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Midnight Express (1978) Poster

Trivia

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Banned (and never released theatrically) in Turkey, until 1992 when the private television channel HBB broadcast it.
Reportedly, the Turkish authorities still, allegedly, have a warrant out for the arrest for Billy Hayes who is, apparently under their laws, technically still classified as a prison escapee.
Although the movie is based on a true story, it has been indicated by Billy Hayes himself twenty years after its release, that what is presented in the movie is a very exaggerated version of what happened to him in the prison in Istanbul, Turkey.
In an attempt to really get into character, Sir John Hurt stopped bathing for most of the fifty-three-day schedule, and reeked so badly at times, most of his colleagues avoided being close to him.
In a scene at the airport, the middle-aged Turkish customs officer (played by Joe Zammit Cordina) supposedly speaks Turkish to Billy. However, in reality, he is speaking Maltese after he forgot his lines in Turkish, and he decided to use his native Maltese at the spur of the moment. The only Turkish words he speaks are "pasaport" (passport) and "canta" (bag).
First movie to win an Oscar for "Best Original Score" featuring a totally synthesized music score.
The scene in which (Billy Hayes) Brad Davis bit the tongue out of a fellow inmate upset the crew so much, that they all walked off the set, leaving Alan Parker to shoot it with his two actors. For the scene, Davis carried a pig's tongue around in his mouth.
According to his book, Brad Davis had a drug problem of his own while promoting this film.
Billy Hayes' speech in the courtroom scene in the film, went far longer than it did in real-life. In it, Hayes gives a long, dramatic soliloquy against the Turkish penal system. This part of the scene is made up.
When Billy Hayes is arrested in the film, he is with his girlfriend, but in real-life, Hayes was alone when he was caught.
Billy Hayes once commented that Sir John Hurt bore a startling resemblance in look, condition, and physique to the real-life Max, whom Hurt was playing.
In 2004, Screenwriter Oliver Stone apologized for the portrayal of Turkey, Turkish prisons, and the Turkish people in the movie.
Producer David Puttnam has mixed feelings about this project. He was happy with the finished cut, but when he saw the film with a paying audience at a late night showing in New York City, he was deeply disturbed by the audience's reaction to some scenes. They were cheering and clapping, instead of the desired effect of being repulsed by the characters' actions.
Prior to principal photography, Director Alan Parker wrote a letter to the cast and crew. Publicity for the picture reproduced it. It said: "Firstly, to say something before we start. Secondly, to warn you about a very difficult film, and thirdly, because I heard Ingmar Bergman always did it! As you have gathered from the script, it is my intention to make a very violent, uncompromisingly brutal film, the subject matter of which will no doubt take its toll on us all. This is not just a boring prison story set in claustrophobic cells and corridors. It's much, much more than that, a prison no one's ever seen before. It's difficult to put into words, but I would like the audience to be shaken and shocked that such things happen, almost to the point of disbelief, but never to lose them."
Oliver Stone was a new, largely untested screenwriter at the time, so when he was commissioned by Alan Parker and Producers Alan Marshall and David Puttnam, they fully expected his first draft to be just a starting point. Parker, indeed, expected to take over and write the screenplay after Stone had completed his first attempt. The screenplay that Stone duly delivered blew all three away. They all had to admit that it was a superb first draft.
Brad Davis arrived two hours late, and covered in grease, when screentesting for the lead, as his car had broken down en route to the audition.
Turkish government officials greatly resented the portrayal of their country in the movie, and made this known to the media in general after the film's release.
The title "Midnight Express" is cellblock prison slang language for a jail break-out. The film's production notes state the meaning of ''Midnight Express" is that it is prison jargon for an "escape".
To enhance the authenticity of the film, Alan Parker cast unknown actors and actresses, rather than big name stars.
The documentary I'm Healthy, I'm Alive and I'm Free (1977) is about the making of this movie.
Although set in Turkey, the interiors of the Sagmalcilar Prison were filmed at Fort St. Elmo, Valletta, Malta, after permission to film in Istanbul, Turkey was denied.
Vangelis was considered to score the picture and even composed a rough track.
The film was a disaster commercially in Germany, which has a very large migrant Turkish population.
The large group of Turkish police and soldiers at the Istanbul airport, which are on-hand to search each passenger before they board the jet, was another attempt by the filmmakers to portray Turkey as an authoritarian police state, but in reality, this real-life event that Billy Hayes encountered, of a thorough search of each passenger, was in reaction to the P.L.O. hijacking, and subsequent destruction, of four passenger jets in Europe, occurring just four weeks prior to the event portrayed at the beginning of the film on October 6, 1970. There are two somewhat oblique references to this event early in the film: (1) A headline on the paper that Susan is reading on the bus that takes them to the plane ("Nixon Outraged at Palestinian Hijackers") and (2) In the car after Billy Hayes' arrest when Tex says, "You decided to fly at a bad time . . . guerrillas all over the place, blowing up planes . . . four planes in four days."
Billy Hayes visited the Maltese filming locations during principal photography two years to the date he had escaped. Hayes said: "It was so true to life, that I started to sweat. It was obvious to me that everyone concerned wanted to make a film that says something, and there's a lot to be said. Hopefully, we can shake people up, and move them to do something for all those others who are still locked up in stinking hellholes around the world."
The last eight pages of the film's script were scrapped. When the Columbia Pictures studio executives found out about it they went berserk.
