The Prisoner of Shark Island
Biography / Drama / History
The Prisoner of Shark Island
Biography / Drama / History
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A few short hours after President Lincoln has been assassinated, Dr. Samuel Mudd gives medical treatment to a wounded man who shows up at his door. Mudd has no idea that the president is dead and that he is treating his murderer, John Wilkes Booth. But that doesn't save him when the army posse searching for Booth finds evidence that Booth has been to the doctor's house. Dr. Mudd is arrested for complicity and sentenced to life imprisonment, to be served in the infamous pestilence-ridden Dry Tortugas. —Alfred Jingle.
Uploaded By: FREEMAN
Aug 15, 2021 at 04:12 PM
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Your name is Mudd
This film, coming out at a time when the nation as a whole and Hollywood in particular tended to be sympathetic toward the South, presents a one-sided account of the events surrounding the Lincoln assassination of 1865. This was due to some extend by the visual impressions created by D. W. Griffith of Kentucky, especially his seminal "The Birth of a Nation" which made heroes out of the clandestine hate organization, the KKK. From a political standpoint, the South had become important as a result of many powerful congressmen and senators being from that region which by now had become the stronghold of the Democratic Party, "The Solid South." Pecuniary matters are usually the deciding factor for Hollywood, and there existed a large ticket-buying public in that part of our nation. The Civil War became The War Between the States or the War of Northern Aggression. The volatile issue of slavery was replaced with the states rights rationalization, forgetting that South Carolina and the other ten Confederate slave states withdrew from the Union so their right to own chattel would not be bothered. The right to own slaves became one of the main planks in the Confederate Constitution."The Prisoner of Shark Island" presents the Southern view of history. It also conveniently omits the incriminating evidence against Dr. Mudd, that he knew Booth well. In fact, he was the one who had introduced Booth to a leading conspirator, John Surratt. After setting Booth's leg, Booth did not leave the Mudd house but stayed the night and was ably assisted by Dr. Mudd. Evidence indicates that Mudd knew much more than he ever admitted about Booth and the assassination conspiracy. The murder of Lincoln occurred in the federal district of Washington, D.C., not in a state, hence the reason for the military tribunal. Needless to say, the conduct of the trial would have been much different had it been a civilian rather than a military one. The fact that the one who pulled the trigger, Booth, was killed before coming to trial also muddied the water.The part of "The Prisoner of Shark Island" that sticks with history best is Dr. Mudd's heroic efforts to combat disease at the prison. This justifiably led to his pardon by President Andrew Johnson.The acting, direction, and cinematography are first rate. Written by a Southerner, Nunnally Johnson, the historical facts are a bit skewed but otherwise the script is a good one. If the viewer keeps an open mind, this is a very entertaining picture.
Before Guantanamo, there was Dry Tortugas
This moving story does have some actuality. One of the interesting details is some legal argument about the place of residence of doctor Mudd. The lawyers argue that if he could be transported from Shark Island, the prison on Dry Tortugas, to a place where normal US legislation is applied, then a writ of habeas corpus could be served and he would go free. Therefore Mudd's supporters launch a failed rescue attempt to that effect. On Dry Tortugas, an island off the Floridy Keys, the prisoner has no chance to appeal for territorial reasons. In my understanding (I am no lawyer, however) this pretty much reflects the Guantanamo situation of today and one just hopes that no doctor Mudds are holed up there and that all open legal questions in that context can be resolved satisfactorily.I am always amazed how outspoken movies of the great Hollywood Studios could be on political issues or social or legal injustice. This movie is an important product of this tradition. The Prisoner of Shark Island is almost an Anti Yankee-movie. The soldiers are uncouth and brutal, the carpet baggers sleazy double talkers. The authorities panic after President Lincoln's assassination. Somebody, anybody has to hang for the crime. And fast. One of the memorable moments of the movie has one of the military judges in charge say something like we owe it to the people", clearly meaning the enraged mob in the square below. Thinking of who else claimed to fulfill the wishes of the people" around 1936 this could also be an appeal to legal authorities to serve the written law and not give in to those who shout the loudest.Director John Ford certainly knew how to stir up emotions, some of the pathos might be regarded as slightly overwrought by contemporary viewers. However, The Prisoner of Shark Island certainly is one of the most beautiful and memorable movies of his.
