The Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1939) Poster

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Memorial to a club's greatest era
Oct26 May 2002
There are several reasons to relish this curio. It was a prentice work by Thorold Dickinson, the Hitchcock assistant and cutter who would shoot "Gaslight" and "The Queen of Spades" before becoming Britain's first professor of film. It is one of the earliest sports movies to feature real sportsmen- acting very woodenly, as befits stiff-upper-lip soccer stars. It is anchored by a mischievously eccentric performance by Leslie Banks, who a few years later was to be the magnificent Chorus of Olivier's "Henry V".

Above all, the film lets us glimpse pre-war Britain's, maybe the world's, leading football club. Arsenal FC, the "Gunners", had been raised to pre-eminence by Herbert Chapman, Britain's first modern soccer manager, until his untimely death in 1934. Five years later his team were still on top, coached by his deputy George Allison, who appears in the movie.

Highbury Stadium, the setting for the murder, was state of the art. The scene in the treatment room underlines Chapman's far-sighted, scientific approach to caring for his players. He was an early advocate of floodlights and numbered shirts, and even got the name of the local Tube station altered to advertise the Gunners. The film was a massive plug for them; alas, soon after its release the Second World War meant that the lads had to pick up real guns and compete in a more dangerous game. Afterwards Arsenal did not recover its top-of-the-tree status for 25 years. Unwittingly this production memorialises its greatest era.
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Interesting curio for soccer fans and vintage mystery lovers
lorenellroy13 June 2003
Arsenal Football Club were the leading lights of English soccer in the 1930's and this diverting ,and very British ,movie is an attempt to capitalise on the acclaim they rightly had --and still enjoy today.

A star member of an amateur team playing a charity match at the Arsenal ground in North London is killed and Scotland Yard is called in to investigate.The Inspector -played with tongue firmly in cheek by Leslie Banks-is a decidedly eccentric character ,one who sports a range of diverse headgear throughout .His methods are effective however and the case brought to a successful conclusion.

Thorold Dickinson directs with shrewd attention to detail and the movie while no masterpiece works as a murder mystery while the little utilised soccer background adds interest especially for students of the game curious to see how the media of the time treated "the beautiful game"

Guest slots from Arsenal stars of the period add interest.
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One to look out for from the old school.
Ricicle17 April 1999
The Arsenal Stadium Mystery is a largely forgotten black and whiter from the thirties. It covers the murder of a football player in the magnificent Highbury stadium in North London. The twist is that the murder is of a player who collapses during a match therefore making it difficult to work out whodunnit. Interesting for English football fans aswell as it stars some of the Arsenal players of the time; Arsenal being England's greatest football team of all time.
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Unassuming yet fascinating
Spondonman3 November 2007
I probably agree with most comments here: a good not great film but still interesting in so many ways, mainly from the historical perspective. The world depicted was on another planet - even though Britain was at war the lunatics would not start to take over the asylum for another 30 years or so.

Professional Arsenal take on the amateur Trojans in special football match attended by millions of blue-chins in macs and hats live on BBC radio, and even commentated by legendary voice E.V.H. Emmett borrowed from Gaumont. One of the Trojans, a bit of a womaniser with a lot of enemies falls down dead at the beginning of the second half and the game is abandoned and is simultaneously on to find out whodunit. Slade of Scotland Yard is on the case, an inspector with eccentric and disconcerting habits played fantastically by Leslie Banks in a variety of appropriate hats. Although thousands of the Arsenal fans who saw todays game at the Emirates probably live in houses built before 1940 the "beautiful game" seems to have changed almost beyond recognition - capitalist business pressures seem to have atrophied everything that was once decent about it. The footballers played and the hordes watched as though it was only a game and didn't matter - the rich thugs who go to work on the pitch today present a completely different picture! Anyone fancy going back and practising heading those leather footballs? Surely they would miss the legalised GBH and sliding about in each others phlegm and spit! The mystery itself was simple but well padded out and entertaining, and the acting abilities veered from adequately professional to woodenly amateur.

I never bothered taping or buying this because it's on UK Channel 4 every few years – I assume it's always been bought so regularly mainly as a laugh for hooligans by the schedulers and not just for film fans. Use the chance when they provide it to watch this enjoyable and decent film non-cynically instead.
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Not a great mystery but amusing and a real curio piece for football fans
bob the moo17 June 2003
Amateur team the Trojans are setting the world of English football alight by beating many of the top Division 1 teams in the country. However a friendly match against champions Arsenal will be a true test of their skill. The games starts well with Arsenal leading 1-0 (what else!) at half time. Minutes into the second half one of the Trojans collapses and is found to be dead. The police are called in and find that the player had not died of natural causes but was murdered, the investigation begins, led by Inspector Slade, who wants the whole thing done and dusted before his theatre performance with the police in 3 days time.

