Midnight Express is a 1978 film, 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, to such a level that many 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. 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.
- "Everyone gave up on Billy Hayes - except Billy."
On October 6
, after a stay in İstanbul
, 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 a relatively lenient four years and two months' imprisonment on the charge of drug possession. He is sent to Sağmalcılar prison 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. Monstrous wardens cruelly force the prisoners to undergo the worst brutalities. Some prisoners work for the prison administration as 'informers'. In a fit of madness, Billy bites off the tongue of a prison informant who has notified the warden of his escape plan and also accused one of Billy's accomplices. In 1975, after being committed to the prison's insane asylum, Billy again tries to escape, this time by attempting to bribe the warden-in-chief. He ends up accidentally killing the warden, as the latter wanted to rape him, and Billy 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
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 cinematographic 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. In the movie, the love story is a main dramatic driving force.
- 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, which is alluded to in the film.
- Billy Hayes never bit out anyone's tongue or engaged in the violent fight scene in which that was depicted.
- The endings of the cinematographic and literary versions of Midnight Express differ from one another. While in the narrative, the protagonist is moved to another prison from which he escaped by sea, in the movie this passage has been replaced by a violent scene in which he unwittingly kills the warden-in-chief while the latter is preparing to sexually assault him.
The film won Academy Awards for Best Music, Original Score
) 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
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 İstanbul
was denied. Background shots of Istanbul were shot by a small crew pretending to shoot footage for a cigarette commercial. Some of the movie was also filmed in Libya
The film is generally well-received. Of 17 T-meter critics affiliated with Rotten Tomatoes aggregator that reviewed the film, 16 of them give Midnight Express positive reviews, giving Midnight Express a "fresh" status on the site.
However, there are negative criticisms as well, mainly focusing on its unfavorable portrayal of the Turkish authority and the Turks. 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." 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)" while a 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'".
Motion Pictures Association of America rated the film "R". 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.
Billy Hayes interviewed
An amateur interview with Hayes appeared on YouTube
- Part 2
) recorded during the 1999 Cannes Film Festival
, in which he described his real experiences and expressed his disappointment with the film adaptation.
In an article for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Hayes was reported as saying that the film 'depicts all Turks as monsters'.
When he visited Turkey in 2004, screenwriter Oliver Stone, who won an Academy Award
for the film, made an apology for offenses to the Turkish people.
In popular culture
- In The Simpsons episode "Midnight RX," the title of the film is a reference to the movie as well as one scene in the episode where Homer and Grampa Simpson are caught with the prescriptions.
- In The Cable Guy, the scene where "Chip" Douglas (Jim Carrey) meets with Steve (Matthew Broderick) in jail is a parody of a similar scene between Billy Hayes and his girlfriend.
- The line "Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?" from the film Airplane! is a reference to this film.
- The main theme of the film, Giorgio Moroder's "The Chase", has also been featured:
- On the _Liberty_City_Stories _Liberty_City_Stories_soundtrack#Flashback_FM.
- As the main theme for the radio show Coast to Coast AM.
- As entrance music for the 1980s professional wrestling tag team The Midnight Express.
- In That 70's Show season three episode "Canadian Road Trip" when coming to return to the US Fez discovers his Green Card is missing and states, "I don't want to go to Canadian jail, have you ever seen Midnight Express!? It's like that except with hockey sticks."
- In Seinfeld episode "The Secret Code", Jerry is explaining a scenario in which he envisions George would have to reveal his ATM code. Jerry's scenario has George in a Turkish prison. Jerry begins the hypothetical with, "Alright, you're locked up in a prison in Turkey." He continues to explain that George must tell Jerry his ATM code to bribe the guard, to which George responds, "We're in Turkey," to which Jerry says, "Midnight Express, my friend." Ultimately, George confirms that Jerry would not be able to get money from an ATM in Turkey using George's bank card because, as George says, "...they're not on the PLUS system."