|THE MAGIC BOX (director: John Boulting; screenwriter: Eric Ambler/based on the biography by Ray Allister "Friese-Greene: Close-Up of an Inventor"; cinematographer: Jack Cardiff; editor: Richard Best; music: William Alwyn; cast: Robert Donat (William Friese-Greene), Margaret Johnston (Edith Friese-Greene), Maria Schell (Helena Friese-Greene), Renee Asherson (Miss Tagg), Richard Attenborough (Jack Carter), Robert Beatty (Lord Beaverbrook), James Kenney (Kenneth Friese-Greene), Bernard Miles (Cousin Alfred), Frederick Valk (Guttenburg), Basil Sydney (William Fox-Talbot), Cecil Trouncer (John Rudge), Eric Portman (Arthur Collings), Laurence Olivier (Constable); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ronald Neame; British Lion; 1951-UK)|
|"Proves to be a curious work
despite its flaws."
by Dennis Schwartz
tragic story of William Friese-Greene (1855-1921) a
genius inventor who died a pauper, as excellently
played by Robert Donat. Friese-Greene
is a forgotten British inventor who was
obsessed with making a movie camera, and without
definitive factual proof this film would lead
you to believe he made the first movie camera. It
bases its claim on the
biography by Ray Allister "Friese-Greene:
Close-Up of an Inventor," which made a
modest but unconvincing case in
favor of Friese-Greene as the true creator of the
movie camera. Director John Boulting ("Lucky
Jim"/"I'm All Right Jack"/"Heavens Above!") and writer
Eric Ambler work with an all-star British cast to give
a sympathetic and intelligent portrait of the ignored
inventor's life and work. It shows that William
dedicated his life to the movie camera project at a
great self-sacrifice, but lacked business sense and
eventually lost his family's fortune in his compulsion
to make a positive contribution to society. He also
became estranged from his second wife Edith (Margaret
Johnston), as the kindly loner ignored his
family for his work.
biopic, in an entertaining way, covers some of
William's triumphs and losses from when he was a
handsome youthful photographer's assistant until his
death, as a feeble old man, in 1921, at a
film-industry meeting. Before attending the meeting,
William succeeded in making a movie camera and
excitedly showed it first to a London constable (Laurence
Olivier) before unsuccessfully trying to show it to
separated wife Edith at her hotel workplace.
I don't know if Friese-Greene was or was not the original inventor of a movie camera, but I do know the French brothers Louis and Auguste Lumire and the American inventor Thomas Edison are credited for their motion-picture devices in the middle 1890s and see no reason after seeing this film to think differently. The story leaves out too many things about the inventor to be a definitive biography, as it neglects telling us of his work on the biophantascope, his experiments with 3-D in the 1890s, his stealing key ideas from collaborators for the movie camera and an unfortunate prison stint for borrowing money while bankrupt.
The Magic Box was made as a showcase to represent the British film industry at the Festival of Britain in 1951, and proves to be a curious work despite its flaws.
REVIEWED ON 1/27/2014 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