Another reviewer here has claimed that this film is `oft forgotten' however I must really disagree with them – this is a famous film that the vast majority of Arsenal fans will be aware of if not seen, outside of them many football fans will be aware of it. I know of it from listening to Danny Baker on the radio years ago talk about it, since then I have seen it twice as it is occasionally on TV here in the UK. It is a fantastic film in terms of curio value although it does stand up by itself in some ways.

As a mystery the film is OK and it has a pretty standard plot for this type of film, I have to be honest and say that the story didn't really grab me and the characters were too thinly developed to really care much about the victim or indeed, the killer. Strangely the film doesn't use Highbury as well as it should have done. The opening 10 minutes features a lot of play but aside from that it fades into the background a bit – personally I'd have liked a lot more of the action to have occurred in the stadium proper, more pitch side scenes would have been good (even in the empty stadium).

The football action is a mix of silly stuff and authentic style play. The silly stuff involves several staged runs where defenders are easily skipped by with little skill involved! However the game flows quite well and shows how much quicker the game today is, I found this very interesting because it has historical value to see football back then (even if it isn't a real game). The footballers in their real roles is interesting but I couldn't tell you their names so really it could have been anyone – the most obvious clue is that many of them cannot act for toffee and struggle to say a few lines convincingly (how things change eh?) but it did add to the film's charm. One of the most amusing thing about the film that I really hope is true is the gentle manner in which the crowd bullies the referee with friendly banter. At one point the referee comes over, talks to one of the crowd, gets a cheeky reply and gives a `get on' gesture! I wish it were really like that – it would certainly be much better than `who's the b*stard in the black' chanted over and over.

The film itself is saved from it's weaknesses by being actually quite funny and tongue in cheek throughout. This is all down to a great performance from Banks as Inspector Slade. He is very eccentric and just a little camp. He worries over the hat he wears, flaps around making many weird statements and is as concerned by his show as he is by the murder. His tongue in cheek delivery is perfect and it makes the film that much more enjoyable. It's hard to describe but he really is very good. His sidekick is good value as well playing the straight man well. The majority of the players (both Arsenal and Brentford Town) are OK but of more value in terms of history than performance – my favourite was the Arsenal chairman who acted well in his scenes.

Overall this isn't a great film and the mystery side of it could have been better, but the use of Highbury and the mock friendly played will make it of passing interest to the majority of football fans. However it is the enjoyable tongue-in-cheek humour (mainly from Bank's role) that makes this a much better film than it would have been if played straight!
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Amusing For Dubious Reasons
Theo Robertson17 January 2005
The dialogue at the start of THE ARSENAL STADIUM MYSTERY had me lost: " Inside left..wing backs ... five forwards " it wasn't until the manager of the home team said " The Trojans don't play like us , they have an attacking team " that I realised the plot involved Arsenal football club . It's strange watching this movie nowadays since the game has changed so much . In 1940 all footballers were

A ) White

B) Spoke Queen's English

C) Smoked a pipe .

While all supporters

A ) Engaged in cheeky banter with the ref

B ) Didn't sing foul mouthed songs

C ) Were members of British Equity .

But it's when a Trojan team member dies that the amusement really kicks off because the man leading the murder investigation is none other that Harry Enfield's Grayson character . No seriously he is , watch an edition of HARRY ENFIELD AND CHUMS and you'll see where the idea came from . There's even a subplot involving a Swedish blond which just goes to show that Sven Goran Erickson is much older than he looks .
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The last match
thejamiebuckland29 July 2003
Did you know that the game played at Highbury (The Arsenal Stadium,) before the outbreak of World War II, wasn't a big League match, an important FA Cup tie or even an International, it was in fact the game that was played in the film!!! Not alot of people know that! (But they do know now!)
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See it free at the NFT
robainsley23 June 2007
If you live within striking distance of London you can see the film free at the National Film Theatre on the South Bank by Waterloo. It's one of the hundreds of films in their permanent 'Mediatheque' suite, which you can turn up and view for free on one of the video consoles. Phoning up to book a slot is a good idea though.

Amusing and interesting stuff for anyone interested in footy history, or who remembers the Harry Enfield spoofs with affection.

I recall that George Allison's book 'Allison Calling' (?1948) discusses the making of the film, though I don't have my copy to hand.

Not much to add the other comments here, but don't a lot of the footy players in this film look so damn old? Not so much a dressing room as a Masonic Lodge.
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Combining Soccer and Murder
boblipton7 December 2018
During a charity match between the Arsenal and Trojans, one of the players collapses and dies. Initially it is thought bizarre, but it soon turns out to be murder by an unknown poison. Summon Leslie Banks, a Scotland Yard inspector with a different hat for every phase of the investigation, from his important job of directing a revue!

