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Tuesday June 19th 2018

Midnight Express | 1978

Midnight Express filming location: Fort St Elmo, Valletta, Malta
Midnight Express location: Billy Hayes is imprisoned in ‘Sagmalcilar Prison’: Fort St Elmo, Valletta, Malta | Photograph: Wikimedia Commons / Sudika

Billy Hayes (Brad Davis) is the young American student imprisoned in the 1970s for smuggling dope in this Oliver Stone-scripted version of his ordeal in the Turkish prison system.

With the Turkish authorities less than thrilled by the (supposedly exaggerated) portrayal of their penal system, the real location of the story, ‘Sagmalcilar Prison’ in Istanbul, was obviously out of the question. The movie was shot on the island of Malta.

‘Istanbul Airport’, where an unexpectedly thorough search uncovers the packets of hash strapped to Hayes’ body, is Malta International Airport, at Luqa.

The souk, where Hayes tries to give the authorities the slip when he’s taken to point out the dealer who sold him the drugs, is Valletta market on Merchants Street. He makes his vain attempt to run for it on St Paul Street, in Valletta.

The forbidding courtyards and overlooking balconies of the prison are those of Fort St Elmo, an old British army barracks built in 1850 on the site of the legendary Great Siege of Malta in 1565. It’s at the northern tip of the Sciberras Peninsula, guarding the entrance to both of Valletta’s harbours.

Today Fort St Elmo is home to the Malta police academy and is open to the public only on Sunday mornings, for historical reenactments. Part of the fort does, however, house the National War Museum.

Fort St Elmo has since appeared in Renny Harlin’s 1995 pirate adventure Cutthroat Island, Kevin Reynolds’ 2002 version of The Count of Monte Cristo and, more recently, Marc Forster’s World War Z.

Billy’s trial, and retrial, was filmed in the cloisters of the 17th Century Dominican Monastery, Triq Il-Kullegg in Rabat, about seven miles southwest of Valletta.

‘Section 13 for the Criminally Insane’, to which Billy is sent after viciously attacking a guard, is Valletta’s Sacra Infermeria (Holy Infirmary), built in 1574 under Grand Master Jean de la Cassiere. In 1979, the Infermeria was extensively restored and now houses the Mediterranean Conference Centre. In addition to conferences, the centre is a venue for a range of events including product launches, exhibitions, conventions, banquets and theatrical performances.