The team of director John Ford, screenwriter Nunnally Johnson, and producer Darryl F. Zanuck was best remembered for its work on the classic The Grapes of Wrath (1940). Four years earlier, the same three men crafted the excellent The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936), memorable as Ford's only foray into docudrama. While much of the depiction of Dr. Samuel Mudd (Warner Baxter)'s relationship with his crusading wife (Gloria Stuart) was probably invention, the adherence to a mostly accurate historical viewpoint was unusual for Ford. The director's most successful forays into historical storytelling, such as Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) and My Darling Clementine (1946), liberally blended fact with fiction in films that bore little resemblance to reality. The Prisoner of Shark Island was the first of three Hollywood efforts to exonerate Mudd, the Maryland physician who was probably falsely accused of participating in the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln in 1865; the other films were Hellgate (1952) and, for television, The Ordeal of Dr. Mudd (1980). In real life, Mudd earned an 1869 pardon from his valiant efforts to save fellow prisoners and captors during a yellow fever epidemic at the remote island fort in the Dry Tortugas where he was in captivity. However, Mudd, whose name gave birth to the insulting expression, "your name is mud," was not pardoned for the crime he allegedly committed until nearly a hundred years after his death. That pardon owed no small debt to the trio of popular films that uniformly depicted him as an innocent victim of justice gone wrong.
by Karl Williams review