greene again stands up to speak, but becomes incoherent and is forced to sit down. He collapses. A doctor is called, but it is too late. Examining the contents of his pockets in an attempt to identify him, the doctor comments that all the money he could find was just enough for a ticket to the cinema.
Robert Donat as William Friese-Greene
Margaret Johnston as Edith Harrison
Maria Schell as Helena Friese-Greene
David Oake as Claude Friese-Greene
Janette Scott as Ethel Friese-Greene
John Howard Davies as Maurice Friese-Greene
Robert Beatty as Lord Beaverbrook
Richard Attenborough as Jack Carter
Basil Sydney as William Fox Talbot
Bernard Miles as Cousin Alfred
Eric Portman as Arthur Collings
Mary Ellis as Mrs Collings
Muir Mathieson as Sir Arthur Sullivan
Joyce Grenfell as Mrs Claire
Dennis Price as Harold
Margaret Rutherford as Lady Pond
Mervyn Johns as Goitz
Glynis Johns as May Jones
Frederick Valk as Maurice Guttenberg
Ronald Shiner as the Fairground Barker
Peter Reynolds as Bridegroom
Barry Jones as a doctor
Bessie Love as wedding group member
Cecil Parker at the Connaught Rooms
Cecil Trouncer as John Rudge
David Tomlinson as a Lab Assistant
Emlyn Williams as a Bank Manager
Ernest Thesiger as "man"
Kay Walsh as a receptionist
Laurence Olivier and Jack Hulbert as Police officers
Leo Genn as a doctor
Marius Goring as an estate agent
Michael Denison as a reporter
Michael Hordern as the Official Receiver
Miles Malleson as an orchestra conductor
Peter Ustinov as an "industry man"
Sheila Sim as a nursemaid
Sid James as an Army sergeant in storeroom
Stanley Holloway as a broker's man
Thora Hird as a housekeeper
William Hartnell as a Recruiting sergeant
Googie Withers, A. E. Matthews, John McCallum, Patrick Holt, Robertson Hare, Richard Murdoch and Sybil Thorndike as sitters
Henry Edwards as the Butler at Fox Talbot's
Renee Asherson as Miss Tagg
Martin Boddey as SItter in Bath Studio
Edward Chapman as Father in family group
Maurice Colbourne as Bride's father in wedding group
Roland Culver as 1st Company promoter
Joan Dowling as Maggie
Marjorie Fielding as Elderly Viscountess
Robert Flemyng as Doctor in surgery
Everley Gregg as Bridegroom's mother in wedding group
Kathleen Harrison as Mother in family group
Joan Hickson as Mrs Stukely
Jack Hulbert as 1st Holborn Policeman
Peter Jones as Industry Man
Ann Lancaster as Bridesmaid in Wedding Group
Herbert Lomas as Warehouse manager
John Longden as Speaker in Connaught rooms
Garry Marsh as Second company promoter
Michael Trubshawe as Sitter in Bath studio
Amy Veness as Grandmother in wedding group
Charles Victor as Industry man
Harcourt Williams as Tom
Frank Pettingell as Bridegroos father in Wedding Group
Norman Pierce as Speaker in Connaught rooms
Michael Redgrave as Mr. Lege
Oda Slobodskaya as Soloist at Bath concert
John Stuart as 2nd Platform man at Connaught
Marianne Stone as Bride in wedding group
The film was completed and shown just before the end of the 1951 Festival of Britain, but it did not go on general release until 1952.
The film was nominated for two BAFTA Awards in 1952—BAFTA Award for Best Film and BAFTA Award for Best British Film.