Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Midnight Express (1978)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Midnight Express (1978)

In Alan Parker's harrowing prison drama, based on the 1977 non-fiction, biographical book Midnight Express, written by American college student Billy Hayes (co-authored with William Hoffer), that told the harrowing story of Billy's arrest, imprisonment, and ultimate escape attempt (on the "midnight express") from a Turkish prison for trying to bring hashish out of the country; the screenplay was written by Oliver Stone, who took some cinematic liberties with the facts; when the film was accused of presenting anti-Turkish sentiment, Stone apologized (many years later) for his tampered celluloid version:

  • in the riveting opening sequence (with amplified sounds and Giorgio Moroder's pulsating score) on October 5th, 1970 in a grungy hotel room, American college student Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) from Long Island, NY taped blocks of two kilos of hashish to his torso before traveling to the Istanbul airport for a return trip to the US
  • at the Turkish airport with his girlfriend Susan (Irene Miracle), the twitchy, ultra-paranoid, overly-sweaty and nervous Billy became so apprehensive - accentuated by his loudly-beating heart - that he urged Susan to go on ahead of him, while he visited a restroom to splash water onto his face and attempt to relax; when he approached a suspicious, stern-faced, chain-smoking customs guard, his carry-on bag was summarily searched, and he appeared relieved when he was able to join Susan on the transit shuttle bus to the tarmac to board their airliner
  • as the bus approached the soon-to-depart airliner, Billy noticed scores of armed police, guards and officials surrounding the plane; he again sent Susan on ahead as he tried to frantically remove the concealed hash blocks from his torso on the vacated shuttle bus, but he had no time; as he was about to board the plane from the tarmac, he was taken from the line to be frisked when the taped substances were discovered; he was held at gunpoint when it was first feared that he was a dangerous suicide bomber-terrorist; he was led away, stripped to his underwear, and more thoroughly searched by security guards, who ransacked his possessions, confiscated the drugs and forced him to pose for publicity photographs
  • after being intimidated by customs officials when ordered to stand naked before them, Billy was befriended by a mysterious and shady American (a DEA agent?) nicknamed Tex (Bo Hopkins) due to his Southern accent; during interrogation, Tex translated for a local Turkish police detective (Zannino), who promised that if Billy cooperated by telling them where he had acquired the drugs (for $200 dollars), he would be returned to the US; although Billy confessed and pointed out that he had acquired the hash from a cab driver in a restaurant within a crowded market bazaar, his promised release was disregarded, especially since he had attempted an escape (but was recaptured after a chase by Tex holding a gun to his head)

Tex (Bo Hopkins)

Turkish-Speaking Police Detective (Zannino)
  • during a few nights in an inhumane, freezing cold and filthy holding cell within a jail, Billy was punished for stealing a blanket - he was stripped, strung up by his ankles, and the tender soles of his feet were repeatedly whipped with a strong club by the heavy-set chief of guards Hamidou (Paul L. Smith), and Billy was left temporarily crippled and in intense pain

Fellow Prisoners (l to r): Jimmy Booth, Billy, Swede Erich

Jimmy Booth (Randy Quaid)

Swede Erich (Norbert Weisser)

