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The Apple Dumpling Gang (film)

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The Apple Dumpling Gang
1975 theatrical poster
Directed byNorman Tokar
Screenplay byDon Tait
Based onThe Apple Dumpling Gang
by Jack M. Bickham
Produced byBill Anderson
StarringBill Bixby
Susan Clark
Don Knotts
Tim Conway
David Wayne
Slim Pickens
Harry Morgan
John McGiver
Clay O'Brien
Don Knight
CinematographyFrank V. Phillips
Edited byRay de Leuw
Music byBuddy Baker
Joseph Dubin (orchestration)
Distributed byBuena Vista Distribution
Release date
  • July 1, 1975 (1975-07-01)[1]
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$36,853,000[2]

The Apple Dumpling Gang is a 1975 American comedy-Western film directed by Norman Tokar. The plot is about a slick gambler named Russell Donovan (Bill Bixby) who is duped into taking care of a group of orphans who eventually strike gold. The film was produced by Walt Disney Productions.

The film is based on the 1971 novel of the same name by Jack M. Bickham. Don Tait wrote the screenplay. The so-called "Apple Dumpling Gang" are named after their favorite American dessert treat, the apple dumpling. It is also known as being the first film to feature the comedy duo of Don Knotts and Tim Conway.[3] Knotts and Conway developed different styles of pulling off their comedy; Conway's characters were usually the less intelligent of the two, which made Knotts usually the brains of the group, though they were both equally inept. Buddy Baker composed the music for the movie and its sequel, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, with Joseph Dubin performing the orchestration. The song "The Apple Dumpling Gang", as heard in the opening and closing credits, was composed by Shane Tatum and was sung/performed by Randy Sparks and The Back Porch Majority.


Set in the Wild West in the year 1879, a slick gambler named Russell Donovan (Bill Bixby) comes to the town of Quake City en route to open a casino in New Orleans. In Quake City, Donovan meets his old associate, John Wintle. Wintle is leaving for San Francisco that night and asks Donovan to sign for valuables coming in on tomorrow's stagecoach. Donovan accepts a down payment and promises to pick up the valuables. The next day, Donovan realizes he has been duped into taking care of three little orphans, Bobby, Clovis, and Celia Bradley. The stagecoach driver Magnolia "Dusty" Clydesdale (Susan Clark) explains that Wintle is in fact the children's relative and their legal guardian. With him gone and Donovan promising to care for the "valuables", they are now wards of Donovan. The town's sheriff, barber, Justice of the Peace, and judge Homer McCoy (Harry Morgan) tells Donovan that he is legally obligated unless he can have someone else take custody of the children. The children inadvertently cause Donovan much grief by offending all prospective new guardians. The Bradleys wreak havoc in Quake City while riding in an old mine cart, destroying much private property. The town's citizens demand that Donovan pay for the damages, costing him most of his funds for his trip to New Orleans.

As soon as Donovan arrived in Quake City, he became the target of the "Hashknife Outfit". The Outfit consists of two ne'er-do-well former members of the Stillwell Gang, Amos Tucker (Tim Conway) and Theodore Ogelvie (Don Knotts). They were once very threatening, until they were ousted by their former boss, Frank Stillwell (Slim Pickens), for shooting him in the leg. Amos and Theodore continuously try to rob Donovan during his stay in town with unsuccessful results.

Bobby, Clovis, and Celia decide to help their guardian earn money by going to the gold mine that they inherited. They encounter Amos and Theodore at their hideout and become acquainted. The men direct the kids to the mine after mistaking them for a posse. Despite people's belief no gold was left to find in the mine, the Bradley children discover a massive gold nugget. This incentivizes many people to adopt the children as it would give them access to the gold. Fearing that these people would not have the children's best interests at heart, Donovan arranges a sham marriage with Dusty so she can keep custody of the Bradley children while he goes to New Orleans. However, complications arise when Wintle returns. He heard of the gold and schemes to regain custody of the children. His attorney has a court order demanding immediate return of the Bradleys. McCoy is forced to adhere to Wintle's demands.

At the same time, Amos and Theodore attempt to steal the Bradleys' gold from the local bank and escape to Mexico. The Hashknife Outfit is unsuccessful when they try to enter the skylight and wrap themselves up in their rope used for rappelling down. McCoy finds them guilty of attempted robbery and sentences them to hang to scare them out of town. The two men flee to their hideout.

