Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Magic Box (1951)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Magic Box (1951, UK)

In director John Boulting's biopic drama with two major flashbacks (one from a second wife's point of view, and one from the POV of the main character) - about a British pioneer in cinematic history:

  • the extraordinary moving sequence in which the pioneering, British inventor of the movie camera - obsessed photographer William Friese-Greene (Robert Donat), urged a helmeted Police Constable 94-B (Laurence Olivier) passing on the street to come up to his room - he spoke excitedly to the Constable: ("Come quickly! Come on, come and see...I've got something to show you, something I've done. You must come and see!..I feel I've simply got to show someone")
  • inside the apartment, the inventor instructed the wary Constable to sit down for a demonstration, and to turn out his flashlight ("lamp"); then he was told: "Now, watch that white sheet" (a hanging white cloth sheet), although the Constable nervously grabbed for his nightstick; Friese-Greene began to proudly show off his first triumphant film screen projection; he started to hand-crank his device (with a loud mechanical clicking noise), to display 'moving pictures' of Hyde Park taken during an afternoon visit; after the brief demonstration, the Constable was amazed and dumbfounded - he remarked: "That was Hyde Park. I recognized it. Where's it come from? And where's it gone to?" - he looked behind the white sheet
Friese-Greene Hand-Cranking the Projector
Constable: "That Was Hyde Park. I recognized it"
Looking Behind the White Sheet 'Screen'
  • Friese-Greene's answer as he pointed at his marvelous machine: "It's all here. Here, look! That's where the Hyde Park you saw is. Like a magic lantern"; he then explained the principle of the 'moving' pictures, including the development of a strip of celluloid film over many years and other technical details: ("Yes, it moved, didn't it, ha? Now look, look at this strip of celluloid film. It took me years to get to that. Years. That's the secret. Dozens of snapshots of Hyde Park. That's what it's called. It comes from this spool over these rollers, that's for tension. You've gotta have tension, under this second spool down here. Now, look in the middle. It's a bit like a magic lantern, but instead of one picture at a time, you see eight or more pictures every second, and that's what you see on that sheet there. Eight pictures every second, and they're all merged together into one moving, living picture! See? Ha! Of course, there's a bit more to it than that, that! I'm not saying it's perfect. Far from it, but it works! God be praised. It works, doesn't it? You can see that" - he became tearfully joyful about his accomplishments: "You know, it's a quite extraordinary feeling, something you've been wondering about and dreaming about for 15 years. And then, all of a sudden, it's there. It's in your hands, with a life of its own")
  • the Constable made a congratulatory exclamation: ("You must be a very happy man, Mr. Friese-Greene")
  • in the film's conclusion, set in 1921 at a London film industry business conference, the aged and impoverished Friese-Greene delivered a short speech in front of the audience: ("Gentlemen, I am not a businessman, no.... You know, when this business was a fairground sideshow, I suppose you could only speak of it in terms of pounds, shillings, and pence....Only a few of us could see then it would become a sort of universal language, and it has become that, you see. And this universal language that could say great things - oh dear, it so often babbles and drivels so foolishly. It does, you know. I mean, that in time, the world, well, it'll tire of it....If the film does not grow up with its audience, then it will die. You know, it's only in the nursery that children fight and destroy the things in their hands. The film is in your hands, and you may not behave like children. YOU MUST NOT DESTROY IT! Don't! It's, it's very easy to be good businessmen. It's so difficult to grow up. So difficult, and --- and so, I ask you, I - ask you to work together. All my life, gentlemen, I - I have tried. There's so much to hope for, so much. There is - I have tried"
  • when he meandered and became incoherent, Friese-Greene was forced to return to his seat, where he became delirious (hearing voices from his past), collapsed onto the floor and died; a film canister fell to the floor from his hands; as his pockets were emptied of their contents, the items were placed on a table: his film canister, spectacles, a pawn ticket for some cuff links, a prism, and "one and ten pence - just the price of a seat at the pictures"
Friese-Greene's Final Speech Before His Death

William Friese-Greene (Robert Donat)

A Demonstration For Police Constable 94-B (Laurence Olivier)

Screen Projection of a 'Moving Picture'

"And then, all of a sudden, it's there"

Constable: "You must be a very happy man..."

After His Death - The Contents of His Pockets Were Set on a Table


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