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  Arsenal Stadium Mystery, The The Head Says Arsenal
Year: 1940
Director: Thorold Dickinson
Stars: 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, Dennis Wyndham, David Keir, Johnnie Schofield
Genre: Comedy, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Arsenal Football Club are preparing for a charity match with top amateur team the Trojans, and as the amateurs have such a good reputation, the home side are keen to win, under the direction of manager George Allison (playing himself). However, while the teams prepare in their changing rooms, one of the Trojan's men hasn't turned up: he's Jack Doyce (Anthony Bushell) and he's currently in the back of a taxi with Gwen Lee (Greta Gynt) who he spent the night with. The fact that she's engaged to one of his fellow players doesn't bother him, but it will when the match gets underway and Doyce becomes the first man to be murdered at a football game - while playing!

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery is something of a curio nowadays, a window into a world that was left behind as the Second World War loomed in everyone's lives. It's worth noting that for all the players we see in the match shot for the purpose of the film's action scenes, they would be soon off to battle, and this way of life, if the film is any way accurate, was going to be overshadowed by tragedy and death for the people we see ("Britain Warns Hitler's Friends!" shouts a newspaper billboard, a sign of things to come). However, despite that bittersweet air, first and foremost this was a comedy thriller.

A comedy thriller that wasn't really about football, either, as it utilised the setting as a gimmick more than anything else. The match we do see is peppered with local colour, with what can best be described as a heckler calling out humorous insults from the sidelines and actual commentator E.V.H. Emmett narrating the game so that it smacks of authenticity. It all seems very polite, or at least it does until one of the players clutches at his chest and keels over. Yes, the Beautiful Game has just turned ugly and someone at the match is a murderer.

It's funny that elsewhere director Thorold Dickinson, who co-wrote the script, is best known (if at all) for the original and superior version of Gaslight and his adaptation of The Queen of Spades, but in Britain his best recalled work is now probably this thanks to the football connection and the way it turns up on television at regular intervals. Yet it's more accurately seen as a murder mystery, and what makes it entertaining above everything else is the presence of Leslie Banks as Inspector Slade, who is torn away from tutoring policemen in tutus for a stage show to take on the case.

The cherrity metch is rescheduled to Wednesday of that week, which gives Slade three days to solve the case: not because he wants to see the game, but because the stage show falls upon that date as well. It's Banks's eccentricities that provide much of the entertainment, as the thriller aspect is somewhat limp, especially when the star isn't in the scene. Elsewhere, Gynt frets that the police are after her, which they are, and her Swedish friend Inga (Liane Linden) does her best to keep them off her back, even putting Epsom Salts in their coffee. Of course it's one of the footballers who has poisoned Doyce, but which one? The womaniser didn't exactly make himself popular, yet Slade has just the right idea to go about catching him, he's so confident in fact that he doesn't stick around to make the arrest. Granted, it's historically interesting, but The Arsenal Stadium Mystery is also pretty good fun to boot.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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