“In the sight of the holy God I worship, I am innocent!”
Dr. Samuel Mudd (Warner Baxter) is wrongly convicted of conspiracy in the plot to assassinate President Lincoln, and sentenced to life in prison.
John Ford’s paean to infamous Civil War-era doctor Samuel Mudd was purportedly one of his personal favorites, and holds up reasonably well today. Although reviewers at the time praised the film for its historical veracity, however, recent research shows that Ford conveniently tweaked the truth to serve his own purposes: in the film, Mudd professes to only having seen John Wilkes Boothe performing on stage; in reality, the two met several times and were definitely at least acquaintances. Also frustrating is Ford’s treatment of African Americans, who — perhaps inevitably for the time — are shown as both servile and weak. Despite these flaws, however, The Prisoner of Shark Island remains an atmospheric, engrossing historical drama with a powerful message about our tendency to look for scapegoats when emotions run high.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Warner Baxter as Dr. Mudd
- John Carradine as a sadistic prison guard hell-bent on making Mudd’s life miserable
- Gloria Stuart as Baxter’s long-suffering wife
- Atmospheric b&w cinematography
No, though it’s certainly a must for John Ford fans.