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.
Oliver Stone is credited for adapting the book by Billy Hayes, young tourist who, in the midst of airline terrorism and world pressure on Turkey over drug farming, is discovered wearing a not-insignificant amount of hash strapped to his body. Brad Davis plays Hayes in a strong performance.
Acceptance of the film depends a lot on forgetting several things: he was smuggling hash; Turkey is entitled to its laws, and is no more guilty of penal corruption and brutality than, say, the US, UK, France, Germany, etc; a world tourist can’t assume that a helpful father (played well by Mike Kellin) is going to have the same clout with some midwestern politicians; nor can an American expect to be treated with kid gloves everywhere.
However, the script loads up sympathy for Davis, also fellow convicts Randy Quaid (a psycho character), John Hurt (a hard doper) and Norbert Weisser (playing the obligatory gay inmate), by making the prison authorities even worse.
1978: Best Adapted Screenplay, Original Score.
Nominations: Best Picture, Director, Supp. Actor (John Hurt), Editing