The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936)

95 mins | Drama | 28 February 1936

Director:

John Ford

Cinematographer:

Bert Glennon

Editor:

Jack Murray

Production Designer:

William Darling

Production Company:

Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
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HISTORY

The working title of this film was Shark Island . After the opening credits, a quotation by George L. Radcliffe, U.S. Senator from Maryland, is presented: "The years have at last removed the shadow which rested upon the name of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd of Maryland, and the nation which once condemned him now acknowledges the unjustice it visited on one of the most unselfish and courageous men in American history." According to a news item, Congress cleared Dr. Mudd's name shortly before the film's release. Mudd died in 1883. A NYT news story from Jan 1992 states that the Mudd family had lobbied Congress for seven decades since the pardon by President Andrew Johnson to have the charges dropped entirely. The latest attempt, as stated in the article, occurred at a hearing before a panel of the Army Board of Correction of Military Records on 23 Jan 1992.
       According to news items, in Feb 1935, Twentieth Century Pictures, before they 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 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.
       When the planned film was first publicized in Feb 1935, Fredric March was announced to play the lead, but in Oct 1935, Warner Baxter was assigned the lead instead, as March was ... More Less

The working title of this film was Shark Island . After the opening credits, a quotation by George L. Radcliffe, U.S. Senator from Maryland, is presented: "The years have at last removed the shadow which rested upon the name of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd of Maryland, and the nation which once condemned him now acknowledges the unjustice it visited on one of the most unselfish and courageous men in American history." According to a news item, Congress cleared Dr. Mudd's name shortly before the film's release. Mudd died in 1883. A NYT news story from Jan 1992 states that the Mudd family had lobbied Congress for seven decades since the pardon by President Andrew Johnson to have the charges dropped entirely. The latest attempt, as stated in the article, occurred at a hearing before a panel of the Army Board of Correction of Military Records on 23 Jan 1992.
       According to news items, in Feb 1935, Twentieth Century Pictures, before they 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 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.
       When the planned film was first publicized in Feb 1935, Fredric March was announced to play the lead, but in Oct 1935, Warner Baxter was assigned the lead instead, as March was scheduled to be loaned to Warner Bros. In Aug 1935, Henry King was announced as director, and in Oct 1935, a news item stated that the studio wanted Jack Holt for the prison commandant. Harry Carey later played that role. The screen credits erroneously spell sound recordist Roger Heman's name "Hemen." The Twentieth Century-Fox trade paper advertising billing sheet lists the release date as 10 Apr 1936, while release charts in MPH list it as 28 Feb 1936. The trade paper billing sheet also states that the film was "personally produced by Darryl F. Zanuck" and that it had "a cast of one thousand." According to DV , for the preview at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood on 11 Feb 1936, the film ran 105 minutes. Frank McGlynn, Sr. was known for his impersonation of Abraham Lincoln. E. C. Ward was listed for sound, and William Stelling was listed as a cast member in HR production charts, but their participation in the final film have not been confirmed.
       According to news items in NYT , director John Ford stated about the film that "it has some of the qualities of The Informer , but it's more Hollywood." A NYT news item states that Ford was outraged that the film was edited by studio head Zanuck without his participation and was reported to have declared that he would never go to the Twentieth Century-Fox lot again. Ford, in fact, directed a number of subsequent films for the studio. This was screenwriter Nunnally Johnson's first film as an associate producer. Modern sources report a story related by Johnson that Zanuck, after he viewed early rushes, told him to have Ford do something about Baxter's "phony" Southern accent. When Zanuck subsequently viewed more rushes with Baxter using the same accent, he confronted Ford on the set, whereupon Ford threatened to quit. After Zanuck yelled that nobody threatens him, Ford walked over to Baxter and talked to him about the accent. Modern sources list Whitney Bourne and Robert Parrish as additional cast members. In 1958, the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse presented The Case for Dr. Mudd over the CBS television network, which was produced by Jerry Stagg, directed by Allen Miner and starred Lew Ayres. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
28 Feb 1936.
---
Daily Variety
12 Feb 36
p. 3.
Film Daily
13 Feb 36
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Feb 35
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jul 35
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Aug 35
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Oct 35
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Oct 35
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Nov 35
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Nov 35
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Dec 35
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Feb 36
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Oct 36
sect. II, p. 69.
Motion Picture Daily
13 Feb 36
p. 10.
Motion Picture Herald
1 Feb 36
pp. 44-45.
Motion Picture Herald
22 Feb 36
p. 59.
New York Times
13 Feb 36
p. 25.
New York Times
24 Jan 92
p. A7.
Variety
22 Feb 1935.
---
Variety
19 Feb 36
p. 12.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Darryl F. Zanuck Twentieth Century Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Settings
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Ed asst
Ed asst
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus dir
SOUND
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Shark Island
Release Date:
28 February 1936
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 12 February 1936
Production Date:
12 November 1935--early January 1936
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century--Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
21 February 1936
Copyright Number:
LP6233
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Noiseless Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
95
Length(in feet):
8,666
Length(in reels):
10
Country:
United States
PCA No:
1907
SYNOPSIS

