THE ARSENAL STADIUM MYSTERY, 1940
Cast: Leslie Banks, Greta Gynt, Ian McLean and Anthony Bushell
In a friendly charity match between Arsenal and The Trojans one of the players on the Trojans side dies suddenly in the middle of a match. Inspector Anthony Slade (Leslie Banks) is called in to solve the mystery.
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This, only just pre-WWII, Thriller film is one of the most entertaining classical films on sport. In fact this was one of the first features to use football as its main subject. The film also makes use of quite a lot of very dry British humour, to the point where I wonder why it wasn’t billed as a Comedy/Thriller.
‘The Arsenal Stadium Mystery’ starts off with a friendly game between Arsenal, one of the most dominant teams in British football at the time, and The Trojans, a completely fictitious team. Arsenal score first but in the second half The Trojans score a goal, just prior to the collapse and death of one of their players, John Doyce (Anthony Bushell). The choreography for scenes like that are always complex, but it comes off perfectly in the film. There are a few points where you wonder why some players are just letting the ball go right past them but over all it looks just like a real game, this is helped by the fact that those playing extras in the film are actually Arsenal players and The Trojans are players from Brentford.
Obviously the team decides to call the police, when we cut to the scene in the police office we get the first in your face evidence for the odd comedy element in the film. The police are all dressed in Tutus and dancing to some fairy type music. It turns out that Detective Inspector Anthony Slade (Leslie Banks) is directing the performance. He constantly refers to the other policemen as ladies and at this point is camping up the character a bit. Inspector Slade is annoyed at receiving a phone call about the death because they only have four days left before the main dance performance. There is no greater staple in British humour than a man in a dress.
The character of Inspector Slade is much like a British 1930’s version of Columbo. He’s always being distracted by seemingly irrelevant and trivial objects and conversations. His main motivation appears to be to solve the crime before the big police dance performance. He also keeps changing hats, needing a different hat for thinking, arresting, driving, golfing, etc. All of this adds to the eccentricity of the character and the odd comedy of the film. Of course Leslie Banks turns in the best performance of all of the actors in the film. He is totally believable as the kind of inspector who is more intelligent and intuitive than he appears.
One of the most interesting points in the film is a montage which must have been very innovative at its time. Inspector Slade finds a Mortuary report that helps them with the case, however instead of reading through it every time a page is turned a character is super imposed over the top of the page and gives their account of what happened.
For those who care about football and/or history, this was the last game that Arsenal played before the outbreak of World War II.
As I have said above I don’t know why they billed this film as just a Thriller when really it can be taken more as a tongue in cheek comedy. At the climax of the film Inspector Slade leaves Sergeant Clinton (Ian McLean) to tie up the final loose end and catch the murder red handed, in more ways than one but I won’t ruin the ending for you, because Slade has to direct his tutu clad policemen for their big dance routine that night.
‘The Arsenal Stadium Mystery’ is in my opinion a good film, not great but if you enjoy football, classic cinema and British humour than I would recommend it. But there’s no rush.