The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936)

Approved  |   |  Biography, Drama, History  |  28 February 1936 (USA)
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The story of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was imprisoned after innocently treating President Lincoln's assassin in 1865.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Mrs. Peggy Mudd
Claude Gillingwater ...
Col. Jeremiah Milford Dyer
Arthur Byron ...
Mr. Erickson
O.P. Heggie ...
Dr. MacIntyre
Commandant of Fort Jefferson
Francis Ford ...
Cpl. O'Toole
John McGuire ...
Lt. Lovett
Francis McDonald ...
Douglas Wood ...
Gen. Ewing
Sgt. Rankin
Joyce Kay ...
Martha Mudd
Sgt. Cooper
Ernest Whitman ...
'Buck' Milford


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. Written by Alfred Jingle

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


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Release Date:

28 February 1936 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Je n'ai pas tué Lincoln  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Western Electric Noiseless Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


John Carradine originally auditioned for the role of Abraham Lincoln, which he later played in Of Human Hearts (1938). See more »


Booth is seen entering the President's theater box on the President's left; he even opens the door first to make sure the President is there. He then shoots him at a distance of at least 5 feet, again from Lincoln's left side. In reality, Booth entered the box from behind the President, and shot him at very close range in the back of the head. Also, in real life Booth shot Lincoln immediately after the line " sockdolagizing old mantrap!", thus insuring that the audience laughter would drown out the sound of the shot (Booth was very familiar with the play and knew just when to shoot). In the film, the line in question is uttered before Booth has even made his way into the box. See more »


'Buck' Milford: Move on, white man.
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Featured in John Ford (1993) See more »


Maryland, My Maryland
Played as background music often
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User Reviews

Before Guantanamo, there was Dry Tortugas
12 July 2006 | by (Zurich, Switzerland) – See all my reviews

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.

18 of 23 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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