Midnight Express (1978) Poster


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In 2004, screen-writer Oliver Stone apologized for the portrayal of Turkey, Turkish prisons and the Turkish people in the movie.
Although the movie is based on a true story, it has been indicated by Billy Hayes himself 20 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.
The scene in which Brad Davis' character bites out the tongue 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.
Oliver Stone's original script detailed Billy Hayes' escape over the mountains, but the the small budget did not allow for the filming of these scenes. The actual escape that occurred in real-life was not used for the movie, replaced with a different escape. The escape in the film was shot in Greece doubling for Turkey.
In an attempt to really get into character, John Hurt stopped bathing for most of the 53-day schedule and reeked so badly in time, most of his colleagues avoided being close to him.
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 film makers 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 a reaction to the PLO hijacking (and subsequent destruction) of four passenger jets in Europe just four weeks prior to the event portrayed at the beginning of the film (October 6, 1970). There are two somewhat oblique references to this event early in the film: a headline on the paper that Susan is reading on the bus that takes them to the plane ("Nixon Outraged at Palestinian Hijackers"), and again in the car after his arrest when Tex says "You decided to fly at a bad time... guerrillas all over the place, blowing' up planes... 4 planes in 4 days".
First movie to win an Oscar for "Best Original Score" featuring a totally synthesized music score.
Banned (and never released theatrically) in Turkey, until 1992 when the private TV channel HBB broadcast it.
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.
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, 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.
Billy Hayes visited the Maltese filming locations during principal photography exactly 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 hell-holes around the world".
According to his book, Brad Davis had a drug problem of his own while promoting this film.
Although set in Turkey, the interiors of the Sagmalcilar Prison were actually filmed at Fort St.Elmo, Valletta, Malta after permission to film in Istanbul was denied.
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 on the spur of the moment. The only Turkish words he speaks are 'pasaport' (passport) and 'cantayI' (bag).
The title "Midnight Express" is cell-block prison slang language for a jail break-out.
The film was made and released just about a year or two after its source book of the same name by Billy Hayes was first published in 1977.
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.....".
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".
The last eight pages of the film's script were scrapped. When the Columbia Pictures studio executives found out about it they went berserk.
To enhance the authenticity of the film, director Alan Parker cast unknown actors rather than big name stars.
When Billy Hayes is arrested in the film he is with his girlfriend but in real-life and in the source book Hayes was actually alone when he was caught.
Billy Hayes' speech in the courtroom scene in the film went longer than it did in real life. In it, Billy gives a long soliloquy against the Turkish penal system and according to Hayes, said everything he wish he had said in the dock.
In Holland (The Netherlands) a cinema was set on fire where the movie was playing.
According to Alan Parker, this was the most grueling shoot of his career - 53 days with cast and crew working 6-day weeks.
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 got to double for Istanbul, Turkey's Sagmalcilar Prison. The fort was the site of the legendary Great Siege of Malta in 1565. The original Turkish gaol could not be used for self-explanatory reasons.
Director 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".
Billy Hayes once commented that actor John Hurt bore a startling resemblance in look, condition, and physique to the real-life Max who Hurt was playing in the movie.
The documentary I'm Healthy, I'm Alive and I'm Free (1977) is about the making of this movie.
Oliver Stone wrote the first draft of the screenplay in six weeks.
Actor John Hurt's only ever film that he has done sight unseen without reading the script.
The first director 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 would later work on Year of the Dragon (1985) together.
Both Richard Gere and John Travolta were considered for the part of Billy Hayes.
Reportedly, Billy Hayes told 'The Seattle Post-Intelligencer' that this film "depicts all Turks as monsters".
Producer David Puttnam was sacked for three days then re-hired.
The production shoot for this picture ran for fifty-three days.
David Puttnam, the movie's producer, says he got paid more for this picture than the last ten films that he had made.
A sequel was planned but never materialized.
The film's opening prologue states: "The following is based on a true story. It began October 6, 197o in Istanbul, Turkey".
The film was also entered into competition at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival.
The Columbia Pictures studio originally wanted to cast Richard Gere in the lead role as Billy Hayes and was the studio executives' first choice.
Vangelis was considered to score the picture and even composed a rough track.
In England and in other territories, the picture was re-released on a double-bill with Taxi Driver (1976).
One of seven movie collaborations of "The Two Alans" - producer Alan Marshall and director 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).
Director 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.
Author Mary Lee Settle's 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".
American film debut of actress Irene Miracle.


The trivia items below may give away important plot points.

Billy Hayes courteously declines the amorous advances of one of his fellow inmates. In actuality, the real 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 clothes rack and impaling him. In real life, it wasn't Billy Hayes that killed the head guard but a recently paroled prisoner, where he spotted Hamidou drinking tea at a café outside and shot him eight times, killing him.
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 3 weeks later."

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