J. Arthur Rank, 1951. Directed by
John Boulting. Camera: Jack Cardiff. With
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
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.