The Arsenal Stadium Mystery


Rating 3½

Directed by Thorold Dickinson

Written by Patrick Kirwan and Donald Bull – adaptation by Thorold Dickinson and Alan Hyman, from an original story by Leonard Reginald Gribble

Starring Leslie Banks (Inspector Slade), Greta Gynt (Gwen Lee), Ian MacLean (Sergeant Clinton), Liane Linden (Inga Larson), Antony Bushell (John Doyce), Brian Worth (Philip Morring), Esmond Knight (Raille), Richard Norris (Setchley), Wyndham Goldie (Kindilett), Alastair Macintyre (Carter), David Keir (Dr Meadow), E V H Emmett (Himself), Tom Whittaker (Himself) and George Allison (Himself)

Arsenal, the most successful and celebrated professional football team in England, play a friendly against the Trojans, a (fictitious) amateur team. During the second half of the match, John Doyce, the newest addition to the amateur team’s side, collapses on the pitch and dies shortly afterwards. The flamboyant Inspector Slade of Scotland Yard is exasperated to be interrupted while producing rehearsals for the forthcoming Metropolitan Police charity show, but he discovers that Doyce has been poisoned and he has a murder enquiry to investigate.


Filmed in 1939 and released in February 1940, six months after Britain had entered the Second World War, ‘The Arsenal Stadium Mystery’ centres around a murder that takes place on the pitch during a friendly match involving the 1937/8 English championship winning Arsenal team. Several members of that Arsenal team appear in the film and there are speaking roles for Tom Whittaker, the team’s famous trainer, and George Allison, the team’s manager between 1934 and 1947. Two lines of dialogue spoken by Allison during the film, “They don’t play your game, they play the attacking game,” and “It’s one-nil to the Arsenal, that’s the way we like it,” seem to echo forward to the early 90s and the era of the dreaded “boring, boring Arsenal”, before the arrival of Arsène Wenger ion 1996.

There is some very appealing authenticity in the scenes of the match itself, some of which was filmed during the last league match Arsenal played (against Brentford FC in May 1939) before the outbreak of war. Leslie Banks plays the role of the investigating police inspector, an eccentric who keeps a selection of different hats close to hand to suit every occasion, with a twinkle in his eye and the film trundles along nicely, the identity of the killer eventually seeming not to matter very much. There is some unintentional comedy to be had from Liane Linden’s wildly wavering “Swedish” accent. Bizarrely, Linden was actually Swedish, although it’s hard to believe given her mangled accent in this film.

Leslie Banks was a popular film actor, both in Britain and Hollywood. His best known roles include the 1932 film ‘The Most Dangerous Game’, alongside Joel McCrea and Fay Wray, and Alfred Hitchcock’s first version of ‘The Man Who Knew Too Much’, made in 1934 and starring Peter Lorre. Greta Gynt was a Norwegian actress who appeared in British films in the 1930s and ‘40s and was initially promoted as a kind of British Jean Harlow. By the time of her death in London in 2000 at the age of 83 she had been retired from acting for 37 years and was almost completely forgotten.

Review posted 8 November 2009


No comments: