These are films that are ostensibly set in Brighton but were probably not filmed in the city, except for establishing shots—and not always that, as the remarkable example of The Brighton Strangler illustrates. For the most part they are productions that have not seen the light of day (or projector) for many years and are difficult to check.
In chronological order
The Brighton Mystery
UK | b&w | silent | 24 minutes | 1924
Written and directed by Hugh Croise from a story, An Unparalleled Outrage, by Baroness Orczy
Starring Renιe Leslie and Rolf Wakefield
Fifth in a series called The Old Man in the Corner (mysteries in York, Kensington, Regent's Park and The Northern Mystery) made for Stoll Picture Productions by Croise in 1924, during which year he turned out 13 films.
To Brighton with Gladys (aka To Brighton with a Bird)
UK | b&w | 45 minutes | released February 1933
Starring Harry Milton, Constance Shotter and Gladys the penguin
Produced and directed by George King from a story by John Quin
A 'quota quickie' B feature made By Harry Cohen Productions at Ealing Studios; distributed by Fox Film Company.
The Gay Divorcee (1934)
USA | b&w | 45 minutes | released (US) 12 October 1934
starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
Directed by Mark Sandrich for RKO
Divorce scam story set in a luxury Sussex seaside ('Brightbourne') hotel. Best known for the songs The Continental and Night and Day.
It Began in Brighton
UK | b&w | 45 minutes | 1937
Directed by and starring Rita Waterhouse
The act of a trapeze quartet is sabotaged. A quota quickie. Also features Irene Handl. Identified in one source as having music by Georges Delerue (who was 12 at the time). Details about this film are sketchy and raise doubts.
Inspector Hornleigh on Holiday
UK | b&w | 90 minutes | 1939 (released 12 January 1940)
Featuring Gordon Harker, Alastair Sim, Linden Travers, Edward Chapman, Wally Patch, Wyndham Goldie; uncredited: Michael Denison (first film), Derek Farr, Irene Handl, Peter Bull, Megs Jenkins
Written by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat
Director by Walter Forde for Twentieth Century-Fox
One of the Inspector Hornleigh crime trilogy. The inspector and his sergeant spend a rain-swept holiday in Brighton (Brighthaven), where they become involved in investigating murder and fraud.
One line of dialogue was cut on instruction from the US Production Code Administration (PCA). The US release ran for only 77 minutes, so clearly other cuts were made.
Launder was educated in Brighton and acted with the Brighton Repertory Company while working for the Official Receiver of Bankruptcy.
Bank Holiday (US title: Three on a Weekend)
UK | b&w | 86 minutes | released 27 January 1938 (US: 3 June 1938)
Features John Lodge, Margaret Lockwood, Hugh Williams, Linden Travers, Kathleen Harrison, Wilfrid Lawson, Felix Aylmer, Michael Rennie (uncredited)
Directed by Carol Reed
Produced by Edward Black for Gainsborough Pictures; distributed by Gaumont British
A typical English summer bank holiday at the seaside. One storyline concerns an unmarried couple enjoying a sexual relation that the film argued was acceptable if they loved each other. For this reason the film was initially deemed in violation of the US censor guidelines and thus unsuitable for release, although the head of Production Code Administration (PCA), Joseph I Breen, declared it 'a very, very good picture'. It was re-edited, with the removal of 1,450 feet, retitled and passed for release in a version running 72 minutes.
Stanley and Livingstone
US | b&w | 101 minutes | released (US) 18 August 1939
Starring Spencer Tracy, Nancy Kelly, Richard Greene, Walter Brennan, Charles Coburn, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Henry Travers, Miles Mander
Directed by Henry King (and Otto Brower in Africa)
Produced by Darryl F Zanuck for Twentieth Century-Fox
An epic about American journalist Henry M Stanley's expedition to find Scottish missionary Dr David Livingstone and the aftermath of Stanley's reception, made with an estimated budget of $2m.
There is a four-second shot of the Royal Pavilion, shot in August 1937.
On his return from Africa, Stanley lectured in Brighton about his experinces in Africa, which features in the film. See First feature film for the full account.
Millions Like Us
UK | b&w | 103 minutes | released 15 November 1943
Starring Patricia Roc, Gordon Jackson, Anne Crawford, Eric Portman, Basil Radford, Naunton Wayne
Written and directed by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat
Recurring characters Charters and Caldicott (Radford and Wayne) lay mines on Brighton beach (probably shot at Eastbourne).
The film was passed for US release by the Production Code Administration on condition the word 'hell' be deleted throughout.
The Brighton Strangler
USA | b&w | 67 minutes | released (US) 10 May 1945
Starring John Loder, June Duprez, Miles Mander.
