Midnight Express (film)

Midnight Express (film)
For the 1924 silent film, see The Midnight Express (film).
Midnight Express

French theatrical poster
Directed by Alan Parker
Produced by Alan Marshall
David Puttnam
Written by Oliver Stone
Story by Billy Hayes (book)
William Hoffer (book)
Starring Brad Davis
Randy Quaid
John Hurt
Paul L. Smith
Irene Miracle
Music by Giorgio Moroder
Cinematography Michael Seresin
Editing by Gerry Hambling
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) October 6, 1978
Running time 121 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget US$ 2,300,000

Midnight Express is a 1978 American film directed by Alan Parker and produced by David Puttnam. It is based on Billy Hayes's 1977 book and was adapted into the screenplay by Oliver Stone. It starred Brad Davis, Irene Miracle, Bo Hopkins, Paolo Bonacelli, Paul L. Smith, Randy Quaid, Norbert Weisser, Peter Jeffrey and John Hurt. Hayes was a young American student sent to a Turkish prison for trying to smuggle hashish out of Turkey. The movie deviates from the book's accounts of the story – especially in its portrayal of Turks – and some have criticized the movie version, including Billy Hayes himself. Later, both Stone and Hayes expressed their regret on how Turkish people were portrayed in the movie.[1] The film's title is prison slang for an inmate's escape attempt. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rated the film "R".[2]



On October 6, 1970, a U.S. citizen named Billy Hayes is arrested by Turkish police, on high alert due to fear of terrorist attacks, as he is about to fly out of Istanbul with his girlfriend. He is found to have several bricks of hashish taped to his body — about two kilograms in total — and arrested. After a while, a shadowy American (who is never named, but is nicknamed 'Tex' by Billy due to his thick Texan accent) arrives, takes Billy to a police station and translates for Billy for one of the detectives. On questioning Billy tells them that he bought the hash from a taxicab driver, and offers to help the police track him down in exchange for his release. Billy goes with the police to a nearby market and points out the cab driver, but when the police go to arrest the cabbie Billy makes a run for it. He gets cornered in a building and is recaptured by the mysterious American. Billy is sentenced to four years and two months' imprisonment on the charge of drug possession. He is sent to Sağmalcılar prison to serve out his sentence. He meets and befriends other Western prisoners in the remand centre.

In 1974, Billy's sentence is overturned by the Turkish High Court in Ankara after a prosecution appeal (the prosecutor originally wished to have him found guilty of smuggling and not possession), and he is ordered to serve at least a 30-year term for his crime. His stay becomes a living hell: terrifying and unbearable scenes of physical and mental torture follow one another; bribery, violence and insanity rule the prison.

In 1975 Billy's girlfriend, Susan, comes to see him and is devastated at what the guards have done to him. However, she leaves him a scrapbook with money hidden inside as "a picture of your good friend Mr. Franklin from the bank," hoping Billy can use it to help him escape. When he is committed to the prison's insane asylum, Billy again tries to escape, this time by attempting to bribe the head guard to take him to the sanitarium where there are no guards. Instead the guard takes Billy past the sanitarium to another room and attempts to rape him. Billy ends up killing the brutish and sadistic guard, puts on an officer's uniform and manages his escape by walking out of the front door. In the epilogue it is explained that on the night of October 4, 1975 he successfully crossed the border to Greece, and arrived home three weeks later.



Although the story is set largely in Turkey, the movie was filmed almost entirely at Fort Saint Elmo in Valletta, Malta, after permission to film in Istanbul was denied. Background shots of Istanbul were made by a small crew pretending to shoot footage for a cigarette commercial.[citation needed] However, ending credits of the movie state: "Made entirely on location in Malta and recorded at EMI Studios, Borehamwood by Columbia Pictures Corporation Limited 19/23 Wells Street, London, W1 England."

The making of the film, I'm Healthy, I'm Alive, and I'm Free, was released in 1977.

