This film is held by the BFI (ID: 59148).


"This C.O.I film is a Crown Film Unit Production of vital interest to all peace-loving peoples today, for the "Alien Orders" are those which Communism is giving to its adherents everywhere who are working for the overthrow of law and order and paving the way for an attempt at world domination. The scene of the film is Malaya - a key-point in the struggle in the East for which Britain is, of course, primarily responsible.

Communism has struck at the heart of Malaya. The mines and plantations, her very life blood, are being destroyed by a highly-organised, resourceful and ruthless enemy. The film shows how the alien orders are being resisted, countered and brought to nought. We see the police ceaselessly screening the uncountable people and finding among the millions the men with the alien guns and the alien orders. Troops are fighting with all the techniques of a modern campaign against the unseen enemy lurking in the silent stealth of the jungle. Those who live in Malaya are helping to protect Malaya. Thousads of volunteers are guarding tin mines and plantations. It is no minor colonial skirmish. It is war in deadly earnest.

But peace cannot be commanded with guns and flame-throwers. The future of Malaya lies in the hands of those who live there. To slacken pace would be to play the enemy's game. So work continues and the riches of Malaya are sent on their journeys to other lands so that Malaya and her people may prosper, so that decent people may live safely and sensibly and without fear of the shot in the street or the knife in the darkness." (COI synopsis)



In July 1950, the Colonial Office contacted the Films Division of the Central Office of Information asking them to ‘compile and complete, from material shot by the Crown Film Unit or obtainable from other sources, a film on the current operations in Malaya and Singapore’. The Colonial Office agreed to pay half of the initial budget of £1,500. The War Office initially offered to cover the remaining costs, but withdrew its sponsorship ‘when the scope of the film was decided’. Instead the remaining money came from the Foreign Office and Commonwealth Relations Office (‘Letter from Colonial Office to COI’, 17 July 1950, INF 6/996).

Alien Orders used footage from This Modern Age, from the Crown War Office picture Men of the World (1950), from BBC television coverage and, in particular, from Malayan Film Unit material. While the MFU produced films primarily for local audiences within Malaya, Alien Orders was intended, for the most part, for theatrical distribution within Britain, as the COI monthly release for March 1951. Initially, it was agreed that two versions of the film would be produced, each with a different commentary. The Colonial Office proposed that this second version ‘would be made for use by the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office in Asia and for distribution in colonial territories generally’. Although plans for a separate version were abandoned, Alien Orders did still play overseas. British Information Services, for example, distributed it non-theatrically within America (INF 6/996).

In March 1951, the month of Alien Orders’ cinema release, the Prime Minister Clement Attlee summoned Commissioner-General Malcolm MacDonald and Commander-in-Chief FARELF, Sir John Harding, to 10 Downing Street to discuss the ‘slow progress’ of the Briggs Plan within Malaya (Ramakrishna, 2002, 91). Lieutenant-General Harold Rawdon Briggs had arrived in Malaya to assume his post of Director of Operations in April 1950 and outlined a ‘counter-guerrilla’ strategy intended to bring the rural Chinese under government control, and to undermine terrorist morale. At the heart of his plan was the intensification of government propaganda, evident in the appointment in September 1950 of Hugh Carlton Greene as head of the Emergency Information Services. The production of Alien Orders, while intended primarily for British audiences, indicates the increasing prominence now afforded to film within the Emergency. However, the rhetoric and events depicted within the film make little reference to Briggs’ proposals and predate his arrival in Malaya.

The film includes a broadcast from Malcolm MacDonald (the son of the former PM Ramsay MacDonald) from July 1948 in which he discussed the attempt by ‘militant Communists’ to ‘establish gangster rule in Malaya’ (The Straits Times, 8 July 1948, 1). It also shows the murder of Dr Ong Chong Keng, a Federal Executive and Legislative Council member, on 31 August 1948. Speaking at the council a month earlier, Dr Ong had urged the ‘Chinese who are taking part in these activities to leave the country and go back to China’ (The Times, 2 September 1948, 4). Upon his murder, The Straits Times stated that he had been murdered ‘because, as is only too well known, he had all along been opposed to Communism and had not hesitated to denounce it’ (The Straits Times, 2 September 1948, 1). In relying on existing library material, the film shows events and broadcasts that may be deemed outdated within the context of the Emergency. However, The Straits Times did note the historical significance of Dr Ong Chong Keng’s murder in an article in April 1951. This murder ‘more than any other factor roused the people into realising the grim realities of terrorism’, it stated, marking the beginning of ‘Red terror in Penang’, and showing ‘at close range the cold blooded reality of the Communist menace’ (The Straits Times, 24 April 1951, 6).

