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The Prisoner of Shark Island - Masters of Cinema series [DVD] [1936]

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The Prisoner of Shark Island - Masters of Cinema series [DVD] [1936] + The Iron Horse [Masters of Cinema] [DVD] [1924]
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Product details

  • Actors: Warner Baxter, Gloria Stuart, Claude Gillingwater, Arthur Byron, O.P. Heggie
  • Directors: John Ford
  • Writers: Nunnally Johnson
  • Producers: Darryl F. Zanuck, Nunnally Johnson
  • Format: PAL, Black & White, Full Screen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Subtitles For The Hearing Impaired: English
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3 - 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: U
  • Studio: Eureka
  • DVD Release Date: 20 Mar 2006
  • Run Time: 93 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000CS351G
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 124,637 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)


Based on the true-life case of the incarceration of Dr. Samuel Mudd (Oscar-winning Warner Baxter), The Prisoner of Shark Island is a fast-moving and gripping drama — rarely seen and remarkably timeless — following Mudd through a calamitous series of brutal encounters. Regarded as a personal favourite by the director, it was also the film he was said to be most happy with. Written by Nunnally Johnson (The Grapes of Wrath, Tobacco Road), The Prisoner of Shark Island dramatizes the fatal shooting of Abraham Lincoln (Frank McGlynn, Sr.) and the subsequent visit by the assassin John Wilkes Booth (Francis McDonald) to Dr. Samuel Mudd's house to fix his broken leg. Unaware of Booth's treason, Mudd is later arrested — narrowly escaping execution after a one-sided military trial — and sentenced to a life of hard labour at Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas (an infamous prison in the Gulf of Mexico surrounded by shark-infested waters). Featuring a blistering, muscular performance by John Carradine as a sadistic prison guard, The Prisoner of Shark Island is a tautly scripted, vividly directed examination of Dr. Mudd's struggle to overcome inhuman justice. Nominated for Best Picture by the American National Board of Review, the film has been rarely screened over recent decades. The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present The Prisoner of Shark Island for the first time on UK home video in the 70th-anniversary year of its original release.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Mr. P. Birtwistle on 5 May 2006
Format: DVD
Shot by John Ford in an almost docudrama style, this film portrays the goings on when Abraham Lincoln was shot. Panic amongst the American people, folks locked up for no good reason at all, scapegoats found and executed, it all seems far too real for comfort in the current era. Warner Baxter plays the eponymous prisoner, Dr. Samuel Mudd, a man who inadvertently aids assassin John Wilkes Booth after Lincoln's shooting. The fact that he is a Southerner leads to an instant assumption of guilt, and here the story does go into predictable territory.

A prison island with a sadistic guard, outbreaks of illness with the only doctor locked up and reviled, stormy weather, the whole works are thrown on by Ford, no doubt stretching the truth where he can to make a good story. And why not.....

The cinematography is superb, captured by a superlative transfer, the acting (mostly) understated enough, and the film makes a terrific addition to Eureka's Masters Of Cinema series.

The DVD adds an incisive commentary, a rather stilted interview and a collection of promotional martial from the films original release. A 28 page book makes excellent reading, with essays and interviews and more stills of promotional posters and the like.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Spike Owen TOP 500 REVIEWER on 26 Jan 2013
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
The Prisoner of Shark Island is directed by John Ford and written by Nunnally Johnson. It stars Warner Baxter, Gloria Stuart, Harry Carey, John Carradine, Ernest Whitman, Francis McDonald, Joyce Kay, Claude Gillingwater and Frank McGlynn. Music is by R.H. Bassett and Hugo Friedhofer and cinematography by Bert Glennon.

After setting the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth (McDonald), Dr. Samuel A. Mudd (Baxter) is tried as a co-conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (McGlynn). Sentenced to life imprisonment at the military prison of Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, Mudd desperately tries to stay sane and fight a vicious regime in the hope of one day proving the unjust nature of his sentence.

A personal favourite of Ford's, it's not hard to see why given that The Prisoner of Shark Island is supreme film making. Based on the true story of Samuel Mudd, there is perhaps unsurprisingly some little fudging of the facts, but this in no way detracts from the truthful basis of this incredible human interest story. Time is afforded to the joy at the end of the Civil War, Lincoln's weariness (McGlynn classy as usual) , the assassination on that desperate day April 14th 1865, Mudd's family life and moral fibre and then the night he abided by his Hippocratic Oath and administered medical aid to the man who had just murdered the president. These are all delicately handled scenes by Ford, who aided by Johnson's screenplay manages to hit home to us the fragile nature of the Mudd incident that is harnessed by a country grieving with anger.

Once the trial arrives, the film shifts to another level, the delicacy of Ford's framing of characters and Johnson's rich dialogue passages are replaced by striking imagery and an impassioned performance by the wonderful Baxter.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By BPR on 18 Dec 2011
Format: DVD
John Ford directed 146 films in his long and illustrious career and at this point, I have unfortunately seen very few of them. Prisoner of Shark Island is loosely based on the life of Samuel Mudd, a doctor who unwittingly helped Abraham Lincoln's killer (John Wilkes Booth) by fixing his broken leg. He was sent to prison for aiding Booth where he helped battle an outbreak of yellow fever. Warner Baxter is excellent in the lead role, and the story is well written and presented. The characters are well developed, albeit in a short space of time but for me, the real star of the film was John Carradine as Sgt Rankin, a character who changes a lot throughout. Although Ford has been very creative with regards to the historical accuracies, this is still a well made biopic worthy of a purchase, mainly due to the strength of the cast and the direction. 4/5
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