Cult Movies

Cult Movie Essentials: The Arsenal Stadium Mystery (1939)

The Arsenal Stadium Mystery is a 1939 British mystery film and one of the first feature films where football is a central element in the plot.  If this prospect fills you with dread, then worry not as there is plenty of murder mystery fun to keep you going. If you are a fan of ‘The Beautiful game’ then this film is gold.  There are several reasons to relish this curio. It was written and directed by Thorold Dickinson, Alfred Hitchcock’s assistant who would shoot “Gaslight” and “The Queen of Spades” before becoming Britain’s first professor of film.

The film is set, as the title suggests, at the Arsenal Stadium, Highbury, then the home of Arsenal Football Club, who were at the time the dominant team in English football. The backdrop is a friendly match between Arsenal and The Trojans, a fictitious amateur side. One of the Trojans’ players drops dead during the match, and when it is revealed he has been poisoned, suspicion falls on his teammates as well as his former mistress. Detective Inspector Slade is called in to investigate, played with tongue firmly in cheek by Leslie Bank. The Inspector is a decidedly eccentric character, one who sports a range of diverse headgear throughout.

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The film stars several Arsenal players and staff, although only manager George Allison has a speaking part.  This leaves the viewer to wander just how bad the staff and player must have been in rehearsals. The film was a massive plug for Arsenal; 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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