Columbia was pushing hard for Richard Gere to take the lead role, but Alan Parker was very unhappy with this decision, especially as Gere refused to audition for the role. Parker persisted in screentesting other actors, and had three very strong auditions from Sam Bottoms, Dennis Quaid, and Brad Davis. These helped make the studio see that Gere wasn't the best choice. (The casting of Dennis Quaid would have been very interesting as his elder brother Randy had already been cast.)
The film was released a year after its source book of the same name by Billy Hayes was published, but the story told by Hayes in his book is very different from the movie. Nearly all of the villains and most dramatic events in the film, are made up.
Billy Hayes visited Turkey in 2007, and in a widely publicized press conference, stated that the movie was a gross exaggeration, and a one-sided misrepresentation of his experience in Turkey: He expressed his regret and accepted responsibility for the damage the film inflicted on Turkey's image worldwide for decades. Reportedly, even today, a quarter century after its release, people cite the film as a reason not to visit Turkey. It has been loathed by Turks as a misrepresentation of Turkey since its first screening in 1978. According to Hayes, both Stone and Parker misrepresented his experiences during his incarceration, and included gross exaggerations of his treatment in jail and of his encounters with Turks during that time. Hayes told reporters in Istanbul that he has been trying for years to correct these misperceptions in the media, but that his voice was drowned by the powerful images created by the film and its makers. Underlining that he had made friendships with many Turks, before and after he was incarcerated, he noted that the movie's storyline did not depict even one such "good Turk". During his visit to Istanbul, Hayes also gave an interview to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, where he issued apologies to Turks for all the problems the film created, and reiterated that many brutal scenes of mistreatment depicted in the movie did, in fact, not happen. His remarks last week in Istanbul are not the first time that Hayes publicly regretted Midnight Express. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, published on January 10, 2004, Hayes stated that "he feels awful that the film gave a brutal reputation to the entire nation of Turkey," and that it also bothers him that it depicts all Turks as monsters. In Hayes' words: "The message of 'Midnight Express' isn't 'Don't go to Turkey. It's 'Don't be an idiot like I was, and try to smuggle drugs.'" (July 2, 2007)
Sir John Hurt's only film that he has done without first reading the script.
Oliver Stone wrote the first draft of the screenplay in six weeks.
The first director that Oliver Stone approached with his script was Michael Cimino. Cimino has said that, though he loved the script, he had to pass, as he was about to begin shooting his passion project, The Deer Hunter (1978). Both films wound up being nominated for Best Director and Best Picture at the 51st Academy Awards in 1979. Cimino wound up winning in both categories. Regardless, Cimino developed a good relationship with Stone, and the pair later worked on Year of the Dragon (1985) together.
In England and in other territories, the picture was re-released on a double-bill with Taxi Driver (1976).
According to Alan Parker, this was the most grueling shoot of his career, fifty-three days with cast and crew working six-day weeks.
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Producer David Puttnam was fired for three days, then re-hired.
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In The Netherlands, a theater, that was showing this movie, was set on fire.
Publicity for this picture told of the start of the letter that Billy Hayes wrote to his parents in 1970. It read: "Dear Mum and Dad, This is the hardest letter I've ever had to write. I know the confusion and the pain it will cause you, and the disappointment. I was arrested at Istanbul Airport yesterday, attempting to board an airplane with a small amount of hashish." This letter was written in 1970 by Billy Hayes, a clean-cut American kid who had only twenty-three hours to go before he would graduate from Marquette University. It revealed the start of a chain of bizarre events, which brought Hayes close to being sentenced to life imprisonment in Turkey.
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A sequel was planned, but never materialized.
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Alan Parker selected Brad Davis after auditioning "almost every young actor in America" according to the film's press kit.
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Amnesty International initially had a tie-in with the movie, which they immediately revoked when they saw the final film.
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Fort St. Elmo, Malta, which portrayed Sagmalcilar Prison, is the site of the legendary Great Siege of Malta of 1565. In the 1850s, the British built barracks there.
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Producer David Puttnam says he got paid more for this picture than the last ten films that he had made.
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Reportedly, Billy Hayes told The Seattle Post-Intelligencer that this film "depicts all Turks as monsters".
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To find a suitable prison for filming, location scouts were conducted in Crete, Cyprus, France, Israel, Italy, Sicily, Spain, and Malta, the latter country being successful with Fort St. Elmo, which doubled for Istanbul, Turkey's Sagmalcilar Prison. The fort was the site of the legendary Great Siege of Malta in 1565. The original Turkish prison could not be used for self-explanatory reasons.
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Alan Parker never officially apologized for the gross misrepresentations, and the anti-Turkish tendency in his film, but he said at a 2003 Berlinale press conference, that he would do things "differently" today.
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"First major studio film" of Alan Parker and the "first major motion picture effort" of Oliver Stone according to the movie's production notes.
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Richard Gere and John Travolta were considered for the part of Billy Hayes.
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Costume Designer Milena Canonero went to Turkey and surreptitiously sketched clothing of prison guards and the local populace for the picture. The film's press kit states Canonero "displays a very different side of her fashion talent with Midnight Express."
