The Prisoner of Shark Island

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The Prisoner of Shark Island
film poster by Joseph A. Maturo
Directed by John Ford
Written by Nunnally Johnson
Produced byNunnally Johnson
Darryl F. Zanuck
Starring Warner Baxter
Gloria Stuart
Frank McGlynn
Francis McDonald
Cinematography Bert Glennon
Edited by Jack Murray
Music by R.H. Bassett
Hugo Friedhofer
Twentieth Century Fox
Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox
Release date
  • February 28, 1936 (1936-02-28)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Prisoner of Shark Island is a 1936 film loosely based on the life of Maryland physician Samuel Mudd, who treated the injured presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth and later spent time in prison after his controversial conviction for being one of Booth's accomplices. The film was produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, was directed by John Ford and starred Warner Baxter and Gloria Stuart.


Twentieth Century Pictures, before it merged with Fox, purchased the rights to the book The Life of Dr. Mudd by Nettie Mudd Monroe, the doctor's daughter. The film's credits, however, make no reference to Monroe or her book. Modern sources state that Darryl F. Zanuck, Twentieth Century's vice-president in charge of production, got the idea to make the film after he read an article in Time magazine about the prison camp for political prisoners on the Dry Tortugas island. [1]


A few short hours after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln (Frank McGlynn Sr.), Dr. Samuel Mudd (Warner 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, and an unsuccessful escape attempt, 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 fever epidemic subsides.

In the end he receives a pardon and is allowed to return home.


Warner Baxter and Gloria Stuart in The Prisoner of Shark Island Warner Baxter and Gloria Stuart 1936.png
Warner Baxter and Gloria Stuart in The Prisoner of Shark Island

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Further reading