Taglines: Everybody gave up on Billy Hayes — except Billy.
On October 6, 1970 while boarding an international flight out of Istanbul Airport, American Billy Hayes is caught attempting to smuggle 2 kilos of hashish out of the country, the drugs strapped to his body. He is told that he will be released if he cooperates with the authorities in identifying the person who actually sold him the hash. Billy’s troubles really begin when after that assistance, he makes a run for it and is recaptured. He is initially sentenced to just over four years for possession, with no time for the more harsh crime of smuggling.
The prison environment is inhospitable in every sense, with a sadistic prison guard named Hamidou ruling the prison, he who relishes the mental and physical torture he inflicts on the prisoners for whatever reason. Told to trust no one, Billy does befriend a few of the other inmates, namely fellow American Jimmy Booth (in for stealing two candlesticks from a mosque), a Swede named Erich, and one of the senior prisoners having already.
Midnight Express is a 1978 American-British-Turkish 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 criticized this version, including Billy Hayes himself. Later, both Stone and Hayes expressed their regret about how Turkish people were portrayed in the film. The film’s title is prison slang for an inmate’s escape attempt.
About the Story
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 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) 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 with his father, 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 being brutally beaten for this. 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.
Midnight Express (1978)
Directed by: Alan Parker
Starring: Brad Davis, Irene Miracle, Bo Hopkins, Paolo Bonacelli, Randy Quaid, Norbert Weisser, Kevork Malikyan, Joe Zammit Cordina
Screenplay by: Oliver Stone
Production Design by: Geoffrey Kirkland
Cinematography by: Michael Seresin
Film Editing by: Gerry Hambling
Costume Design by: Milena Canonero
Art Direction by: Evan Hercules
Music by: Giorgio Moroder
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Release Date: October 6, 1978