Another day at the army base for Captain Harper (Brian Reece), and another day of hearing that same tune played by the marching band led by Lieutenant Cartroad (Tony Hancock) who is intent on practicing at every possible opportunity for the big contest that is drawing nearer. As Harper enters the officer's mess, he is accosted by Veronica (June Thorburn), the daughter of the Colonel (Raymond Huntley), who is sort of his girlfriend. Despite this, when she asks him to take her into the village to meet the American film company there he refuses - but those moviemakers will be the source of much confusion...
That is because they want to use the base to shoot their latest science fiction epic there, something about invading Martians although if you can actually work out what that plot is meant to be, you're a better man than I - or a better Martian. Orders are Orders was a remake of an earlier film from the thirties, Orders is Orders (notice the subtle difference there), which in turn was based on a play, but if anyone who has seen both has a preference, they'll probably go for the first version.
Yet this one has features of interest, and they all rest on that cast, including as it does some stars who would become mainstays of the British comedy scene for years to come. In the credits it says that one Eric Sykes was responsible for additional dialogue, and one must assume that he wrote the handful of amusing lines, for there's not much to laugh at here. Sykes, then best known for his career in radio comedy scripting, is rewarded with a short scene here that saw him make his screen debut - he's the one with the cymbals.
Achieving larger roles are some other notables, such as Hancock also making his debut and presumably affording many radio fans their first chance to see him in action rather than simply hearing him, and he is well cast, wringing some humour out of material that was beneath his talents. Also worth mentioning was Peter Sellers, who frustratingly shares no scenes with Hancock, but suggests the producers were trawling the BBC for their cast; Sellers here is dimwitted and along with Bill Fraser has to wear one of the least flattering costumes of his career when cast as an extra in the sci-fi film.
Look out, too for Donald Pleasence (his name gets possibly the worst misspelling he ever received in the end credits) in a bit part. If Orders are Orders sounds better off as a film for star spotters than as a riproaring gagfest, then sad to say that's true, as while the plot is busy with incident, it does grow longwinded by the time it is trying to sort out all of the narrative threads it has conjured up. Sid James plays the director with one of his ill-advised American accents, and if you're unsure of his character's name it gets helpfully repeated about five billion times by the others. The trappings of the film within the film are entertaining, and it does go to illiustrate how the one thing better than showbiz for soldiers in nineteen-fifties Britain was the opposite sex, but it runs round in circles without really getting anywhere. Music by Stanley Black.