Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Midnight Express (1978) * * * *

Cast:Brad Davis, John Hurt, Randy Quaid, Paul L. Smith, Norbert Weisser, Irene Miracle, Bo Hopkins

Directed by Alan Parker

The late (underrated) Brad Davis stars as Billy Hayes a dope smuggling American who screws up when he is sent to a Turkish prison camp where he slowly loses hope, humanity and his sanity before he springs his escape and gets back to the U.S. Midnight Express has been considered racist and angry and I for one agree with that assessment if looked at in a completely face value way. A lot of the movie is fabricated (the real life Billy Hayes didn’t kill anyone) but the effect and message is all the same. Many others have brought up that you shouldn’t feel bad for Billy Hayes because he is smuggling keys of dope into this country, but this is the point. How one absurd mistake and not realizing the culture can in fact get you in a situation that is way over your head. I think the most fascinating part of Midnight Express is how close to home it hits the American attitude regarding other countries. The movie has a standout scene where Brad Davis delivers a speech on how the Turks can hold having 53 days in his face then turn it into a 30 year sentence, unaware of how the rules work in a foreign land. Brad Davis’ character then isn’t as sympathetic and probably with good reason because the way Midnight Express shows the atmosphere of true hell, such might be a good thing as the suspense  reaches intense levels. The big fight sequence between Davis and a fellow Turk in particular takes one aback. Indeed the most powerful element is the way the characters are isolated, the U.S embassy is helpless, they don’t really know the language and it is survival every single day and not only can the Americans not do anything about it, they don’t seem to really care about helping out. Sure the film does paint Turks in an unflattering light but I think the fact that Davis has in fact screwed up and is being forced to face the music makes Midnight Express fascinating and thought provoking. Indeed the big racist speech where Davis calls the Turks pigs, is well done because he goes on to ask for human mercy, complains how he has done enough time and that it’s not fair and how things that are illegal become legal again when others do it around them, it’s a tell tale sign of Foreign thinking that holds no water in a society built on strict values and religious principles. Midnight Express would go on to inspire many ugly prison films like the Van Damme flick In Hell but this is the only prison flick that earns it’s ugly drama and ultimately becomes fascinating. Even 30 some years later Midnight Express remains one of the all time best prison movies and perhaps a stern warning for those who don’t do as the Romans do.


  1. It's been forever since I've seen this, and I saw it on TV, so it might have been edited. Maybe twenty years ago when I really think about it. I should check it out again at some point.

  2. This is one that I don't recommend you review for the site, this is definitely one if you choose to review as one like you did with Chugking Express because this is not DTV in anyway, indeed it's hard justification to classify as it as action, but because it is a prison movie I felt it would work with what it is. I don't know, Alan Parker makes excellent movies and yet he doesn't get recognition that he deserves. Another great is Angel Heart and of course Mississipi Burning. This one though has Brad Davis who is great, I was really sad to hear of his death to AIDs in 1991. Apparently he went onto make DTV movies like Cold Steel, Hangfire and Child Of Darkness, Child Of Light. Overall though he was an underrated character actor.

  3. This one is an interesting case for the DTVC, because it has a Die Hard element, in that like Die Hard, it had a major influence on the world of DTV. A lot of prison films take from this and Papillion-- though now you could make the case that they take more from Death Warrant.