"What is a crime? What is punishment? It seems to vary from time to time and place to place. What's legal today is suddenly illegal tomorrow because society says it's so, and what's illegal yesterday is suddenly legal because everybody's doin' it, and you can't put everybody in jail. I'm not saying this is right or wrong. I'm just saying that's the way it is."
— Billy Hayes
The autobiography Midnight Express
was written by Billy Hayes and published in 1977. The title was prison slang for an inmate's escape attempt.
A year later in 1978, the film version directed by Alan Parker and starring Brad Davis as Billy Hayes was released. It was the breakthrough project of Oliver Stone
, whose screenplay won him his first of three Oscars.
On October 7, 1970, after a stay in Istanbul, 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 four years and two months' imprisonment on the charge of drug possession. At Sağmalcılar prison, his life becomes an utter living hell. His case is appealed, but instead, he is made an example of by being re-sentenced to thirty years (The punishment for drug smuggling). With his options running out, his only option is the Midnight Express.
This work features examples of:
- Agony of the Feet: On his first day in prison, Hayes sees a bunch of prisoners getting their feet clubbed.
- As Long as It Sounds Foreign: There is no actual Turkish spoken.
- Depraved Bisexual: Hamidou.
- Fake Nationality: Every Turkish character.
- And the Greek border guard Hayes encounters when he finally makes it out of Turkey.
- Hellhole Prison: The primary scenery.
- Malta Doubling
- Mugged for Disguise: At the end of the film, Billy Hayes takes the uniform of the guard and walks his way out to freedom.
- Prison Rape: This movie established the term "Turkish prison" as a byword for a very, very bad prison experience (ironically, American prisons have picked up this reputation among foreign tourists).
- Translation Convention: Averted. Turkish is spoken without subtitles, putting the viewer along in Billy's position. Most of what is said in Turkish can be inferred from context though.
- Fridge Logic: Such trend is continued until the end of the movie. After spending five years in prison, Billy must have learned some Turkish - he actually speaks in Turkish to the guard that mistakes Billy for another guard and throws him the keys in the climax.
- Most of the 'Turkish' spoken in this film is gibberish, as the Turkish characters are all played by Maltese actors.
- Of the five main Turkish characters: Hamidou (the big nasty prison guard) is played by a Jewish-American, Rifki an Italian, the prosecutor by an Anglo-Armenian and the chief airport cop a Turk. Only Yesil (Billy's lawyer) is Maltese.
- Important Haircut: Billy's head is shaved upon him being remanded. He keeps it cut short for the film's duration as a constant reminder.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film version greatly exaggerated the conditions of Hayes's time in prison; the book is more true to real life than the film. To clarify, almost all the sensational elements are completely fictional. The sexual abuse and torture was made up or exaggerated, Billy Hayes never killed the head guard, and his real-life affair with a fellow inmate was almost completely removed from the film version.
- Window Love