Greatest Film Scenes
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Midnight Express (1978)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Midnight Express (1978)

In Alan Parker's harrowing 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 (on the "midnight express") from a Turkish prison for trying to smuggle hashish out of the country:

  • the riveting opening scene (with amplified sounds and Giorgio Moroder's pulsating score) in which a twitchy, ultra-paranoid and nervous Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) taped blocks of two kilos of hashish to his torso and nervously tried to board an airliner at a Turkish airport in 1970 - accentuated by his loudly-beating heart as he approached suspicious custom guards while sweating profusely, and then frisked on the tarmac as he was boarding his airplane
  • the scene of his arrest and interrogation when he was strip-searched at gunpoint
  • Billy's many years of imprisonment in a brutally-hellish Turkish prison when he was subjected to brutal beatings, rapes, and torture by sadistic guards - including chief guard Hamidou (Paul L. Smith)
  • other prisoners included heroin-addicted Britisher Max (John Hurt), fellow American Jimmy Booth (Randy Quaid) who was in prison for stealing mosque candlesticks, and drug-smuggling Swede Erich (Norbert Weisser); Billy's father (Mike Kellin) - a US consulate representative, and a Turkish defense lawyer worked on his case, and Billy was sentenced to a 4 year, 2 month term
  • however, when he was nearing his release date after three and a half years, a new court date and trial were scheduled, and his original sentence was overturned. Billy was sentenced for further imprisonment "for a term no less than 30 years" - for smuggling
  • in his second trial scene, Billy 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 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 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!")
  • now with a longer sentence, Billy began to plot an escape through the sewer's tunnel system beneath the prison, but the attempt failed at the tunnel's dead end
  • in a shocking breakdown scene, Billy - with uncontrollable violence for being ratted on - vengefully bit off the tongue of traitorous fellow prisoner Rifki (Paolo Bonacelli) with his teeth and spit it out
  • during a visitation scene, Billy asked his girlfriend Susan (Irene Miracle) 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 also slipped him a photo album that concealed money for a planned escape
Intimacy in Prison with Girlfriend Susan
  • in a concluding sequence, Billy made another daring attempt to escape, after he bribed chief guard Hamidou and was being taken to the sanitarium; there, he became the victim of an attempted rape, when the guard unbuckled and lowered his pants and approached; Billy rushed at him head-first, propelling the guard's back into a sharp coat hook and accidentally impaling and killing him; then wearing the guard's stolen uniform, Billy walked out the front door into the sunlight, passed a guard jeep, and ran for freedom
  • the closing titles were presented over a freeze-frame of Billy's run 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"), accompanied by a montage of still-framed B/W photographs of his reunion and homecoming with his family and girlfriend

Hash Taped to Billy's Torso

Interrogation at Airport

Brutal Prison Treatment

Billy's Rant During Second Trial Scene

Billy's Breakdown

The Sequence of Billy's Escape - Including the Impalement Death of Prison Guard Hamidou


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