The Trial and Tribulation of Dr. Samuel Mudd
THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND (20th Century-Fox, 1936), subtitled "Based on the Life of Samuel A. Mudd," directed by John Ford with screenplay by Nunnally Johnson, brings forth an obscure fact-based story about one country doctor whose name has become unjustly associated with conspiracy and treason. The preface that precedes the story gives the indication as to what the movie represents ... FORWARD: "The years have at last removed the shadow of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd of Maryland, and the nation which once condemned him now acknowledges the injustice it visited upon one of the most unselfish and courageous men in American history," George L. Radcliffe, United States Senator of Maryland. THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND recaptures the tragic event in American history forgotten through the passage of time. Aside from the fact that this could very well be a sequel to D.W. Griffith's biographical depiction of ABRAHAM LINCOLN (United Artists, 1930), with its concluding minutes depicting the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (Walter Huston) seated along side his wife, Mary (Kay Hammond), by John Wilkes Booth (Ian Keith), while watching a play, "Our American Cousin," at Ford's Theater. What happens after-wards is never really disclosed, until the release of THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND six years later. The Civil War has ended. Soldiers are seen parading home, accompanied by a marching band. Abraham Lincoln (Frank McGlynn Sr.) comes out on his upstairs balcony, and not quite up to making a speech, asks the band to simply play "Dixie." The reconstruction of Lincoln's assassination at Ford's Theater soon follows, with Lincoln, becoming the fatal victim of a bullet aimed at his head shot from the gun belonging to John Wilkes Booth (Francis J. McDonald). Injuring his leg after jumping onto the stage, Booth, accompanied by David E. Herold (Paul Fix), make their escape from the theater riding on horseback into the rainy night bound for Virginia. Unable to stand the pain of his leg much longer, the two fugitives from justice locate the home of a country doctor named Samuel Alexander Mudd (Warner Baxter), a happily married man with a beautiful wife, Peggy (Gloria Stuart), daughter, Martha (Joyce Kay), and his live-in father-in-law, the outspoken Colonel "Turkey" Dyer (Claude Gillingwater Sr.). Unaware of who this injured man is, true to his profession, Mudd attends to the fracture of this stranger's leg before moving on. The next morning, officers trace Booth's whereabouts towards Mudd's property, and when one of them finds a cut up boot with Booth's name nearly smeared off, Mudd, is taken away from his family, put to trial and charged with being part of the conspiracy to Lincoln's murder along with seven others, including the captured David Herold. (Wilkes fate is described through inter-titles as being killed while resisting arrest in Virginia, leaving eight strangely assorted people, guilty as well as the innocent, to face trial and an angry mob). In spite of his pleas, Mudd, is sentenced serve life of hard labor at Dry Tortugas, a prison located on the Gulf of Mexico along the Florida Keys surrounded by man-eating sharks, better known as "Shark Island." Once there, Mudd finds his name associated with conspiracy and treason, and must cope with Sergeant Rankin (John Carradine), an evil jailer and Lincoln sympathizer, who, once learning of Mudd's identity, pleasures himself in abusing the doctor with punches to his jaw and forceful shoves every chance he gets.Other actors featured in this historical drama include Harry Carey as the Commandant; Francis Ford as Corporal O'Toole; Fred Kohler Jr. as Sergeant Cooper; along with O.P. Heggie (1879-1936) as the prison physician, Doctor McIntire, and Arthur Byron (1872-1943) as Secretary of War Erickson, each making their final screen appearances. Child actress Joyce Kay as Martha Mudd looks somewhat like a pint-size Shirley Temple, with curls and all. Extremely cute, her movie career became relatively short-lived.Whether the story about inhuman injustice to an innocent doctor is historically accurate or not really doesn't matter, for that John Ford's direction recaptures the essence to the post Civil War era, along with brutal hardships of prison life depicted on screen as America's Devil's Island. Warner Baxter, gives one of his best dramatic performances of his career of the doctor condemned for following the ethics of his trade. The yellow fever sequence where Mudd, who has contacted yellow fever himself, shows his true dedication by working continuously in heat and rain, and making all efforts possible to save those hundreds of near death prisoners. Even more dedicated is his wife, Peggy, wonderfully played by Gloria Stuart, who, like her husband, stops at nothing either, in this case, trying to prove her husband's innocence in countless efforts in getting Sam a new trial. Right from the start, viewers are very much aware of Mudd's innocence, and as with many noted historical figures who have faced similar situations, he finds himself punished along with the guilty, with the indication that everything happens for a reason. One man's fate (Lincoln) becomes another man's (Mudd) destiny.As with the biographical sense of Samuel A. Mudd, the film version to THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND is unjustly forgotten. Out of circulation on the commercial television markets since the late 1970s or beyond, THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND frequently aired on the American Movie Classics cable channel until 1993, and brought back one last time in August 1999 as part of AMC's annual film preservation and tribute to director John Ford. In later years THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND has played on the Fox Movie Channel as well as Turner Classic Movies where it premiered December 10, 2007. Of great interest to American history buffs, THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND, is the sort of Hollywood-style history lesson director John Ford does best. (***)
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