The Arsenal Stadium Mystery is one of those old-time whodunits that would normally disappear in the depth of film archives but for one redeeming grace: it has unique football scenes of Arsenal FC. It is also touted as the first feature film where football is a major part of the story.
Based on a popular 1939 mystery novel of the same name, the movie was released the same year. In the story, Arsenal plays a charity match against the Trojans, the best amateur team in the nation. During the game, a Trojan player falls dead on the field. The game is terminated and rescheduled for the following week, and Scotland Yard is called in.
Leslie Banks plays Inspector Slade, a clever but quirky detective more engrossed in the charity theater revue he is putting on and the hats he wears for different stages of an investigation. In classic film detective trope, the Inspector figures out that ladies man Doyce was poisoned, finds the weapon, lines up the suspects, and figures out how to identify the killer in the Wednesday makeup game. One of the key suspects is model Gwen Lee (Greta Gynt), who is having an affair with Doyce even though she is engaged to his teammate.
A snapshot of that football period
The soccer action is game footage from the last match played at Highbury Stadium before the advent of World War 2, between Arsenal and Brentwood FC. Much like in The Great Game, you get a feel for the crowds, the uniforms, the play, and even how football was filmed back then. I don’t know how authentic the stadium interiors are, such as the dressing rooms and the treatment room that separates them.
The film starts off in Arsenal’s smoke filled screening room, where various players, manager and staff are puffing away while watching the newsreel that will go out to theaters.
Another scene is in an Arsenal meeting room where real-life Arsenal manager George Allison plays himself conducting a strategy session with the team on how the Trojans will play. Unaware of this fact, I remember thinking during that scene that the actor must have really studied football in order to speak those lines so quickly and confidently. 🙂
Also, take note of the makeup of the Trojans — educated men whose careers include chemistry (the maker of the pharmaceutical poison), investors in the pharmaceutical project, and graphical design. No bakers or plumbers on this team!
I most enjoyed Banks’ performance as Inspector Slade, which was apparently a role that went against type. Though he’s only in half the film, Anthony Bushell drew my eye because of his resemblance to a young William Hurt.
I watched this film on youtube but had trouble understanding the audio, which was a bit muffled. If you can find a good copy to watch, The Arsenal Stadium Mystery is a sweet little detective classic, and if you’re really a soccer movie buff, you have to add it to your arsenal.
6 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 6
- Released: 1939-11 (UK)
- Director: Thorold Dickinson
- Stars: Leslie Banks , Anthony Bushell
- Watch 2 minutes from the movie