Midnight Express (film): Wikis


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Midnight Express
Directed by Alan Parker
Produced by Alan Marshall
David Puttnam
Written by Billy Hayes (book)
William Hoffer (book)
Oliver Stone
Starring Brad Davis
Randy Quaid
John Hurt
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 based on Billy Hayes' book of the same name adapted into 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 Oliver Stone and Billy Hayes expressed their regret on how Turkish people were portrayed in the movie.[1] It starred Brad Davis, Irene Miracle, Bo Hopkins, Paolo Bonacelli, Paul L. Smith, Randy Quaid, Norbert Weisser, Peter Jeffrey and John Hurt. Alan Parker directed and David Puttnam produced. The film's title is prison slang for an inmate's escape attempt.



On October 6, 1970, after a stay in Istanbul, a US 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 the country with his girlfriend. After being found with several bricks of hashish taped to his body – about two kilograms in total – he is sentenced to four years and two months' imprisonment on the charge of drug possession. He is sent to Sağmalcılar prison (closed in 2008) to serve out his sentence. In the remand centre, he meets and befriends other Western prisoners. In 1974, after a prosecution appeal (who originally wished to have Hayes found guilty of smuggling and not possession), his original sentence is overturned by the Turkish High Court in Ankara and he is ordered to serve 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, where bribery, violence and insanity rule the prison.

In 1975, Susan comes to see Billy and is devastated at what the guards have done to him. After being committed to the prison's insane asylum, Billy again tries to escape, this time by attempting to bribe the head guard, who then takes him to the sanitarium, intending to rape him. Billy ends up killing the guard. He then puts on an officer's uniform and manages his escape by walking out of the front door. From 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.

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, where he was alone in the original story.
  • The rape scenes are also fictional. Billy Hayes never claimed to be raped by his Turkish wardens or that he ever suffered any sexual violence. He engaged in consensual sex, but the film depicts Hayes rejecting the advances of a prisoner, and the warden.
  • Billy Hayes never bit out anyone's tongue or engaged in the violent fight scene that was depicted.
  • The endings differ from each other. In the book, Hayes is moved to another prison from which he escapes by sea, in the movie this passage has been replaced by a violent scene in which he unwittingly kills the head guard who is preparing to sexually assault him.


The film 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.[2]


Midnight Express - Music From The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack by Giorgio Moroder
Released 1978
Genre Electronic Disco
Length 37:00
Label Casablanca Records
Producer Giorgio Moroder

Side A:

  1. Chase - 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. Cacophoney - Giorgio Moroder (2:58)
  5. Theme from Midnight Express (Vocal) - Chris Bennett (4:47)

Filming location and casting

Although the story is set largely in Turkey, the movie was almost entirely filmed in Malta, after permission to film in Istanbul was denied. Background shots of Istanbul were shot 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, W.I. England."


Motion Picture Association of America rated the film "R".[3] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office for Film and Broadcasting gave it "L" rating, advising viewing only by a limited adult audience, citing violence and sexual references.[4]

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

Critical reception

The film was generally well-received by critics. At the film review aggregator site Rottentomatoes, 95% of film critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 20 reviews.[5]

There were negative criticisms as well, mainly focusing on its unfavorable portrayal of the Turkish people. In Mary Lee Settle's book Turkish Reflections, it states, "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."[6] 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)".[7] 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'".[8]

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. While 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 arrest scene from the film. An officer tells him he must "pay a fine of two American dollars," to which he happily replies, "O.K."
  • In the film The Cable Guy, Jim Carrey mimics the scene from the movie where the girlfriend presses her chest to the glass and says "Oh Billy."

Billy Hayes interviewed

An amateur interview with Hayes appeared on YouTube (Part 1 - Part 2) recorded during the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, in which he described his experiences and expressed his disappointment with the film adaptation.[9]

In an article for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Hayes was reported as saying that the film 'depicts all Turks as monsters'.[10]

Screenwriter's apology

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.[11]

See also


  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. ^ "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. 
  3. ^ Ratings. MPAA.
  4. ^ Midnight Express. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office for Film and Broadcasting.
  5. ^ Midnight Express. Rotten Tomatoes.
  6. ^ Mary Lee Settle (1991). Turkish Reflections. New York: Prentice Hall Press. 
  7. ^ Pauline Kael (1980). When the Lights Go Down. New York: Hall Rinehart and Winston. 
  8. ^ John Wakeman(ed) (1988). World Film Directors. New York: T.H. W. Wilson Co. 
  9. ^ Interview with Billy Hayes about 'Midnight Express' on YouTube
  10. ^ The real Billy Hayes regrets 'Midnight Express' cast all Turks in a bad light - Seattle Post Intelligencer
  11. ^ Smith, Helena. Stone sorry for Midnight Express. Guardian. December 16, 2004.

External links

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


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