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Midnight Express is a harrowing tale of a naïve American caught in a nightmare of his own making thousands of miles from his home. Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) is an American tourist visiting Turkey with his girlfriend Susan (Irene Miracle) when he's caught by customs officials trying to smuggle a large amount of hashish out of the country.
The crime would normally carry a sentence of four years, but officials decide to make an example of Billy, and he draws a 30-year sentence despite the promises of his Turkish legal counsel. While Susan and Billy's father (Mike Kellin) pledge to do everything they can to speed Billy's release, in fact there's little than can be done.
Billy quickly finds himself in a hellish prison that's a nightmare of filth, violence, rape, inedible food, and unspeakable health conditions.
However, Billy gains a few confidantes behind bars: Jimmy (Randy Quaid), an American in a constant state of emotional overdrive; Max (John Hurt), an intelligent, drug-addicted Englishman; and Erich (Norbert Weisser), a gay Scandinavian who is attracted to Billy but accepts his gentle refusals of sex.
Before long, Billy is convinced that he can take no more, and he makes plans to take the midnight express -- jailhouse slang for escape. While his friends are willing to help, they also make clear that almost no one who has tried to escape has lived to tell the tale.