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Midnight Express

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United Kingdom, United States · 1978
Rated R · 2h 1m
Director Alan Parker
Starring Brad Davis, Irene Miracle, Bo Hopkins, Paolo Bonacelli
Genre Crime, Drama

Billy Hayes is caught by Turkish police while attempting to smuggle hash out of Istanbul. He's sent to prison for four years, where he endures all manner of privation and abuse. As he finishes up his time, he's shocked to learn that his sentence is prolonged. In desperation, Billy concludes that escape is his only option.

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Variety by

Midnight Express is a sordid and ostensibly true story about a young American busted [in 1970] for smuggling hash in Turkey and his subsequent harsh imprisonment and later escape. Cast, direction and production are all very good, but it’s difficult to sort out the proper empathies from the muddled and moralizing screenplay which, in true Anglo-American fashion, wrings hands over alien cultures as though our civilization is absolutely perfect.


Empire by Adam Smith

Hard to call something this gratuitous entertainment but certainly lingers in the memory, thanks mainly to the bombast of Stone's script.


Newsweek by David Ansen

In Parker's hands, Billy's story has become a virtuoso horror show-an exercise in emotional manipulation designed not merely to arouse chills but to turn the audience into avengers. Despite the remarkably controlled, honestly conveyed performance of Davis, Billy finally seems far less vivid than his prison friends-Randy Quaid's highly combustible American roughneck, the superb John Hurt's strung-out English junkie. Parker captures their camaraderie well, but he fails to convey any sense of day-to-day prison life-so keen is he to get to the assaultive highlights. [16 Oct 1978, p.76]


Washington Post by Gary Arnold

Midnight Express is an outrageously sensationalistic movie version of a non-fiction cautionary tale, Billy Hays' account of his imprisonment in Turkey after being convicted for drug smuggling. Parker has upset the book's delicate sense of balance. He uses Hays' dilemma as a springboard for sensationalism, especially sustained depictions of brutality and hysteria. Midnight Express sets a new standard in shamelessness. [28 Oct 1978, p.B6]


The Globe and Mail (Toronto) by Jay Scott

Alan Parker has directed the film as if he were a sniper: you never know when you're going to get hit next, but from the first moments you know you're being aimed at. The opening, with Hayes taping hash to his chest only to be apprehended at the airport, must have looked like standard stuff in Oliver Stone's script, but on screen it's unadulterated adrenalin, filmed with fast cuts timed in counterpoint to the sound of Hayes' pounding heart. [25 Oct 1978]


The A.V. Club by Keith Phipps

Midnight Express is at war with itself. Strong when it focuses on the psychological toll of prison, it falls apart when it turns the focus elsewhere, and its depictions of all Turks as swarthy, corrupt, and sadistic is pretty inexcusable.


Chicago Sun-Times by Roger Ebert

Parker succeeds in making the prison into a full, real, rounded world, a microcosm of human behavior; I was reminded of e.e. cummings' novel The Enormous Room. The movie's art direction is especially good at recreating that world, as in a scene where Hayes and his friends try to escape down an old cistern. And there are visions into the inferno, as in a scene in the madhouse where the inmates circle forever around a stone pillar. The movie creates spellbinding terror, all right; my only objection is that it's so eager to have us sympathize with Billy Hayes.

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