Midnight Express (1978) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Most of you probably know all about this movie, so I'll keep the summary to a minimum.

In the 1970's, Billy Hayes was an American student who was arrested in Turkey for possession of drugs, the charge later upgraded to smuggling. He was tossed into a brutal Turkish prison, where he languished for many years until escaping. He wrote a book called Midnight Express, which was then made into a successful movie. Although the movie altered several details, removed all balance, and dramatized the situation beyond what happened in reality, it stayed relatively loyal to the tone of the book and to the general concepts.

The movie plays out as very realistic and tense. The scene at the airport, when they catch him with the drugs, is a real nail-biter, emphasized perfectly by the music. The scene where he tries to flee through the market and his various escape attempts are also fraught with tension. It's some powerful moviemaking, even if it is a manipulation of the original facts. (Oliver Stone wrote the screenplay. It was his first major work.) 


Irene Miracle, as the girlfriend, showed Billy her breasts when she visited him in prison.

Brad Davis was seen naked from the rear during his interrogation

Although the film is more than two decades old, and told a story that happened nearly a decade earlier, the real Billy Hayes is still alive and still a relatively young man. (He is 52 as I write this, and has outlived the actor who played him in the movie). In 1981, six years after his escape, three years after the movie was released, the Turkish government and Interpol issued a warrant for his arrest and tried to get him back into prison. There wasn't much chance of that happening (although the warrant stayed in effect until 1995!), but the warrant is indicative of the deep embarrassment and anger that the Turkish people and the Turkish government felt over their portrayal in the film. Turkey has been trying to establish that it is a modern European nation, and wants to be a part of all the pan-European associations. The film portrays their nation as barbaric, reinforcing the prejudices that keep other Europeans from welcoming the Turks with open arms.

Of course, if it was the movie that bothered them, the person they really needed to arrest was Oliver Stone, not Billy Hayes, because it altered the book and made it more melodramatic. 

Powerful Turks lobbied to have the film banned at Cannes, but they were unsuccessful. They were right about one thing. For better or worse, true or not, the film shaped the West's perception of Turkey and Turkish justice, and the whole concept of "Turkish prisons" is still a suitable punchline for any joke about oppressive and barbaric third world conditions.

You long-time readers may remember 

Uncle Scoopy's least favorite Halloween candies:

7. S&M's

6. Baby Ruth Gordon

5. Bit O'Glass

4. Troutfinger

3. Hershey Highway

2. Allman Joy

1. Turkish Prison Taffy

The real Billy Hayes (left), and actor Brad Davis playing Billy Hayes

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.85:1, plus a full screen version

  • there is a six minute featurette, made in the late 70's, about the real Billy Hayes.

Here are a couple of worthwhile links if you want to know more details about the story: 
  1. Here is the Discovery Channel's page summarizing what really happened to Hayes.
  2. Here is People magazine's "Where are They Now" feature on Hayes.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and a half stars. Maltin 3.5/4,  Apollo 85.

  • The film was nominated for six Oscars, winning two. (Best adapted screenplay, best original musical score)

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 7.5, Apollo users 61/100. 
  • With their dollars ... made for only $2.3 million dollars, the film grossed over $30 million domestically, nearly equivalent to a $100 million picture in today's dollars.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B-.

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