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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. Written by
In a 1988 interview Stuart claimed that the only direction Ford gave her was to cry louder when her doctor husband was condemned. See more »
Booth stops and asks for the nearest doctor, and the bystander suggests Dr. Mudd, and gives Booth directions to the Doctor's house. In reality, Booth knew Dr. Mudd quite well, and knew just where to go for medical aid the night of the assassination (he had even stayed at Dr. Mudd's once, and so had no need to ask for directions). Also, in the film, Booth and Herold stay only a few minutes in Dr. Mudd's house, and then leave. In reality, Booth and Herold stayed the night at Dr. Mudd's, and were even served breakfast the following morning. See more »
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.
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