Max (John Hurt)
  • upon regaining consciousness, Billy found himself in the brutally-hellish Turkish prison, with other prisoners including heroin-addicted, introverted Britisher junkie Max (John Hurt), embittered fellow American Jimmy Booth (Randy Quaid) who was in prison for stealing two mosque candlesticks (he warned Billy: "This ain't the good ole USA. This is Turkey, man"), and drug-smuggling Swede Erich (Norbert Weisser) who had served 4 years of his 12 year sentence; Billy was subjected to more brutal beatings, rapes, and torture by the sadistic Hamidou and other guards
  • at Billy's trial in a courtroom building, he received help from his caring father William (Mike Kellin), American consulate representative Stanley Daniels (Michael Ensign), and unctuous, unreliable Turkish defense lawyer Necdit Yesil (Franco Diogene); after the scowling Prosecutor (Kevork Malikyan) delivered a fiery speech about restoring Turkey's reputation by cracking down on the drug trade, to his shock, Billy was sentenced by the Chief Judge (Gigi Ballista) to a 4 year, 2 month term for possession of hash, but not for smuggling; his defense lawyer considered the sentence a fair punishment: "It's good, very good" - he argued that he could have received a life sentence for the additional charge of smuggling
  • as Billy's father departed, he assured his son that he would fight for an appeal, a prison transfer, or political amnesty to get him released; he also had a few threatening parting words for Hamidou: "You take good care of my boy, you hear, or I'll have your f--king head, you Turkish bastard!"
  • while Billy was biding his time and his Turkish lawyer was milking his family of thousands of dollars to get him released, Billy refused to jeopardize his chances by joining Jimmy's crazed prison escape plan, by either navigating their way out through the underground catacombs, sewer and tunnels, or via the roof; Jimmy's escape effort failed and he was brutally punished and beaten (causing a severe hernia and the loss of a testicle) and confined to the sanitarium
  • as Billy was nearing his release date after three and a half years (53 days before his release), a new court date and trial were scheduled by the Turkish High Court in Ankara, and his original sentence was overturned on appeal by the Prosecutor; Billy was sentenced for further imprisonment - a life sentence - for both possession and smuggling
  • during the film's second trial scene, Billy was in the prisoner's block where he vehemently argued for his release: ("What is there for me to say? When I finish, you'll sentence me for my crime. So let me ask you now: What is the crime? What is the punishment? It seems to vary from time to time and place to place. What's legal today is suddenly illegal tomorrow because some society says it's so, and what's illegal yesterday is suddenly legal because everybody's doing it, and you can't put everybody in jail. I'm not sayin' this is right or wrong. I'm just saying that's the way it is. But I've spent three and a half years of my life in your prison, and I think I've paid for my error, and if it's your decision today to sentence me to more years, then I...My lawyer, my lawyer, that's a good one. He says, 'Just be cool, Billy. Don't get angry. Don't get upset. Be good and I'll get you a pardon, an amnesty, an appeal, or this or that or the other thing' Well, this has been going on now for three and a half years. And I have been playing it cool. I've been good. And now I'm damn tired of being good because you people gave me the belief that I had 53 days left. You, you hung 53 days in front of my face, and then you just took those 53 days away. And you, Booth! I just wish you could be standin' where I'm standin' right now and feel what that feels like, because then you would know something that you don't know, Mr. Prosecutor. Mercy! You would know that the concept of a society is based on the quality of that mercy, its sense of fair play, its sense of justice. But I guess that's like askin' a bear to s--t in a toilet")
  • the end of Billy's speech was about mercy when he shrieked at the judge: ("For a nation of pigs, it sure is funny you don't eat 'em. Jesus Christ forgave the bastards, but I can't. I hate. I hate you, I hate your nation, and I hate your people. And I f--k your sons and daughters because they're pigs! You're a pig. You're all pigs!"); at the end of Billy's speech, the Judge leniently reduced Billy's sentence to "a term no less than 30 years"
  • now with a longer sentence and due to the increasingly difficult and harsh living conditions, Billy began to plot with his fellow prisoners (Jimmy and Max) an escape through the subterranean sewer's tunnel system and catacombs beneath the prison, but their attempt failed at a tunnel's dead end; chief guard Hamidou blamed the escape attempt on Jimmy - who was forcibly hauled away and never seen again; someone squealed on Billy and Max and their prison cell was ransacked in a search to find anything incriminating
Billy's Breakdown and Brutal Beat-down of Traitorous Informant Rifki
  • Billy exhibited shocking, vicious and uncontrollable violence when he sought revenge against traitorous fellow prisoner and informant Rifki (Paolo Bonacelli) for falsely accusing Max of hash possession; suffering a nervous breakdown, the insanely-mad Billy vengefully and savagely bit off the tongue of Rifki with his teeth and spit it out, and then brutally killed him; Billy was confined to the prison's sanitarium (Section 13 for the "criminally insane") for 7 months until January 1975, filled with hundreds of real-life lunatics
  • during a visitation scene in 1975 in a private room, the sexually-desperate Billy asked his girlfriend Susan to show him her breasts by pressing them against the glass separating them so he could kiss them and pleasure himself at the same time; she sobbed: "I wish I could make it better for you"; she also slipped him a photo album and hinted that it concealed $1,000 in cash for a planned escape to Greece: ("There's pictures in the back of your old Mr. Franklin. Remember him... From the bank?"); she urged him: "If you stay here, you'll die. Jesus Christ, you've got to get yourself together. You've got to get out of here" [Note: The prison visitation scene was humorously reinterpreted in Jim Carrey's The Cable Guy (1996).]
Intimacy in Prison with Girlfriend Susan
  • in a concluding sequence, Billy made another daring attempt to escape by bribing chief guard Hamidou with his cash; Hamidou forcibly led him to the sanitarium where Billy became the victim of another attempted beating and rape, when the excited guard began to unbuckle and lower his pants; Billy rushed at him head-first, propelling the guard's back and head into a sharp coat hook and accidentally impaling and killing him
  • Billy appeared from the darkness, wearing the dead guard's stolen uniform and cap; he walked past a guard station, was thrown the front door keys, and proceeded to walk out into the sunlight; a guard jeep drove toward him but then passed by, and Billy ran for freedom - memorialized in a freeze-frame
  • two title screens described Billy's escape and return to the US: ("On the night of October 4th, 1975 Billy Hayes successfully crossed the border to Greece. He arrived home at Kennedy Airport 3 weeks later"); they were accompanied by a montage of still-framed B/W photographs of his reunion and homecoming with his family and girlfriend, before the scrolled closing credits

Billy With Blocks of Hash Taped to His Torso in His Hotel Room

On Transit Bus At Airport with His Girlfriend Susan (Irene Miracle)

Customs Check at the Airport

Posing For Photos With Confiscated Drugs

Intimidation by Customs Officers

In Jail - Stripped, Hung Upside Down, and Beaten on the Soles of His Feet by Chief Guard Hamidou (Paul L. Smith)

Billy Visited By His Father (Mike Kellin)

The Fierce Prosecutor in Billy's Court Case

Billy Declining to Join in Jimmy's Subterranean Prison Escape Plan

Billy's Rant During Second Trial Scene

Intensified Escape Plans to Scrape Through a Soft Wall

Informant Rifki

Billy Confined in the Insane Asylum Sanitarium - Section 13

Attempted Beating and Rape of Billy in Sanitarium

Billy Fought Back - Impaling Prison Guard Hamidou

Billy's Escape To Sunlight and Freedom - Wearing Dead Hamidou's Stolen Uniform


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z