Banks gives an interesting and wide-ranging performance here, varying between almost clownish to menacing, offered as a deliberate choice for the investigation. He's most of the movie to me, but then, despite having played high-school soccer, I am bemused by the idea of it as a spectator sport, fiercely supported by rabid fans.

Nonetheless, that was the selling point of this movie, showing the team and staff of the Arsenal, then at the top of their standing among professional teams. About a dozen of the personnel appear, and the game itself was one played between Arsenal and Brentford, with interpolations from 'Varsity football.

I found the mystery itself rather dry and gimmicky compared to Banks' entertaining performance. However, I also have little doubt that fans of the game and of Arsenal will find this a fine time-capsule movie.
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a gripping mystery with a football background
kidboots26 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Thorold Dickinson, who directed the much superior 1940 version of "Gaslight", also directed this mystery, which was one of the first films where football played a very central part to the plot. It was Arsenal's last official league fixture before World War 11 and several of their players and staff were featured in the film. The Trojan players on the pitch were from Brentford football club.

The film begins with a promotional newsreel that introduces players from both Arsenal and the Trojans - both teams are watching but Trojan's star player is missing. John Doyce (Anthony Bushell) is a "swell head", who is romancing Gwen Lee (Greta Gynt - Britain's closest answer to a sex symbol in the 1940s) - but she is engaged to another player, Phillip.

As the game on Saturday progresses it is clear that Doyce wants to be the whole show and is not a team player - he is not popular among the other players. At half time he receives a diamond ring in a box - before the end of the match he is dead.

Enter the eccentric detective, Inspector Slade (Leslie Banks), who has been called away from organizing the annual policeman's panto to solve the murder of the philandering footballer. Meanwhile Gwen has gone to Doyce's flat collecting photos, letters and anything that may incriminate her. The police are anxious to find her and their search is made easy as she is a top model and her face is in every newspaper and magazine. They are hampered by Gwen's mysterious flatmate Inga (Liane Linden,a Swedish actress, who surprisingly made only a handful of films) who tries to throw them off the scent. Has she something to hide????

Everyone has a grudge against Doyce - he was also blackmailing some of his teammates. When Gwen is found dead, with a bottle of digitalis in her hand, Slade instantly suspects murder!!! With an ambiguous newspaper clipping about a body floating in the river Fosse, Slade feels that she was killed because she knew who murdered Doyce.

I thought it was an excellent mystery laced with comedy. I did not guess "who done it" but the person was found out in a very unusual way.

Did anyone notice the strange news poster that proclaimed "We Warn Hitler's British Friends"!!!

Leslie Banks is my favourite British actor. Even though his first film was the classic American horror film "The Most Dangerous Game", he also appeared to advantage in a couple of Alfred Hitchcock films - "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (1934) and "Jamaica Inn" (1939).

Highly Recommended.
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Very nostalgic for Arsenal fans of an age.
malcolmgsw15 June 2017
No I was not born when this film was made but I was a season ticket holder there between 1961 and 2006.I can confirm that this film faithfully reproduces the dressing room areas of the ground.I would like to correct factual errors by other reviewers.Firstly this was not the last game at the stadium before the outbreak of war.This was the game v Sunderland played on September 1939 when Arsenal beat Sunderland 3-1.However the game does not count in the records as the league season was abandoned with the outbreak of war.Secondly it did not take 25 years for Arsenal return to glory.They won the league in 1947 and 1953 and the cup in 1950.This is an a very enjoyable film,which is very nostalgic for Arsenal supporters who fondly remember Highbury.
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Unintentionally amusing, weak, but look out for the inspector!
acamera24 August 1999
When it was shot, the tie up this film made with 'the Arsenal'- using their stadium and some of their players- must have seemed a good idea. Now, sadly, the main selling point that gives the movie is the unintentional humour of the short brilliantined hair and big baggy football shorts.

The less said about the plot and the cinematography, the better!

Leslie Banks as Inspector Slade is, however, another matter. He plays a curious character who we meet rehearsing policemen in full uniform AND tutus for some sort of theatrical performance! Further, he has a large selection of different hats that he self-consciously picks from every time he has to go and perform some task; when he has to delegate an arrest to his sergeant, he even delegates the appropriate (fishing) hat to him also! Altogether, the character played is fascinating and odd: an English eccentric or a (coded- it is 1939!) gay characterization? Either way, it is Leslie Banks' playing that makes this film at all worth watching...
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Hard to Follow
StrawberryLynn16 September 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Very good film but very difficult to follow via a one-time view. You need to get to know the characters. I watched it a second time and constantly pressed the rewind button to understand what was going on. I also wrote down the names of the key characters to make things a bit easier for myself.

From what I could tell, the murder victim pricked himself on a sharp point on the ring, which contained poison. Towards the end, the murderer deliberately jabbed himself with the same ring when he realised that the game was up and would have died had the film continued a bit longer

Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea FC, is seen at the beginning of the film
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