The Magic Box is a picture of great sincerity and integrity, superbly acted and intelligently directed. Biopic of William Friese-Greene, the British motion picture pioneer, is charged with real life drama.
Eric Ambler’s screenplay is taken from Ray Allister’s biography, Friese-Greene: Close-up of an Inventor. And the script pinpoints all the major triumphs and tragedies in the life of this pioneer, from his youthful beginnings as a photographer’s assistant, to his death in 1921 at a film industry meeting with only the price of a cinema ticket in his pocket.
The selection of Robert Donat as Friese-Greene is an excellent one. Always a polished performer, he brings a new depth of sincerity and understanding to the role. His two wives are portrayed with infinite charm by Maria Schell and Margaret Johnston. Schell, as the ailing girl from Switzerland, shares the inventor’s first and greatest triumph. Johnston shares only his failures.
Many front ranking stars have little more than walk-on bits, and quite a few just make a brief appearance without even dialog. Mention must be made of a fine cameo from Laurence Olivier as a policeman who is the first to see the inventor’s moving picture.