USA | 93 min.
black & white
John Ford, 1936
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Based on the true-life case of the incarceration of Dr. Samuel Mudd (Oscar-winning Warner Baxter), The Prisoner of Shark Island is a stirring account of the victimization of a simple man. This fast-moving and gripping drama — rarely seen and remarkably timeless — follows Mudd through a calamitous series of brutal encounters. Driven by selfless integrity and his honourable commitment to duty, Mudd exemplifies the quintessential Ford hero who has become, unwittingly, an enemy of the people. Regarded as a personal favourite by the director, it was also the film he was said to be most happy with.
Written by Nunnally Johnson (The Grapes of Wrath, Tobacco Road), The Prisoner of Shark Island dramatizes the fatal shooting of Abraham Lincoln (Frank McGlynn, Sr.) and the subsequent visit by the assassin John Wilkes Booth (Francis McDonald) to Dr. Samuel Mudd’s house to fix his broken leg. Unaware of Booth’s treason, Mudd is later arrested — narrowly escaping execution after a one-sided military trial — and sentenced to a life of hard labour at Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas (an infamous prison in the Gulf of Mexico surrounded by shark-infested waters).
Featuring a blistering, muscular performance by John Carradine as a sadistic prison guard, The Prisoner of Shark Island is a tautly scripted, vividly directed examination of Dr. Mudd’s struggle to overcome inhuman justice. Nominated for Best Picture by the American National Board of Review, the film has been rarely screened over recent decades. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present The Prisoner of Shark Island for the first time on UK home video in the 70th-anniversary year of its original release.
by Lindsay Anderson, 2006