William Friese-Greene invents the motion picture. Biographical. [The Magic Box credits: Dir: John Boulting/ Robert Donat, Maria Schell, Margaret Johnston/ 110 min/ Biography, Drama/ Britain/ Creator as Hero]
“Practically every leading actor in British film lined up to join in this tribute, so even the most minor characters are played with style. The delightful Maria Schell, in one of the leading roles, is particularly effective. ”
This biopic of the forgotten inventor who pioneered some of the essentials of modern film is a good example of the creator-as-hero theme. However, it excuses a little too readily the flaws in Friese-Greene that led him to neglect financial obligations and which left him nearly destitute.
As told here, Friese-Greene was obsessed with creating motion pictures. He had a long-range vision of what film would mean for the world and was determined to see that vision realized. After years of research, he succeeded in constructing the first motion picture camera—a device that took a series of pictures on a roll of perforated film moving intermittently behind a shutter.
However, the process of creating this device absorbed all his savings, and the lack of an immediate market for it meant for him bankruptcy and the sale of his patent. The device was only later perfected by Edison.
The Magic Box is a somewhat sad story, as Friese-Greene was one of those people who contribute much to the world, but who never quite get credit for it. Moreover, he was so focused on the long-term potential of film that the short-term problems of life escaped him; and his limited success was won at the expense of his family, his business relations, and in the end his own happiness and life.
The film takes a philosophical tack on such “failed” inventors, arguing that nothing good can ever come without trying. As is said twice in the film: “The inventor must never mind seeming a little foolish to his contemporaries. He must always look to his star. In the end he may still fail, but this is unimportant. If he is true to himself, he will not be unhappy or embittered even in failure, and will still speak for what is good.”
Practically every leading actor in British film lined up to join in this tribute, so even the most minor characters are played with style. The delightful Maria Schell, in one of the leading roles, is particularly effective. The script and direction make just average use of all this talent but The Magic Box is still touching.