Some of the policies presented within Alien Orders were still at the forefront of the Emergency campaign by March 1951, most notably the resettlement of rural Chinese communities. Although resettlement was in place ‘all over the western states’ by the start of 1950, Briggs championed and expanded these schemes after June 1950, moving 117,000 people in 82 Resettlement areas by January 1951 (Ramakrishna, 2002, 93, 94).

The film inevitably celebrates the British initiatives within Malaya, for example in presenting ‘Anti-Bandit Month’ as an unqualified success. Historian Kumar Ramakrishna offered an alternative view. ‘The utter bankruptcy of Government expertise in the area of spoken, printed and broadcast propaganda reached its nadir’, he wrote, ‘during the pointless endeavour called Anti-Bandit Month, which ran from 26 February to 5 April 1950’. While noting the perceived successes of the scheme, Ramakrishna argued that it made ‘no fundamental contribution’ to the counterinsurgency campaign, and had little effect in rural Chinese areas (Ramakrishna, 2002, 79,80). 



In an early sequence, Alien Orders introduces ‘honest citizen’ Dr Ong Chong Keng, who speaks to the audience (in a broadcast from 1948) on behalf of the Chinese. His words are followed by a gunshot, an image of a body on the floor and feet running away. Over this footage, the British commentator exclaims ‘Murder. Dr Ong Chong Keng has been murdered!’. This dramatised sequence is intended to shock the audience, and is one of a number of devices – along with the music, the rapid editing and imagery of police patrols, burning villages and rapid gunfire in the jungle – intended to rouse the viewer and to highlight the severity of the situation within Malaya.

In sensationalising these events, the film represents the Communists as an undemocratic minority terrorist group. They are depicted as mysterious and underhand – ‘unnamed group of unseen people’, the ‘perverse demand of communism’ – while the film uses the authority of a British statesman (Malcolm MacDonald) to denigrate the popular support of the Communists. MacDonald claims that Communist support is ‘infinitesimal’, while publicity reports emphasised the widespread popular support for the government: ‘alien orders are being resisted, countered and brought to nought’, ‘those who live in Malaya are helping to protect Malaya’. The film, publicity materials and reviews all highlighted the severity of the Emergency ­– ‘It is no minor colonial skirmish. It is war in deadly earnest’ – and within this context, the talk of ‘infinitesimal’ communist support appears unconvincing (INF 6/996, Film News, 1951). Furthermore, MacDonald’s broadcast was made three years prior to the film’s release, and evidently the situation had not improved within this period.

The film presents Communism as an ‘infection’ and the Communists as ‘anti-democracy’, operating not by a ‘majority of votes but by a majority of guns’. The film inevitably ignores questions and criticisms over the democratic nature of colonial rule, instead representing a clear division between good and evil. It makes no attempt to consider the reasons behind the insurgency, as Monthly Film Bulletin noted when complaining that the film ‘does not go very deeply into the motives for this sabotage: the fact that it may represent just another facet of the dogma “Asia for the Asians”, for instance, is not considered’ (MFB, 1951, 254). Certainly the film avoids suggesting that this is an ‘anti-colonial’ struggle, and very briefly dismisses any notion that this is a nationalist cause. Instead, the film appeals to an international audience, as it presents the conflict as part of a broader attack on ‘all peace-loving peoples today’ by Communists ‘working for the overthrow of law and order and paving the way for an attempt at world domination’ (INF 6/996). For British audiences, the film highlights the economic importance of Malaya, introducing this ‘lush land where they produce half the world’s rubber’ and a ‘third of the world’s tea’. Indeed, the film’s conclusion outlines the importance of the military campaign from an economic viewpoint, stating that ‘work must go on’ and that the ‘riches of the land’ will continue to be sent overseas.

Tom Rice (February 2010)


Works Cited

‘Alien Orders’, Film News (1952).

‘Alien Orders’, INF 6/996, accessed at the National Archives (PRO).

‘Alien Orders’, Monthly Film Bulletin, 18:204/215, 1951, 254.

Ramakrishna, Kumar, Emergency Propaganda: The Winning of Malayan Hearts and Minds 1948-1958 (Richmond: Curzon Press. 2002).

‘Reds Plot Malayan Revolution’, The Straits Times, 8 July 1948, 1.

‘Murder of Federal Councillor’, The Straits Times, 2 September 1948, 1.

‘The Red Canker in Penang’, The Straits Times, 24 April 1951, 6.

‘Terrorism In Malaya: Chinese Leader Murdered, Enemy Of Communism’, The Times, 2 September 1948, 4.




Technical Data

Running Time:
11 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
930 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Central Office of Information
Colonial Office
Foreign Office and Commonwealth Relations Office
ARNOLD, Malcolm
Production Company
Crown Film Unit