Differences between the book and the film

There are some differences between the cinematic and literary versions of Midnight Express:

  • In the movie, Billy Hayes is in Turkey with his girlfriend when he is arrested, whereas in the original story he is alone.
  • The attempted rape scene was fictionalized. Billy Hayes never claimed to have suffered any sexual violence at the hands of his Turkish wardens. He did engage in consensual sex while in prison, but the film depicts Hayes rejecting the advances of a fellow prisoner.
  • The scene where Billy attempts to escape and is recaptured by 'Tex', the shadowy American agent, did not happen. 'Tex' was a real person Billy encountered after his arrest, who indeed pulled a gun on him, but that was when he attempted to sneak out of the police car they were riding in from the Istanbul airport to the police station. But in the book's account Tex drove Billy to the police station and Billy never saw him again. It was another policeman who translated for Billy during his interrogation.
  • Although Billy Hayes did spend a few months in the prison's psychiatric hospital in 1972, Hayes never bit out anyone's tongue or engaged in the violent fight scene depicted, which led to him being committed to the section for the criminally insane in the film.
  • In the book's ending, Hayes was moved to another prison on an island from which he escapes, eventually by swimming across the lake.[3] In the movie this passage is replaced by a violent scene in which he unwittingly kills the head guard who is preparing to rape him. In reality, Hamidou, the sadistic guard, was killed in 1973 by a recently paroled prisoner, who spotted him drinking tea at a café outside the prison and shot him eight times.


Midnight Express – Music From The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by Giorgio Moroder
Released October 6, 1978
Genre Disco
Length 37:00
Label Casablanca Records
Producer Giorgio Moroder
Professional reviews

The reviews parameter has been deprecated. Please move reviews into the “Reception” section of the article. See Moving reviews into article space.

Giorgio Moroder chronology
"From Here to Eternity"
"Midnight Express"
"Music from "Battlestar Galactica" and Other Original Compositions"

Released on October 6, 1978, the soundtrack to Midnight Express was composed by Italian synth-pioneer Giorgio Moroder. The score won the Academy Award for Best Original Score of 1978.

Side A:

  1. ChaseGiorgio Moroder (8:24)
  2. Love's Theme – Giorgio Moroder (5:33)
  3. Theme from Midnight Express (Instrumental) – Giorgio Moroder (4:39)

Side B:

  1. Istanbul Blues (Vocal) – David Castle (3:17)
  2. The Wheel – Giorgio Moroder (2:24)
  3. Istanbul Opening – Giorgio Moroder (4:43)
  4. Cacophoney – Giorgio Moroder (2:58)
  5. Theme from Midnight Express (Vocal) – Chris Bennett (4:47)


Midnight Express was generally well-received by critics. At the film review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, 95% of film critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 20 reviews.[4]

Negative criticisms focused mainly on its unfavorable portrayal of Turkish people. In Mary Lee Settle's 1991 book Turkish Reflections, she writes, "The Turks I saw in Lawrence of Arabia and Midnight Express were like cartoon caricatures, compared to the people I had known and lived among for three of the happiest years of my life."[5] When the Lights Go Down criticizes the film as well, saying, "This story could have happened in almost any country, but if Billy Hayes had planned to be arrested to get the maximum commercial benefit from it, where else could he get the advantages of a Turkish jail? Who wants to defend Turks? (They don’t even constitute enough of a movie market for Columbia Pictures to be concerned about how they are represented)".[6] One reviewer writing for World Film Directors wrote, "Midnight Express is 'more violent, as a national hate-film than anything I can remember', 'a cultural form that narrows horizons, confirming the audience’s meanest fears and prejudices and resentments'".[7]

David Denby of New York criticized the film as "merely anti-Turkish, and hardly a defense of prisoners' rights or a protest against prison conditions".[8] Denby said also that all Turks in the movie – guardian or prisoner – were portrayed as "losers" and "swines" and that "without exception [all the Turks] are presented as degenerate, stupid slobs".[8]

Turkish Cypriot film director Dervis Zaim wrote a thesis at Warwick University on the representation of Turks in the film, where he concluded that the one-dimensional portrayal of the Turks as "terrifying" and "brutal" served merely to reinforce the sensational outcome and was likely influenced by such factors as Orientalism and Capitalism.[9]

Awards and nominations

Midnight Express won Academy Awards for Best Music, Original Score (Giorgio Moroder) and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Stone). It was also nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (John Hurt), Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Picture.

