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Midnight Express (film)

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Title: Midnight Express (film)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Oliver Stone, 51st Academy Awards, Brad Davis (actor), Michael Giannatos, John Hurt
Collection: 1970S Biographical Films, 1970S Drama Films, 1978 Films, 1978 Soundtracks, American Biographical Films, American Drama Films, American Films, American Independent Films, Best Drama Picture Golden Globe Winners, British Biographical Films, British Films, British Independent Films, Casablanca Records Soundtracks, Columbia Pictures Films, Electronic Soundtracks, English-Language Films, Film Scores by Giorgio Moroder, Film Soundtracks, Films About the Illegal Drug Trade, Films Based on Actual Events, Films Based on Biographies, Films Directed by Alan Parker, Films Produced by David Puttnam, Films Set in Istanbul, Films Set in Prison, Films Shot in Malta, Films Shot in Turkey, Films That Won the Best Original Score Academy Award, Films Whose Director Won the Best Direction Bafta Award, Films Whose Writer Won the Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award, Giorgio Moroder Albums, Prison Films, Screenplays by Oliver Stone
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Midnight Express (film)

For the 1924 silent film, see The Midnight Express (film).
Midnight Express
French theatrical release poster
Directed by Alan Parker
Produced by Alan Marshall
David Puttnam
Screenplay by Oliver Stone
Based on Midnight Express 
by Billy Hayes
William Hoffer
Starring Brad Davis
Randy Quaid
John Hurt
Paul L. Smith
Irene Miracle
Music by Giorgio Moroder
Cinematography Michael Seresin
Edited by Gerry Hambling
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release dates
  • October 6, 1978 (1978-10-06)
Running time
121 minutes
Country United States
United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $2.3 million
Box office $35,000,000[1]

Midnight Express is a 1978 American-British 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 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 about how Turkish people were portrayed in the movie.[2][3] The film's title is prison slang for an inmate's escape attempt.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
  • Differences between the book and the film 4
  • Soundtrack 5
  • Reception 6
    • Awards and nominations 6.1
  • Legacy 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


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 for Billy 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, 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.

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) 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.

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 the lesser charge of possession), and he is ordered to serve a 30-year-to-life term for his crime. 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. He meets fellow prisoner Ahmet whilst participating in the regular inmate activity of walking in a circle around a pillar. Ahmet claims to be a philosopher from Oxford University and engages him in conversation to which Billy is unresponsive.

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 promising to come back for him. He bribes Hamidou into taking him to the sanitarium, where there are no guards. Instead, Hamidou takes Billy past the sanitarium to another room - and prepares to rape him. Fighting back, Billy inadvertently kills Hamidou by pushing him onto a coat hook. 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.



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.[4] 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

Various aspects of Hayes' story were fictionalized or added to for the movie. Of note:

  • In the movie, Billy Hayes is in Turkey with his girlfriend when he is arrested, whereas in the original story he is alone.
  • Although Billy did spend seventeen days in the prison's psychiatric hospital in 1972, he never bit out anyone's tongue, which in the film led to him being committed to the section for the criminally insane.
  • The scene where Billy attempts to escape from the Turkish police 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 they were riding in the police car from the Istanbul airport to the police station after Billy attempted to sneak out of the car while it was stopped at a red traffic light. In the book's account, Tex drove Billy to the police station where he dropped him off, and Billy never saw him again. It was a Turkish policeman who translated for Billy during his interrogation with the Turkish detective.
  • In the book's ending, Hayes was moved to another prison on an island from which he eventually escaped, by stealing a dinghy and rowing 17 miles in a raging storm across the Sea of Marmara, and then traveling by foot as well as on a bus to Istanbul and then crossing the border into Greece.[5] 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 chief 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.) The attempted rape scene itself was fictionalized; Billy 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 gently rejecting the advances of a fellow prisoner.


Midnight Express: Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Giorgio Moroder
Released October 6, 1978
Genre Disco
Length 37:00
Label Casablanca Records
Producer Giorgio Moroder
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 Academy Award for Best Original Score in 1979.

Side A:

  1. "Giorgio 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. "Cacaphoney" – Giorgio Moroder (2:58)
  5. "(Theme From) Midnight Express" (Vocal) – Chris Bennett (4:47)


Midnight Express received both critical acclaim and box office success. On the film review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, 95% of film critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 20 reviews.[6]

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."[7] Pauline Kael, in reviewing the film, commented, "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)".[8] 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'".[9]

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".[10] Denby said also that all Turks in the movie – guardian or prisoner – were portrayed as "losers" and "swine" and that "without exception [all the Turks] are presented as degenerate, stupid slobs".[10]

Turkish Cypriot film director Derviş 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.[11]

Awards and nominations

Midnight Express won Academy Awards for 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.[12]


An amateur interview with Hayes appeared on YouTube,[13] recorded during the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, in which he described his experiences and expressed his disappointment with the film adaptation.[14] In an article for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Hayes was reported as saying that the film "depicts all Turks as monsters."[15]

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.[2] He "eventually apologised for tampering with the truth."[16]

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 Döşemealtı, Turkey, as part of the 47th Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival in October 2010.[17]

Dialogue from the film was sampled in the song Sanctified on the original version of Nine Inch Nails' debut album Pretty Hate Machine. The sample was removed from the 2010 remaster for copyright reasons.


  1. ^ "Midnight Express, Box Office Information".  
  2. ^ a b Smith, Helena (16 December 2004). "Stone sorry for Midnight Express".  
  3. ^ Flinn, John (9 January 2004). "The real Billy Hayes regrets 'Midnight Express' cast all Turks in a bad light". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 14 January 2012. 
  4. ^ Fellner, Dan (2013). "Catching the Midnight Express in Malta". Retrieved 23 June 2015. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Midnight Express. Rotten Tomatoes.
  7. ^ Mary Lee Settle (1991). Turkish Reflections. New York: Prentice Hall Press.  
  8. ^ Pauline Kael (1980). When the Lights Go Down. New York: Hall Rinehart and Winston.  
  9. ^ John Wakeman(ed) (1988). World Film Directors. New York: T.H. W. Wilson Co. 
  10. ^ a b Denby, D. (1978, October 16). One Touch of Mozart. New York Magazine, 11(42), 123.
  11. ^ "Representation of the Turkish People in Midnight Express". Zaim, Dervis. Published in Örnek literary journal, 1994. A copy can be found at
  12. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Midnight Express". Retrieved 2009-05-20. 
  13. ^ Part 1 on YouTube, Part 2 on YouTube
  14. ^ "Interview with Billy Hayes about 'Midnight Express' on YouTube". Retrieved 2010-05-20. 
  15. ^ "The real Billy Hayes regrets 'Midnight Express' cast all Turks in a bad light – Seattle Post Intelligencer". 2004-01-10. Retrieved 2010-05-20. 
  16. ^ Walsh, Caspar. The 10 best prison films. The Observer. May 30, 2010
  17. ^ Midnight Express' team to watch film with Turkish prisoners"'".  

External links

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