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The Prisoner of Shark Island

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Title: The Prisoner of Shark Island  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Samuel Mudd, Warner Baxter, John Ford, Gloria Stuart, John Carradine filmography, Nunnally Johnson, Francis Ford (actor), John McGuire (actor), Frenchy Bordagaray, Paul Fix
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The Prisoner of Shark Island

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
Starring Warner Baxter
Gloria Stuart
Frank McGlynn
Francis McDonald
Music by R.H. Bassett
Hugo Friedhofer
Cinematography Bert Glennon
Editing by Jack Murray
Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox
Release date(s) February 28, 1936
Country United States
Language English

The Prisoner of Shark Island is a 1936 film loosely based on the life of Samuel Mudd, produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, directed by John Ford, and starring Warner Baxter and Gloria Stuart.


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.

Historical accuracy

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. 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. 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.



  • 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.


External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • AllRovi
  • at Virtual History
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