The Stillwell Gang enters town and plans to steal the nugget. Frank impersonates a priest to gain more information about the transportation of the gold from Colonel T.R. Clydesdale (David Wayne). Frank is able to coerce Clydesdale into disclosing the time and place the nugget will be moved. The children, who have grown attached to Donovan and Dusty, go to Theodore and Amos and give them permission to steal the gold. If the gold goes missing, Wintle will have no more desire for the children and will return custody. The next day, the Stillwell Gang enters the bank and takes the nugget. Simultaneously, the kids help the Hashknife Outfit rob the bank. Amos and Theodore are recognized by Frank and are almost killed. They are saved when one of the Stillwell Gang starts a shootout with the lawmen and distracts Frank. Frank decides to leave the gold and escape, taking Celia as a hostage. Donovan saves her from Stillwell with the help of Dusty and they realize their love for one another and embrace. Amos and Theodore retreat to the bank's safe to escape gunfire. Their dynamite is shot by one of the townsfolk, obliterating the bank, and the gold nugget gets blown into many smaller nuggets.

Wintle renounces his guardianship and leaves town. Stillwell's bounty is awarded to Donovan, giving him enough money for his casino in New Orleans. He instead buys a ranch for himself, Dusty, and the Bradley children. While on their way to the ranch, a reformed Amos and Theodore catch up with the newfound family asking for work as farmhands, to which Donovan agrees.



The score for the film was written by Buddy Baker. The theme song, "The Apple Dumpling Gang", was written by Shane Tatum and performed by Randy Sparks and the Back Porch Majority.


The film was a hit at the box office, earning $13.5 million in theatrical rentals.[4]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film two-and-a-half stars out of four and wrote that the film was "in a lot of ways ... a throwback to the Disney productions of two or three years ago, a period of overwhelming banality in the studio's history. More recently, Disney has given us some genuinely inventive entertainments, especially Escape to Witch Mountain and Island at the Top of the World. With The Apple Dumpling Gang, we're back to assembly line plots about the adventure of squeaky-clean kids".[5] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film one star out of four and called it "the latest piece of treacle from the Walt Disney sitcom kitchen. The recipe is well-known: Mix smiling moms and pops with the dash of villains, fold in saccharine children, and beat with slapstick. The resulting cinematic mush is so predictable, it's a wonder that more youngsters don't tell the Disney folks to 'bake off'".[6] Richard Eder of The New York Times called it "as cheerful and indistinguishable as rice pudding".[7] Variety called the film "an engaging gentle-humored comedy melodrama ... Don Tait's screenplay based on the book by Jack M. Bickham would benefit by some sharp editing of certain Knotts-Conway routines but otherwise picture generally is a fast-paced situation caper".[8] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times called it "a pleasant and funny Disney family comedy" that was "a bit long but amiable enough to get away with overstaying its welcome".[9] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post called it "the summer's second consecutive stale confection from the Disney organization, whose comedy formulas are solely in need of rejuvenation".[10]

Home media[edit]

In 1980, The Apple Dumpling Gang was among the first Disney movies to be released on videocassette. Walt Disney Home Entertainment released The Apple Dumpling Gang on DVD twice: a special edition release on September 2, 2003 and a 2-movie collection release with its sequel, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, on February 10, 2008.

The film was released on Blu-ray as a Disney Movie Club exclusive on September 9, 2014.

Sequel and TV series[edit]

In 1979, Knotts and Conway reprised their roles in the sequel The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. Bill Bixby, Susan Clark, and the rest of the cast did not appear. Harry Morgan was the only other member of the cast to appear in the sequel, although he plays a different character.

In January 1982, Disney aired Tales of the Apple Dumpling Gang, a television film remake starring John Bennett Perry in the Bixby role, Ed Begley Jr. in the Conway role and Arte Johnson in the Knotts role. One year later saw the premiere of a television series, Gun Shy, with a completely different cast, including Barry Van Dyke in the Bixby role. Six episodes were produced.


  1. ^ "The Apple Dumpling Gang - Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Archived from the original on December 15, 2018. Retrieved December 12, 2018.
  2. ^ "The Apple Dumpling Gang, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on March 22, 2012. Retrieved May 22, 2012.
  3. ^ Cox, Stephen; Marhanka, Kevin (2008). The Incredible Mr. Don Knotts. Cumberland House. p. 125. ISBN 9781581826586.
  4. ^ "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 20
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 12, 1975). "The Apple Dumpling Gang". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved June 25, 2013.
  6. ^ Siskel, Gene (August 18, 1975). "The 'Dumpling Gang' falls flat Archived 2021-05-05 at the Wayback Machine". Chicago Tribune. Section 3, p. 7.
  7. ^ Eder, Richard (July 24, 1975). "Movie Review - The Apple Dumpling Gang". New York Times. Archived from the original on May 5, 2021. Retrieved September 8, 2013.
  8. ^ "Film Reviews: The Apple Dumpling Gang". Variety. June 25, 1975. 23.
  9. ^ Thomas, Kevin (August 6, 1975). "'Dumpling Gang' a Disney Comedy Archived 2021-05-05 at the Wayback Machine". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 11.
  10. ^ Arnold, Gary (August 9, 1975). "The Disney Fan's Delight". The Washington Post. C4.

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