The film was also entered into the 1978 Cannes Film Festival.[10]


An amateur interview with Hayes appeared on YouTube,[11] recorded during the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, in which he described his experiences and expressed his disappointment with the film adaptation.[12] In an article for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Hayes was reported as saying that the film "depicts all Turks as monsters."[13]

When he visited Turkey in 2004, screenwriter Oliver Stone, who won an Academy Award for the film, made an apology for the portrayal of the Turkish people in the film.[14] He "eventually apologised for tampering with the truth."[15]

Alan Parker, Oliver Stone and Billy Hayes were invited to attend a special film screening with prisoners in the garden of an L-type prison in Döşemealtıas, Turkey as part of the 47th Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival in October 2010.[16]

In popular culture

  • In the The Simpsons' seventh episode of season three, "Treehouse of Horror II" (which aired on October 31, 1991), Lisa dreams that the family is vacationing in Marrakech. When they board the plane to go home Homer is stopped and searched while grim and suspenseful music plays. Homer's shirt is examined and reveals that he has taped souvenirs to his body as officers hold him at gunpoint in a reference to the film's arrest scene. An officer tells him he must "pay a fine of two American dollars," to which Homer happily replies, "O.K."
  • In an episode of SCTV, one of the skits is entitled "The Midnight Express Special", a TV program set in a Turkish prison. Parodies of famous singers such as John Denver, Anne Murray (portrayed by Andrea Martin) and others perform, and each is arrested by prison guards in mid-performance as they believe that the song's lyrics are allusionary references to illegal drugs.
  • In the song "Sanctified" by Nine Inch Nails, a sample of Billy's letter-writing voice-over can be heard.

See also

References and notes

  1. ^ "Real-life 'Midnight Express' character visits Turkey to 'make amends'". http://www.pr-inside.com/real-life-midnight-express-character-visits-r154835.htm. 
  2. ^ Ratings. MPAA.
  3. ^ Billy Hayes and the Real Midnight Express by James Sheldon, June 30, 2010
  4. ^ Midnight Express. Rotten Tomatoes.
  5. ^ Mary Lee Settle (1991). Turkish Reflections. New York: Prentice Hall Press. ISBN 0139176756. 
  6. ^ Pauline Kael (1980). When the Lights Go Down. New York: Hall Rinehart and Winston. ISBN 0030425115. 
  7. ^ John Wakeman(ed) (1988). World Film Directors. New York: T.H. W. Wilson Co. 
  8. ^ a b Denby, D. (1978, October 16). One Touch of Mozart. New York Magazine, 11(42), 123.
  9. ^ "Representation of the Turkish People in Midnight Express". Zaim, Dervis. Published in Örnek literary journal, 1994. A copy can be found at http://www.tallarmeniantale.com/MidExp-academic.htm
  10. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Midnight Express". festival-cannes.com. http://www.festival-cannes.com/en/archives/ficheFilm/id/1973/year/1978.html. Retrieved 2009-05-20. 
  11. ^ Part 1, Part 2
  12. ^ "Interview with Billy Hayes about 'Midnight Express' on YouTube". Youtube.com. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMsNPCVbNhw. Retrieved 2010-05-20. 
  13. ^ "The real Billy Hayes regrets 'Midnight Express' cast all Turks in a bad light – Seattle Post Intelligencer". Seattlepi.com. 2004-01-10. http://www.seattlepi.com/movies/156011_midnightexpress.html. Retrieved 2010-05-20. 
  14. ^ Smith, Helena. Stone sorry for Midnight Express. Guardian. December 16, 2004.
  15. ^ Walsh, Caspar. The 10 best prison films. The Observer. May 30, 2010
  16. ^ "'Midnight Express' team to watch film with Turkish prisoners". Hürriyet Daily News. 2010-05-20. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=geceyarisi-ekspresi-ekibi-cezaevinde-mahkumlarla-film-izleyecek-2010-05-20. Retrieved 2010-07-31. 

External links

Preceded by
The Turning Point
Golden Globe for Best Picture – Drama
Succeeded by
Kramer vs. Kramer

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