Midnight Express (film)

Midnight Express
Original poster for Midnight Express, 1978.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAlan Parker
Produced by
Screenplay byOliver Stone
Based onMidnight Express
by Billy Hayes
William Hoffer
Music byGiorgio Moroder
CinematographyMichael Seresin
Edited byGerry Hambling
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
October 6, 1978
Running time
121 minutes

United Kingdom

United States
Budget£2.3 million[2]
Box office$35 million[2]

Midnight Express is a 1978 British-American prison drama film directed by Alan Parker, produced by David Puttnam and starring Brad Davis, Irene Miracle, Bo Hopkins, Paolo Bonacelli, Paul L. Smith, Randy Quaid, Norbert Weisser, Peter Jeffrey and John Hurt. It is based on Billy Hayes' 1977 non-fiction book Midnight Express and was adapted into the screenplay by Oliver Stone.

Hayes was a young American student sent to a Turkish prison for trying to smuggle hashish out of Turkey. The film deviates from the book's accounts of the story—especially in its portrayal of Turks—and some have criticised this version, including Billy Hayes himself. Later, both Stone and Hayes expressed their regret about how Turkish people were portrayed in the film.[3][4] The film's title is prison slang for an inmate's escape attempt.

Midnight Express was released on October 6, 1978. Upon release, the film received generally positive reviews from critics. Many praised Davis's performance as well as the cast, the writing, the direction and the musical score by Giorgio Moroder. However, Hayes and others criticized the film for portraying the Turkish prison men as violent and villainous and for deviating too much from the material source. The film grossed over $35 million worldwide against budget of $2 million.


On October 6, 1970, while on holiday in Istanbul, Turkey, American college student Billy Hayes straps 2 kg of hashish blocks to his chest. While attempting to board a plane back to the United States with his girlfriend, Billy is arrested by Turkish police on high alert due to fear of terrorist attacks. He is strip-searched, photographed and questioned.

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 Billy's English for one of the detectives. On questioning Billy tells them that he bought the hashish 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 they go to arrest the cabbie, it becomes apparent that the police have no intention of keeping their end of the deal with Billy. He sees an opportunity and makes a run for it, only to get cornered and recaptured by the mysterious American.

During his first night in holding at a local jail, a freezing-cold Billy sneaks out of his cell and steals a blanket. Later that night he is rousted from his cell and brutally beaten by chief guard Hamidou for the blanket theft.

He wakes a few days later in Sağmalcılar Prison, surrounded by fellow Western prisoners Jimmy (an American—in for stealing two candlesticks from a mosque), Max (an English heroin addict) and Erich (a Swede, also in for drug smuggling) who help him to his feet. Jimmy tells Billy that the prison is a dangerous place for foreigners like themselves, and that no one can be trusted—not even the young children.

Billy meets his father along with a U.S representative and a Turkish lawyer to discuss what will happen to him. Billy is sent to trial for his case where the angry prosecutor makes a case against him for drug smuggling. The lead judge is sympathetic to Billy and gives him only a four-year sentence for drug possession. Billy and his father are horrified at the outcome, but their Turkish lawyer insists that the term is a very good result.

Jimmy tries to encourage Billy to become part of an escape attempt through the prison's tunnels. Believing he is to be released soon, Billy rebuffs Jimmy who goes on to attempt an escape himself; he is brutally beaten when he's caught. Billy finds out afterwards (1974), out of the blue one day, that his 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 the lesser charge of possession), and he is ordered to serve a 30-years-to-life term for his crime. He is in shock.

Billy goes along with a prison-break Jimmy has masterminded. Billy, Jimmy, and Max try to escape through the catacombs below the prison, but their plans are revealed to the prison authorities by fellow-prisoner Rifki. His stay becomes harsh and brutal: terrifying scenes of physical and mental torture follow one another, culminating in Billy having a breakdown. He beats up and nearly kills Rifki. Following this breakdown, he is sent to the prison's ward for the insane, where he wanders in a daze among the other disturbed and catatonic prisoners. These scenes are moving and show Billy's profound pain.

In 1975, Billy's girlfriend Susan comes to see him. Devastated at what has happened to Billy, she tells him that he has to escape or else he will die in there. 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. Her visit moves Billy strongly, and he regains his senses.

He says goodbye to Max, telling him not to die, and promising to come back for him. He then tries to bribe Hamidou into taking him where there are no guards, but Hamidou takes Billy to another room and prepares to rape him. Billy is clearly afraid and powerless, but he is still fighting back, and suddenly he inadvertently kills Hamidou by pushing his head/skull onto a coat hook sticking out of the wall. This is clearly the miracle he has been waiting for four years. He seizes the opportunity to escape by putting on a guard's uniform and 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.

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