Directed by Max Nosseck for RKO Radio Pictures
An actor playing the role of the Brighton Strangler is injured in an air raid on London and carries on playing the part in real life, which for all its staginess is more real than the Hollywood version of Brighton, with its rugged coastline straight out of Hitchcock's Rebecca (view from a seafront hotel, above), its 'Lord Mayor', who is murdered outside his home in 'Hove Terrace', and Inspector Allison is murdered at his home in 'Rottingdean Way'. There are not even any library shots to set the scene in Brighton. Interestingly, a local cinema is showing a newsreel of the funeral of the mayor. A first class single rail ticket from London Victoria to Brighton costs 12s 9d. However, the persons who buy return tickets to Ditchling and Rottingdean are likely to be disappointed; there never were railway stations in Ditchling or Rottingdean.
Inspector Allison is a member of the 'Sussex Constabulary Brighton Division' (yet is responsible to Scotland Yard), which may appear to be an error. In fact, at that time during the war, the Brighton police force was part of the merged Sussex Constabulary.
Pink String and Sealing Wax
UK | b&w | 89 minutes | 1945 (released 7 January 1946)
Starring Mervyn Johns, Googie Withers, Gordon Jackson, Jill Ireland, Sally Ann Howes
Directed by Robert Hamer
Produced by Michael Balcon for Ealing Studios
A Victorian melodrama, adapted from a stage play written by Brighton-born Roland Pertwee. He also adapted it for ABC Television's Armchair Theatre, transmitted on 28 February 1960 with Edward Chapman and Judi Dench in the leading roles.
An entirely studio-bound production of with the exception of a shot at the end purporting to show the beach at Brighton as rocky outcrops at the foot of a long and precipitous drop (cf, The Brighton Stranger). At least the railings look vaguely familar.
When submitted to the US Production Code Administration in script form in November 1947, it was rejected because it showed details of a crime and ended with a suicide. It was released by Pentagon Pictures without receiving a PCA Seal of Approval.
Mrs Fitzherbert (aka Princess Fitz)
UK | b&w | 99 minutes | 1947 (released in US 10 May 1950)
Starring Peter Graves, Joyce Howard, Lesie Banks
Written and directed by Montgomery Tully from a novel by Winifred Carter for British National Films
The romance of the Prince Regent and Mrs Fitzherbert
Shot at National Studios, Borehamwood; distributed by Pathι (UK), Stratford Pictures (US).
UK | b&w | 91 minutes | released 1 June 1948
Starring Michael Rennie, Moira Lister, Faith Brook
Written by Peter Cheyney from his novel
Directed by Vernon Sewell for British National Pictures
Private eye crime movie. One setting is the Mardene Club. One of the Brighton police is played by an actor called George Street.
Good Time Girl
UK | b&w | 92 minutes | released (UK) 28 April 1948, (US) 11 May 1950
Starring Jean Kent, Dennis Price, Herbert Lom, Flora Robson, Diana Dors
Written by Muriel Box, Sydney Box and Ted Willis from the novel Night Darkens the Streets by Arthur La Bern
Directed by David MacDonald for Sydney Box Productions
Crime drama, characterised by the US Production Code Administration as 'the story of a fifteen-year-old girl who engages in one adulterous and two illicit sex affairs'.
The US release, after various revisions—including cuts of 1,000 feet—had been rejected by the Production Code Administration, was finally allowed. It was subject to further heavy censorship in Pennsylvania.
Released on VHS in the USA in 2005 by R&B Video.
The Magic Box
UK | Technicolor | 118 minutes | released 18 September 1951
Starring Robert Donat, Laurence Olivier, Richard Attenborough, Michael Redgrave and almost everyone who was anyone in British film at the time
Written by Eric Ambler from Ray Allister's biography Friese-Greene, Portrait of an Inventor
Directed by John Boulting for Festival Film Productions
An unreliable but enjoyable biopic about William Friese-Greene (played by Donat) and the invention of cinematography.
Made for for the Festival of Britain but finally released only two weeks before its end.
UK | Eastmancolor | 113 mins | 1954 (released in US 1 October 1954)
Cast: Stewart Granger, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Ustinov, Robert Morley, James Donald, James Hayter, Rosemary Harris
Directed by Curtis Bernhardt for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
The Regency dandy and his relationship with the Prince Regent. Plausible studio mock-ups of the Royal Pavilion but no actual footage of Brighton.
The film had troubles with the US censor, the Production Code Administration because of the apparent justification of the immoral relationship between the Prince Regent and Mrs Fitzherbert, because a steward at a gentlemen's club had the manner of a 'sex pervert', because the prince checks the gender of a dog and use of the word 'damme'. Changes were made but the running time remained the same.
One that got away...
Les Jumeaux de Brighton (1936)
It would be nice to include this, if only because the script was written by Robert Bresson early in his career (from a play by Tristan Bernard), directed by Claude Heyman and starred Michel Simon and Raimu. But although it concerns some twins from Brighton, it appears to be set in Le Havre.