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The picture's production notes stated: "There is no doubt that Midnight Express will provoke national and international controversy, not only because of what actually happened to Billy (Hayes), but also because it continues to happen to others today. There are thousands of young people who, while travelling in foreign countries, make an error in judgment, disobey an obscure or non-existent law, and, due to inexperience and unknown foreign customs, are sentenced to long years in sordid prisons, cut off from outside contact, and to all appearances, abandoned by their governments."
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Maltese locations featured in the film, included the Dominican Church in Rabat; the historic Knight's Hall, which was built in 1574; and Fort St. Elmo, which portrayed the Sagmalcilar Prison.
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Alan Parker once said that this film was "The first story which could be made in Europe with a British crew, and had a chance of making it in the States. It's an American story; it doesn't compromise; and it's the opposite to what I've done before."
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Maureen McCormick was considered for the role of Susan.
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The pulsating score was composed by Giorgio Moroder, whose work as a solo musician had brought him international acclaim. This movie was the first time he had scored the music for a theatrical feature film.
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Closing credits: This picture is based upon a true story and the characters of Billy Hayes and his family are based upon living persons.The other characters depicted in the picture are fictional, and no other persons are, or are intended to be, portrayed in the picture, and any similarity to the name, character or history of any persons is entirely coincidental and unintentional.
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Mary Lee Settle says in her book "Turkish Reflections" (1991) that "The Turks I saw in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Midnight Express (1978) were like cartoon caricatures, compared to the people I had known, and lived among, for three of the happiest years of my life."
The film was also entered and selected to screen in competition at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival where it competed for the prestigious La Paume d'Or (The Golden Palm) award. The international audience responded with instantaneous acclaim.
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The film's opening prologue states: "The following is based on a true story. It began October 6, 1970 in Istanbul, Turkey". In fact, most of the events shown in the movie, either didn't happen, or didn't happen in such a dramatic way. Most of the villains are fictitious, and for example, the brutal showdown is a complete invention by the filmmakers. The story told by Billy Hayes' in his book, is very different and far less dramatic. It might even be considered "boring" after seeing the sensationalist film first.
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The production shoot for this picture ran for fifty-three days.
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Oliver Stone apologized in 2004 for offending Turkey with this movie. "Visiting Turkey for the first time since the movie was released in 1978, Stone admitted "over-dramatizing" the screenplay, which he wrote. 'It's true, I over-dramatized the script.' Stone told reporters in Istanbul, before holding talks with Turkey's Culture and Tourism Minister, Erkan Mumcu. Stone said that the country had improved greatly since 1974." (The Guardian, December 16, 2004)
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One of seven movie collaborations of "the two Alans", Producer Alan Marshall and Alan Parker. The films include Birdy (1984), Fame (1980), Angel Heart (1987), Bugsy Malone (1976), Midnight Express (1978), Shoot the Moon (1982), and Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982).
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Debut British film and American movie of actress Irene Miracle.
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Executive Producer Peter Guber said of this film: "We knew when we chose to make 'Midnight Express', that we were tackling an explosive and controversial subject, but we were determined to do it as honestly as was humanly possible."
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Filming this movie, in the real Sagmalcilar Prison in Istanbul, Turkey, was out of the question. It was only after an intensive location search was conducted in Spain, Italy, France, Sicily, Cyprus, Crete, and Israel, that Alan Parker and his producers agreed on shooting the film in Malta.
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Alan Parker turned down directing many children's movies (he had just helmed Bugsy Malone (1976), as well as The Wiz (1978) and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978), in order to do this film.
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Columbia Pictures originally wanted to cast Richard Gere in the lead role as Billy Hayes.
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Debut theatrical feature film of Brad Davis and Norbert Weisser, though apparently Davis previously had appeared uncredited in Eat My Dust (1976).
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Spoilers 

The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

Billy Hayes courteously declines the amorous advances of one of his fellow inmates. In real-life, Billy Hayes had an ongoing affair with this person, not just a brief encounter in the shower.
At the end of the movie, Billy Hayes killed the head guard, Hamidou, by pushing him into a clothing rack and impaling him. In real-life, it wasn't Billy Hayes that killed the head guard, but a recently paroled prisoner, when he spotted Hamidou drinking tea at a café outside, and shot him eight times, killing him.
Oliver Stone's screenplay ended with a detailed account of Billy Hayes' escape attempt, traversing through other countries to safety. During filming, Alan Parker felt that all of this was completely unnecessary, as the emotional resonance of Hayes leaving the prison was sufficient. Turning the movie into an action adventure was a big mistake in his opinion.
The film's closing epilogue states: "On the night of October 4th, 1975, Billy Hayes successfully crossed the border to Greece. He arrived home at Kennedy Airport three weeks later."

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