On the night of April 9, 1865, the day of General Robert E. Lee's surrender, revelers parade to the White House, where President Abraham Lincoln appears on the balcony. His request for the band to play "Dixie" is greeted by exuberant cheers. On April 14, while the president watches Laura Keene in Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre, popular actor John Wilkes Booth assassinates Lincoln and breaks his own leg jumping to the stage. During a raging storm, Booth and his comrade, David Herold, ride to a Maryland cabin where they ask for a doctor. A black man directs them to the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who, not knowing Booth's identity, sets the leg. The next day, while Dr. Mudd is away delivering the baby of his former slaves, Buck and Aunt Rosabelle, soldiers invade his home searching for Booth, and when one discovers Dr. Mudd's young daughter Martha playing with Booth's boot, Dr. Mudd is arrested for conspiracy in the assassination. Although Booth is killed in Virginia, eight persons are tried as conspirators by a military court because the assassination has brought the country to the verge of hysteria. After Assistant Secretary of War Erickson instructs the members of the court-martial not to let their judgment be troubled by "pedantic" regard for the customary rules of evidence or by the notion of reasonable doubt, the hooded prisoners are tried and three are publicly hanged. Dr. Mudd is sentenced to life imprisonment at the military prison at Ft. Jefferson in Dry Tortugas, an island in the Gulf of Mexico near the Florida Keys, which is surrounded by a moat filled ... +


On the night of April 9, 1865, the day of General Robert E. Lee's surrender, revelers parade to the White House, where President Abraham Lincoln appears on the balcony. His request for the band to play "Dixie" is greeted by exuberant cheers. On April 14, while the president watches Laura Keene in Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre, popular actor John Wilkes Booth assassinates Lincoln and breaks his own leg jumping to the stage. During a raging storm, Booth and his comrade, David Herold, ride to a Maryland cabin where they ask for a doctor. A black man directs them to the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who, not knowing Booth's identity, sets the leg. The next day, while Dr. Mudd is away delivering the baby of his former slaves, Buck and Aunt Rosabelle, soldiers invade his home searching for Booth, and when one discovers Dr. Mudd's young daughter Martha playing with Booth's boot, Dr. Mudd is arrested for conspiracy in the assassination. Although Booth is killed in Virginia, eight persons are tried as conspirators by a military court because the assassination has brought the country to the verge of hysteria. After Assistant Secretary of War Erickson instructs the members of the court-martial not to let their judgment be troubled by "pedantic" regard for the customary rules of evidence or by the notion of reasonable doubt, the hooded prisoners are tried and three are publicly hanged. Dr. Mudd is sentenced to life imprisonment at the military prison at Ft. Jefferson in Dry Tortugas, an island in the Gulf of Mexico near the Florida Keys, which is surrounded by a moat filled with sharks. Shunned by the prison doctor, Dr. MacIntyre, and sadistically threatened by Sergeant Rankin, Dr. Mudd is cheered to find Buck, now in the regiment of black guards, with news from his wife Peggy that a judge, who has stated that Dr. Mudd's conviction would not hold up in a civil court, has agreed to reopen the case if Dr. Mudd can get to Key West. Dr. Mudd plans a breakout with Buck, but during the attempt, Rankin has Buck arrested and orders his men to bring back Dr. Mudd dead. The soldiers shoot at Dr. Mudd on the prison's ledge, and when he falls into the moat, the sharks are driven away by the gunfire. Dr. Mudd reaches Peggy's boat, but Rankin, who has been ordered by his commandant to bring him back alive, boards the boat with soldiers, who fight and kill Peggy's elderly father, Colonel Dyer. Rankin retrieves Dr. Mudd and throws him and Buck into a pit below the prison. When a yellow fever epidemic spreads and Dr. MacIntyre is striken, the commandant asks Dr. Mudd to help without the hope of a reward. The doctor convinces the black soldiers, who have barricaded themselves in the mess hall, to help, but he gets the disease himself. When boats offshore with doctors and medicine refuse to come nearer, Dr. Mudd, brandishing a pistol, orders the black gun crew to shoot their cannon at them, whereupon the ships head in. After the epidemic is controlled and Dr. Mudd is out of danger, Rankin, whom the doctor cared for, is the first to sign a letter to the President urging executive clemency. The doctor returns home to Peggy and Martha with Buck, who is overjoyed to greet Rosabelle and their twelve children. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.