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Robert Donat  

 

THE MAGIC BOX

J. Arthur Rank, 1951.  Directed by John Boulting.  Camera:  Jack Cardiff.  With Robert Donat, Margaret Johnston, Maria Schell, Robert Beatty, James Kenney, John Charlesworth, Bernard Miles, Joyce Grenfell, Miles Malleson, Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave, Eric Portman, Emlyn Williams, David Oake, Janette Scott, Richard Attenborough, Basil Sydney, Kay Walsh, Joyce Grenfell.

The Magic Box was the English film industry's contribution to the 1951 Festival of Britain.  Its all-star cast generously forsook their usual salaries for the privilege of paying tribute to that unsung pioneer of cinema, William Friese-Greene, here played by Robert Donat.  Adapted by Eric Ambler from the controversial biography by Ray Allister, The Magic Box contends that Friese-Greene was the true father of motion pictures, and not such upstarts as W.K.L. Dickson and Thomas Edison.

Told in flashback, the film details Friese-Greene's tireless experiments with the "moving image," leading inexorably to a series of failures and disappoints, as others hog the credit for the protagonist's discoveries.  The huge cast includes such British film luminaries as Joyce Grenfell, Miles Malleson, Michael Redgrave, Eric Portman, Emlyn Williams, Richard Attenborough, Peter Ustinov, Cecil Parker, Kay Walsh, and, best of all, Laurence Olivier as the confused bobby who witnesses Friese-Greene's first motion picture demonstration.

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