Arsenal Stadium Mystery, The (1939)

UK / 83 minutes / bw / D and P, G&S, GFD Dir: Thorold Dickinson Pr: Josef Somlo Scr: Thorold Dickinson, Alan Hyman, Patrick Kirwan, Donald Bull Story: Leonard Reginald Gribble Cine: Desmond Dickinson Cast: Leslie Banks, Greta Gynt, Ian McLean, Liane Linden, Anthony Bushell, Esmond Knight, Brian Worth, Richard Norris, Wyndham Goldie, Alastair MacIntyre, George Allison, Tom Whittaker, E.V.H. Emmett, Bruce Winston, Maire O’Neill.

Arsenal Stadium Mystery - 0 in rear, a sign of the times

On the wall behind, a sign of the times.

On the eve of World War II, Arsenal—the UK’s champion professional football/soccer club (and a giant of football history)—mounts a friendly charity match against gifted amateur side the Trojans, who have been scalping quite a few of the major professional teams. Most of the then Arsenal side have minor roles, and all of them play during the on-field extracts. (In those of the extracts where the opposition seems competent, the opposing team was in fact Brentford Football Club, playing against Arsenal for real in a league match.) George Allison, then the team’s manager, has a fairly central role (as himself), and for the most part fulfills it more than adequately; Tom Whittaker, the club’s trainer, and the soccer commentator E.V.H. Emmett likewise play themselves in non-negligible roles.


Arsenal Stadium Mystery - 1 Gwen Lee and Jack Doyce

Gwen Lee (Greta Gynt) wants to end her fair with heartless lothario Jack Doyce (Anthony Bushell).

At half-time Doyce receives a small, anonymous, gift-wrapped packet, which proves to contain a diamond ring. He pricks himself on it when pulling it from its wrapping, but thinks nothing of the trivial injury. However, a few minutes following the restart of play, he clutches his chest and falls to the ground, dying soon after.

Arsenal Stadium Mystery - 2 George Allison  EVH Emmett

Arsenal’s manager George Allison  and sports commentator E.V.H. Emmett playing themselves in the commentary box.

Gwen Lee (Gynt), fashion-model girlfriend of Trojan player Philip Morring (Worth), has been two-timing him with a new addition to the side, John “Jack” Doyce (Bushell), but has told Doyce the affair must end. As she and her flatmate Inga Larson (Linden) watch the game, it’s quite obvious to us—even if not to Inga—that Gwen’s still infatuated with the cad.

Arsenal Stadium Mystery - 3 mid-pitch, Jack Doyce collapses

Jack Doyce (Anthony Bushell) collapses mid-pitch.


Arsenal Stadium Mystery - 4 'It's poison EXCLAM'

The lethal puncture on Doyce’s thumb.

Onto the scene sweep the quirky, rather camp (although it’s hard to imagine a UK movie of this era having a gay hero!) Inspector Anthony Slade (Banks) of the Yard and his straight-man sidekick Sergeant Clinton (McLean). They have a profusion of suspects, from Gwen—whose behavior as she tries to cover up her infidelity is obviously suspicious—to members of the Trojans team:

  • George Raille (Knight), whose place in the side Doyce took, and who is quite open about loathing the man for the disgusting way he treats women;
  • Trojan player Dick Setchley (Norris), whose day job is as a microchemist and who has developed the experimental poison, Digitalin-6, that killed Doyce (Setchley says the stuff was stolen from his lab, but . . .);
  • Philip Morring, who’s been known to have violent rows with Doyce and who may, though he says otherwise, have discovered the truth about Gwen;
  • Francis “Frank” Kindilett (Goldie), the Trojan trainer, whose daughter—we eventually discover—drowned herself a few years ago after an involvement with Doyce.

After Gwen is found murdered we even suspect—although Slade never entertains the notion—that the killer could be Inga, who’s visibly madly in love with Philip. The solution to the mystery, when it finally comes, involves not so much ratiocination as the setting of a high-tech trap. This may be why there’s a feeling, when the culprit is revealed, that his identity was determined almost by the toss of a coin.

Even so, this is a pretty good detective story laboring under the burden of a surfeit of comic “business”—mainly in the character of Slade, who’s depicted as caring more about rehearsing male plods in tutus for the upcoming Met charity show than about catching the killer. His primary idiosyncracy is putting on a different hat for each of his activities—a fishing hat for making arrests in, a Turkish smoking cap for thinking in, etc. Side-splitting stuff for the younger members of the audience. There are, however, a couple of pleasing comic cameos by others: a composer (Winston), who has the flat next to the dead man’s, and Philip’s housekeeper Budge (O’Neill).

Arsenal Stadium Mystery - 5 Insp Slade & Sgt Clinton

Inspector Slade (Leslie Banks) and Sergeant Clinton (Ian McLean) offer far too  much by way of “comic” relief.

Linden, a Swedish actress, made this movie, her debut, plus another half-dozen in her homeland before 1944; she thereafter had a minor role in Moln över Hellesta (1956; vt Moon Over Hellesta) and then a couple of bit parts in 1963 . . . and that was the sum total of her movie career. Her theater career lasted a few years longer, ending in 1967. She became an award-winning copywriter and then eventually a social worker. We can only assume that her movie career was a casualty of World War II, because she’s excellent here as the demure flatmate whose brunette attractiveness manages somehow to stand up well against Gynt’s far more ostentatious blonde-bombshell beauty.

Arsenal Stadium Mystery - 6 Gwen and flatmate Inga

Gwen Lee (Greta Gynt) and her flatmate Inga Larson (Liane Linden).

Dickinson achieved distinction as a screenwriter, film editor, director and scholar of cinema. Possibly his best-known movie as director is one that MGM shamefully tried to suppress, GASLIGHT (1940), the first—and in the eyes of this commentator the better—big-screen version of the Patrick Hamilton play. Also of noirish interest is Dickinson’s The SECRET PEOPLE (1952).

Arsenal Stadium Mystery - 7 Gwen, done for by Digitalin-6

The last we see of Greta Gynt — for this movie, at least.



On The Arsenal Stadium Mystery

6 thoughts on “Arsenal Stadium Mystery, The (1939)

  1. I definitely want to see this one John!!! Definitely. No less than an authority than Martin Scorsese himself has praised Dickinson as a passionate and gifted artist, and we know he directed the 1940 GASLIGHT and the minor classic THE QUEEN OF SPADES nine years later. As you note THE SECRET PEOPLE is another essential in his output. The leading performance of Leslie Banks would be enough in itself, but it is clear there is much more here, including the subject of soccer. I see I can it on amazon for very little. Terrific review–really a special piece here!

    • This, by contrast with my comment on The Banker, certainly is worth trying to see. It’s by no means a great movie, but it’s a truly fascinating curio. Gynt’s not at her peak here but she’s still fine (I’ll soon be posting about The Ringer, where she basically wipes everyone else off the screen, even Herbert Lom), while Linden, after a faltering start, is a revelation. So, too, is Allison!

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