The Prisoner of Shark Island
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|The Prisoner of Shark Island|
film poster by Joseph A. Maturo
|Directed by||John Ford|
|Produced by||Nunnally Johnson
Darryl F. Zanuck
|Written by||Nunnally Johnson|
|Music by||R.H. Bassett
|Edited by||Jack Murray|
|Distributed by||Twentieth Century Fox|
|Running time||96 minutes|
A few short hours after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln (Frank McGlynn Sr.), Dr. Samuel Mudd (Baxter) gives treatment to a man with a broken leg who shows up at his door. Mudd does not know that the president has been assassinated and the man who he is treating is John Wilkes Booth (Francis McDonald). Mudd is arrested for being an accessory in the assassination and is sent to prison on the Dry Tortugas, described as in the West Indies and referred to in the film as "America's own Devil's Island".
After a period of ill treatment due to his notoriety, his skills as a doctor are requested by the Commandant of the prison. The island has been in the grip of a yellow fever epidemic and the official prison doctor has fallen ill. Dr. Mudd takes charge with the blessing of the Commandant and the cooperation of the soldier guards, and the yellow jack epidemic subsides.
In the end he receives a pardon and is allowed to return home.
||This section possibly contains original research. (October 2013)|
The film portrays Dr. Mudd as an entirely innocent victim and scapegoat, while the actual historical details of the case and his ties to Booth cast a shadow on his true innocence.
The historically accurate parts of the movie are (1) that President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, (2) by John Wilkes Booth who sought help for a broken leg from Dr. Samuel Mudd, (3) who was subsequently tried before a military commission, found guilty of aiding Booth, and sent to an island military prison, and (4) was a hero in treating those felled in a yellow fever epidemic.
Other than this, the movie is historically inaccurate from beginning to end. In the assassination in the opening scene, Lincoln is holding a poster for the play when he is shot. He never had such thing. Booth is depicted as shooting from the doorway when he was actually five feet from the back of the president at the time of the shooting. Dr. Mudd's wife was named Sarah Frances, not Peggy. They had four children at the time, none of whom resembled in any way the one cute little daughter in the movie. Mrs. Mudd's father was dead, not alive and kicking as in the movie. None of the trial testimony is accurately portrayed. There is no "Shark Island"; Dr. Mudd was imprisoned at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas islands, Florida. None of the characters refer to the prison by its historical name, although Mudd does receive a letter correctly addressed to Fort Jefferson. One of Dr. Mudd's slaves did not follow him to prison, and try to help him escape from there. Dr. Mudd's wife and her father did not command a boat in an attempt to rescue Dr. Mudd from prison. Dr. Mudd did not engage in a running gun battle while trying to escape to his wife's fictional boat. He did try to escape a couple of months after arriving at Fort Jefferson by hiding aboard a visiting ship, but he was quickly discovered and returned to the fort. He was not placed in an underground pit as punishment for trying to escape. His punishment for trying to escape was 3 months in a large empty ground level gun room with four other prisoners. The men were allowed out of the gun room every day to work around the fort, etc.
- Warner Baxter - Dr. Samuel Alexander Mudd
- Gloria Stuart - Mrs. Peggy Mudd
- Claude Gillingwater - Col. Jeremiah Milford Dyer
- Arthur Byron - Mr. Erickson
- O. P. Heggie - Dr. MacIntyre
- Harry Carey - Commandant of Fort Jefferson
- Francis Ford - Cpl. O'Toole
- John McGuire - Lt. Lovett
- Francis McDonald - John Wilkes Booth
- Douglas Wood - Gen. Ewing
- John Carradine - Sgt. Rankin
- Joyce Kay - Martha Mudd
- Fred Kohler Jr. - Sgt. Cooper
- Ernest Whitman - 'Buck' Milford
- Paul Fix - David Herold
- The film inspired a radio adaptation on the "Encore Radio Theater" in 1946.
- The film also inspired the western film, Hellgate (1952).
- A television adaptation The Ordeal of Dr. Mudd was released in 1980.
- Lincoln Assassination, History Channel
- Hughes, James (November 7, 2012). "REVIEW: The Prisoner of Shark Island". Oxford American.
Shark Island still manages, seventy-five years later, to be adventurous, bizarre, redemptive, and blistering in its assessment of American power. A must for the Lincoln catalog.A reconsideration of the film in the context of the 2012 film Lincoln.
- Schwartz, Dennis (December 14, 2007). "The Prisoner of Shark Island". Ozus' World Movie Reviews. A recent, positive review by the prolific online critic.
- The Prisoner of Shark Island at the American Film Institute Catalog
- The Prisoner of Shark Island at the Internet Movie Database
- The Prisoner of Shark Island at AllMovie
- The Prisoner of Shark Island at Virtual History
- 1938 Lux Radio Theater broadcast of The Prisoner of Shark Island